Are you new to Track Days?

I frequently see posts on the track day forums from people asking about what they need to know before going on their first track day.  Here’s some information that should answer some of those questions.  What follows refers to car track days – we don’t run motorcycle events.

How are the Days Organised?

It’s important to be aware of are that track days are not competitive.  I’ve been asked by a newcomer more than once if there is any space left on our next “race day” and had to explain that the one thing they are not is a race day.  Rules apply to how cars must be driven in relation to the other traffic on the circuit, and the rules are there for your own and other driver’s safety alike.  The whole idea is to learn about car control, to enhance your driving skills and have huge amounts of fun in relative safety.  No one wants to get hurt or have their car damaged.

There are two basic formats for track days.

Sessioned Events
Are what the name implies.  Each hour of track time is divided into sessions, and each session can be intended for drivers having different levels of experience; described as novice (for newcomers), intermediate (for drivers with several track days experience), and lastly very experienced/race licence holders only.  The numbers of cars permitted in each group is track dependent and is limited to a safe number so as to ensure plenty of space available for the cars to spread out.

Session length varies but can be as little as 10 minutes to as much as 20/30 minutes.  Sessions run at the same time in each hour so that drivers know when to queue to wait for their turn on track.

The positive aspects of this type of event are that if you are a newcomer then there is normally a session especially for drivers like you.  Sessioned events are often much cheaper as well because it’s possible for the operator to utilise track space to the maximum ie more cars booked than for an open pit lane event which I’ll discuss shortly.

The negative aspects to sessioned events include that there is a lot of hanging around between sessions and you must be ready at the appointed time or you will lose your slot.  Also all cars tend to go out in a bunch at the start of the session, and it takes precious track time for them to sort themselves out especially if the front cars of the group are slow compared to the rest of the pack.  This can lead to frustrating bunching for the first couple of laps or so out of a session that may be for as little as 5 laps in total.  If there is an incident on track where a car needs to be recovered then an entire session may be abandoned.

Open Pit Lane
This is not as the name suggests a free for all where you just drive onto the circuit with no restriction.  All circuits are licensed for a circuit-specific maximum number of cars that are permitted on-track together.  Drivers in fact queue for circuit access and are admitted to the circuit when space is available.

That of course leads to the question about pit lane queuing on open pit lane track days.  Long queues are clearly bad in so far as if you end up having to wait for ages in a queue you might as well have gone on a sessioned event.  At least you would know when you are next out on track and can kick tyres in the paddock or have a coffee while you are waiting.   The ratio of cars booked to numbers permitted on circuit needs to be reasonable on an open pit lane event if long queues are to be avoided.  This generally means a more expensive day than a sessioned event.

So what are the plus points for open pit lane?  Well a properly organised event will be more relaxed than sessions, be less susceptible to bunching of cars because the circuit is in use continuously, and drivers can choose when they will go on circuit and for how long.  In general you can expect at least as much if not more track time on a well organised open pit lane event than on a sessioned one.

The negatives include open pit lane is usually more expensive than a sessioned event, cars and drivers on circuit will have mixed performance and abilities, and newcomers might find it a bit more daunting at first.

BHP TrackDays Ltd only runs open pit lane events.  We also run a very limited number of half day sessions during the spring and summer, so if you are not sure about if you will like track driving, then a half day might be a more economical way to find out.  If you do choose a half day, then pick the morning.  Things are much more full-on in the afternoon when everyone is up to speed.

Who should I book with?

I’d recommend only booking with member companies of the Association of Track Day Organisers (ATDO).  This is the trade body that sets down the acceptable track day operating standards that its members must abide by.  You can see what the ATDO is about and a list of its member companies here – ATDO .  Track day insurance is not mandatory, but if you decide to take it out, there is a discount for customers booking with an ATDO member company.

If you intend to drive at Castle Combe, by-the-way, BHP TrackDays runs more track days there than anyone else.

What happens when I book?

We’ll send you an email containing the essential information confirming what you have booked, what you need to know about such things as when to arrive, what to bring and so on.  The attachments to the email provide detailed information about how the day is run, some local information, advice on some checks to carry out on the car, a circuit map, and an indemnity form.

What happens when I arrive at the circuit?

I’d recommend you arrive early so you aren’t under pressure for your first track day.  It will be a new experience and you understandably won’t know where everything is or be familiar with what to do. Find a place to park in the paddock and sign-on with the organiser.  When you sign-on you’ll be given a wrist band to confirm you’ve registered for the day, paid any entry fees owing, and have signed an indemnity form.  You will also be given a car identification sticker to put on the car in a prominent position to confirm the car is registered for the day.

