Trackdays on the Cheap

Several times lately, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Oulton Park for a few trackdays. It’s enormous fun and very challenging with little danger to your licence.

“I’d love to do that, but it’s SO expensive”.

Well you’d think that, but it needn’t be, here’s how:

First of all, there are many companies that organise trackdays, and often there may be 2 or 3 companies who organise days at the same track on the same day, so a bit of shopping about is in order, (the last few times, I’ve used www.easytrack.co.uk).

For example: A full day at Oulton Park with one trackday company costs £225, and yes, to me that’s a lot of dosh. On the other hand, through a different company, £225 will get you the same trackday, with a garage, AND 2 extra drivers included.

A grand total of £75 each, which is great, because it’s always more fun taking your mates along too.

Of course the cheapest way to get on track is using your own car, or a sympathetic/brave/stupid mate who’s willing to let you loose in his, although generally speaking, trackdays are not the dangerous free for all people would have you believe. Your car is far more likely to suffer damage from extreme wear and tear than it is from mating it with the barriers.

Nevertheless, it’s always best to be prepared, especially where personal safety is an important factor. Remember, motorsport of all kinds is dangerous, and track driving carries no personal injury insurance.

First off – helmets. At Oulton Park you can hire them for a tenner. Great if you don’t care who wore it previously, if you do, you can always pop in to your local motorbike shop and pick up a balaclava for a fiver. If you bring one of these, your mate may even lend you his lid for free instead.

If you end up going frequently, you might as well invest in your own helmet, although you will need to make sure it meets the track’s requirements. In Oulton Park’s case they list a couple of BSI designations and MSA/FIA/ACU standards. Usually, a decent helmet will have a sticker on the back indicating it meets one or more of these, and you don’t necessarily need to trade in body parts to get a decent one.

Helpfully, the UK government have introduced the “sharp star helmet rating system“. Basically it’s like crash testing for helmets and is done on a scale of 1-5 stars.

What I’ve found is the Viper RS33. A ridiculously cheap lid at £45, but it has a 4 star rating. On the government site above, you can even select this (or another) model, and check it’s safety characteristics, possibly saving you hundreds of pounds on a helmet that’s actually inferior.

Then there’s the rest of your clothes.

It’s good practice to drive completely covered, and often track officials won’t let you out on the track if your arms and legs aren’t properly covered. Bits of flying, broken glass can really cut you up, so no shorts and t-shirts.

A good fitted jacket is always a good idea as it may provide some padding. Funnily enough, leather biker jackets are ideal for this.

Gloves. Tricky one this. If you’re in an open topped vehicle, you won’t have a choice, you must wear them. In a closed top car, it’s your call. Some people prefer to leave their hands bare as they get better purchase on the steering wheel. Myself, I wear a proper pair of driving gloves. They are very thin leather, and almost stick to the wheel, especially if that’s leather too. Maybe I just like leather though…?

Footwear. The most important aspect of your shoes is being able to operate the car well. Wearing work boots or Dr Martens isn’t going to protect your feet if the footwell deforms in an accident, but they may well contribute to you losing control if they’re too big and clunky to dance across the pedals properly.

The biggest part of driving on track cheaply though, is not wearing your car out, or bending it.

When you first arrive at a track you have to attend the drivers briefing. It’s a very good idea to pay proper attention to these, as there are sometimes little nuggets of very useful info that are peculiar to each track. Plus, the rules at the same track change from time to time.

Example: I can’t be sure if it was me, but the first time I went to Oulton Park last year I span twice. The next time I went, during the driver’s briefing we were advised, 2 spins and you’re not allowed back on track until you’ve had some mandatory tuition. Luckily, I only span it once that time.

This year apparently, it’s down to a single spin…

Generally what this is indicative of, is having too much fun and getting carried away. When you get bitten by the trackday bug, you tend to step up to the challenge, attempting to go quicker on each lap. Trouble is, you as a driver, are not increasing your own talent at the same rate. Keep pushing and at some point you ARE going to come a cropper.

Have the discipline to realise when you’re getting too trigger happy and come back into the pits and let someone else have a go. This is the secret to keeping your car out of the wall. It also gives the car a bit of a rest.

As mentioned earlier, the other thing to be mindful of is the wear on your car. Give it an oil and filter change before going, and check all the fluid levels:

  • engine oil
  • gearbox oil
  • coolant
  • brake fluid

…and don’t forget to take some spare with you. It’s also a really good idea to regularly check levels throughout the day too. This is a really good way of spotting early warning signs of potential trouble or avoiding it in the first place. This also applies to tyres and brakepads. Remember, you still need some tread and pad depth left to drive home legally.

Talking of tyres, you could get a spare set of wheels. You can often find cheap wheels and used trackday tyres at reasonable prices on ebay. This may sound like spending more money than you have to, but if you go to the track regularly it could save you ruining your tyres and having to buy a new set anyway.

Finally, a few of driving tips.

1. Always change up 500 rpm before max. revs for the following reasons:

  • It significantly reduces the wear and strain on the engine
  • You are less likely to “buzz” the engine and damage it
  • If there’s a rev limiter, driving into it a lot isn’t good for the engine/transmission
  • Peak power is often 500 rpm shy of max. revs anyway

From observation of other cars, it also seems hitting the rev limiter causes a puff of smoke. I don’t really know what causes this, but it obviously uses up oil.

2. When you first go out on track, do a slow lap. You want to build up heat gradually, and conditions may have changed since you last went out. There might be oil or gravel across the track somewhere or some other hazard, and you don’t want to run into it at full chat.

3. When you come off track, do a “warm down” lap to dissipate some of the heat you’ve generated.

Well, that’s all for now folks.

Next week, I’ll be on track again trying out different types of tyres, I’ll blog you again then!