Track Day Experience

As much as I love working on the car, there is nothing quite like taking it out on the track and pushing it to the limit. It’s a good measurement of how the car performs, and it’s an opportunity to become a better driver as well. Since I’m not a professional driver, and my car is not prepared for sanctioned track events (no cage, harnesses, etc.) the next closest thing for me is an HPDE (high performance driver education). It’s essentially a track day with a catch – you get an instructor that works with you to improve your driving and you spend about an hour and a half in a class room talking about general driving techniques and the track itself. You typically get 3 sessions at about 20-30 minutes each session to go out on the track and run your car at full speed. You can pass other people with some restrictions based on your skill group. So it’s not truly racing, but it kind of is. If you’re faster than the other person then you will pass them, but typically in a controlled manner.

This is my third year doing HPDE events, and I really like the Putnam Park road course outside of Indianapolis. It has grass runoff around the entire track except for the pit entrance area, where there is an armco. This means that if you screw up somewhere on the track, chances are you’ll just spin out in the grass and not do any terrible damage to your car. This past weekend I had a spin and all that happened was a dent in my splitter, although I did experience some significant other damage that was not the result of the spin (more about that in another post). However, this is a good time to mention that if you aren’t comfortable with ruining your car then don’t take a chance on a track day like this!

Here are some beginner tips for HPDE:

  • Bring some tools to the track, especially a torque wrench for your wheels and a tire pressure gauge to bleed off excess psi
  • Make sure you change your brake fluid and bleed your brakes before a track day.
  • Good tires are a must. I really love the Nitto NT01, but as long as you don’t go on bald tires you should be relatively ok as a first timer.
  • Bring lots of water/gatoraid and stay hydrated. It’s exhausting racing at high speeds even for 20 minutes at a time. When you are exhausted and dehydrated you make mistakes.
  • Make sure you have adequate brake pads and rotors. You don’t want your brakes failing at the end of a straightaway doing 130mph or more.
  • Don’t drive with aggression or angry. Everybody is there to have fun and if you aren’t the fastest then learn from it and get better without being a jerk
  • Record your driving if you can and watch the video later to understand how to improve your lines. (This really helped me)
  • Try to ride with an instructor to see how they drive and learn from it.

There are a lot of great tips typically provided with the information packet on a per school basis, so make sure you read those tips as well as any specific information you can find out about the track ahead of time.

Here are some specific tips for Putnam Park road course (please keep in mind I’m no expert!):

  • You can carry a lot more speed through turn 1 than you may initially think. I can brake at the 300, 200, or 100 just fine. Tap the brakes and get off of them, don’t ride the brakes or you will overheat them quicker. I think a good average speed through turn 1 is 90mph for reference. So I brake from 130mph to 90mph very quickly and then take it.
  • I like to downshift from 4th to 3rd at turn 2 when I brake. It feels better than downshifting from 4 to 3 at the brake point on turn 1.
  • I hit turn 4 as a late apex.
  • I turn in late on turn 5 and try to make 5 through 7 feel like a straight line
  • I brake and downshift to 2nd gear and turn in early on turn 7. This is the slowest turn on the track. I use a little controlled oversteer to push me through this corner quickly.
  • I turn in early on turn 8 and ride the inside line up.  Lots of fun!
  • Hit the curbing on 9 & 10 to set up for a good launch on the straight. Don’t lift here or you’ll potentially loose control and hit the barricade. Feather the throttle until you’re ready to go flat out.

Lots of good information on Putnam Park can be found here: http://creativecrawler.com/2010/02/putnam-park-track-day-dissection/

Here is a video of my second heat. The battery died before I finished. The first lap is to warm up the tires and is at about 50% speed. The second lap had a caution flag as a car went off, but then we get rolling after that.

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