Most circuits have a requirement for your car to pass a static noise test.  Castle Combe Circuit is 100dBA at 4500 rpm measured at 0.5m from the exhaust (if your car has a motorbike engine then the test is done at ¾ maximum rpm).  Noise testing normally opens at 08:00 and it’s a good idea to get the car tested before the start if track time if you can.

Now’s also a good time to make sure you have taken all the loose items out of your car.  Don’t take the car on circuit with any loose items still in it.  They can damage the car if they get thrown about during cornering or braking, they are hazardous to the driver and passenger, and can cause an accident if something gets caught under say the brake pedal.

Attending the safety briefing is mandatory.  Our briefings at Castle Combe start at 08:00 and are deliered every 20 minutes until 08:40.  Try and make sure you have signed on by 08:20 to be in time for the last briefing.  The safety briefing is most important because it will inform you amongst other things about how the day will be run, rules about overtaking, what flag or traffic light signals will be used and what they mean, what to do in the event of an incident, and about the expected driving standards and consideration for other drivers.  You will be issued with a driver’s wrist band at the end of the briefing.  You need both the sign-on wrist band and the briefing band in order to drive on the circuit.

If you do get held up en-route to the circuit you can attend the briefing before you sign-on but make sure you get a driver’s briefing wrist band at the end of the safety briefing.

The first track activity of the day is for all cars to complete a set of sighting laps in a crocodile formation on the circuit behind a pace car which will be driven at a slow pace.  All drivers should complete sighting laps.  Their purpose is to give drivers an opportunity to view the layout of the track, get a feel for the general driving conditions, note where the marshal posts are because this is where flag signals will be shown, and note the position of traffic lights.  The pace car will drive the “racing line”, and we ask drivers to follow this line behind the pace car.  You may have seen drivers in Formula 1 weaving, accelerating and braking on the formation lap before the start of the race.  Do not do this on the track day sighting laps.  It’s both hazardous and a complete waste of effort.  Cars return to the paddock on completion of the sighting laps.

When everyone has completes a set of sighting laps the circuit will go live.  Queue at the appointed place and wait until you are called forward by a marshal for access to the track.  At Castle Combe this is in a holding area just before the Avon Bridge.  The marshal will want to see your wrist bands at this point.

If you are held up or otherwise arrive late at the circuit you won’t be able to take advantage of the sighting laps.  You should familiarise yourself with the circuit layout and marshalling before you take to the track.  Take extra care until you are fully familiar with the layout.

Being new to track days, I’d strongly recommend that you book up for some tuition with a qualified instructor as early as possible.  There’s a lot going on, and learning lines plus remembering to use your mirrors and allow faster traffic to overtake will be quite demanding until you settle down.  Do book a full tuition session and learn a lot from it.  There’s a nominal charge on our days, but it’s well worth the outlay.  Your lines, driving technique and pace will be improved!

Good track day companies employ instructors who are Association of Racing Drivers Schools (ARDS) qualified.  There are a number of instructor grades.  We only use the highest category A-grade and S-grade instructors.

Your first drive on the circuit will, without doubt be a little daunting until you settle down.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek advice at any time.  We’re more than happy to provide additional advice before you go on track.  Remember that it’s not a race and that you should always drive at a speed you feel comfortable with.  Everyone would much prefer you to be safe than drive outside your comfort zone.  Additional pace will come with practice and familiarity with your car in a racing circuit environment, with the circuit layout, and the optimal lines and braking zones.  At Castle Combe there are cones provided at the corners to indicate the start of the suggested braking zone, the turn-in point, and the corner apex point.  They are a useful guide to get you started, but don’t get “cone-focussed”; try and start to look ahead to where you want the car to be in order to line up for the next bend.  Keep an eye on your mirrors too and let faster traffic overtake, but only when you can allow that safely.  There is no need to give way on the immediate approach to a corner; after the exit from the bend on the straight following will be fine.

Don’t stay on track too long.  We recommend around 15 minutes maximum as a guide.  Track driving needs a lot of concentration and a 15 minute session is long enough.  Also the car is much more highly stressed on circuit than on the road.  It will thank you for giving the engine and brakes a rest.  Avoid putting the hand brake on in the paddock after a session on circuit.  The heat in the discs can cause damage and the disks may warp. Do make sure that the car can’t roll away when unattended. 

There is a helpful guide “How to Drive Castle Combe Circuit” – here .

I hope you have found this introduction useful.  Do feel free to contact me if you need more information.

Kind regards,

David

Updated 22nd December 2021