I see fairly frequently on forums, posts asking for advice on what car preparation needs to be done before going on track for the first time. If your car is already road legal and MOT’d the answer is actually not much at all, but here are a few things that spring to mind that you might like to think about. The list is just a guide; it’s not exhaustive and no warranty is expressed or implied!
If your car has removable towing eyes, it’s generally recommended to fit them front and rear before going on circuit. On some circuits it’s mandatory; at Castle Combe it’s optional. The marshals will use the tow eyes if they can to recover your vehicle if it breaks down. If towing eyes are not fitted then the recovery crew will attached tow straps as best they can and to wherever they can!
Track driving will wear tyres out much more quickly than during normal road use. I’d recommend that your tyres have a minimum of 3.5mm tread. Check that the tyres are free from cuts and splits and that all the balance weights are still on. Also don’t forget that your tyres must be road legal at the end of the day if you intend to drive home in the track car.
Check that your brake pads, discs and hoses are in good condition. Make sure that you have adequate life left in the brake pads, the brakes are working efficiently and none of the callipers has seized. Check brake fluid levels, and make sure there aren’t any leaks. Also change the brake fluid if this hasn’t been done recently. Brake fluid becomes contaminated with water over time and this can cause partial or complete brake failure because of the heat of heavy braking. So if in doubt, change the fluid.
Check your oil and water levels and that all the hoses, filters and belts are in good condition. Continue to check the fluid levels throughout the day.
Suspension and Steering
If you have any doubts get the car checked over at a reputable car service centre. Check the steering, for freedom from play in the column, rack or steering arms. Check also that you don’t have excessive play in the wheel bearings.
We changed the front wheel bearings on our track Caterham a while back and couldn’t figure out during testing why the brake pedal travel suddenly increased alarmingly. Simple really; the bearings hadn’t been seated properly; under load they moved and the resultant play in the bearing was knocking the front brake pads off the disk – hence the pedal going to the floor rather alarmingly.
Make sure there are no loose items in the passenger compartment or boot that could fly about and either cause an accident, jam under pedals, or damage the car.
I think many of us have heard the apocryphal story about the can of Coke caught under the brake pedal, but here’s a real one. My Caterham now has several strategically placed stickers on the back to disguise the dents in the boot from when I forgot about the trolley jack!
You should have a properly fitting and suitable helmet eg motorsport or motorcycle that meets a recognised standard. At Castle Combe you can borrow a helmet at the circuit, but really it’s best to have your own. If you do borrow one from the circuit, make sure it fits properly. Ask for advice about this if you are in any doubt. The straps must be done up before you go out on the circuit. If you intend to drive an open-top car, then a full face helmet will be required.
Track Day Special?
If you’ve stripped out and lightened a road car for purely track use, ie taken out seats, carpets, headlining, soundproofing etc, we strongly recommend that you cover sharp edges that could injure the driver or passenger in an accident, or even from just getting in and out of the car. Horrific injuries are possible from the unprotected tack welded joints that get exposed when the interior is stripped back to the shell especially around the foot well area and where your legs and knees may end up in an accident.
If you plan to enter in an open top car, then the manufacturers homologated roll-over protection device, if provided, must be fitted. An FIA approved type will provide enhanced protection. Classic cars by reason of age often do not have roll-over protection.
Some roll cages include a brace that extends into the passenger space and foot well to provide extra stiffness. If you have this type of cage and you intend to carry a passenger you will be required to remove the strut when the passenger is in the car if the strut is judged to be a potential safety hazard to the passenger.
If you have a hand held fire extinguisher, make sure it is properly fitted to the car so it won’t come loose if there is a collision.
Whereas standard seat belts are perfectly acceptable, competition style harnesses (4 or 6 point) will give you better support. Make sure your seat belts are in good condition without tears or frayed areas and that appropriate anchorages are used and are secure, especially if you are fitting harnesses – which will need specialist expertise and advice.
Both you and your passenger must be suitably clothed. This means your arms and legs must be covered up while you are on the circuit ie no T-shirts, shorts or skirts. This is to protect bare skin from cuts if any glass gets broken. Race overalls are not a requirement, but customers often do wear as they provide enhanced protection.
Cameras must have a secure mounting. If you have a sucker mount then a secondary means of restraint (eg a tie wrap or a restraining cord) must be provided to prevent the camera from flying about inside the car, or falling onto the track if the suction mount fails. Hand held cameras including mobile phones are not permitted under any circumstances.