Andrew Jordan on how to survive your first track day
© Chris Hogg
Track days can be stressful for novices. To help you out (and stop you annoying people) here are some handy tips from the British Touring Car supremo.
So you've signed up for your first ever track day, paid your money, and now you're ready to see what your pride and joy can do out there on the circuit. But hold your horses partner: track days are serious affairs, and if you go charging into them all guns blazing, it's amazing how quickly an entire pit lane of racing enthusiasts can turn against you.
To help keep your fellow track dayists on your side, we've teamed up with Andrew Jordan, 2013 British Touring Car champ, sometime World Rallycross star and historic racing hero, to get his eight golden rules of track day etiquette. Follow these and you'll prevent anyone from going all, er, Matt Neal on you…
1. Don't overtake into corners
Andrew Jordan: I seen this so often on track days, and it's so frustrating. You need to respect the people you're on track with. Show that respect and people will work with you; they'll know that you'll drive sensibly and stick to the rules, and they'll make it that little bit easier for you to overtake. Whereas if I'm on a track day in a historic car and someone's being a bit of a pratt, I'll make it really hard for them to overtake me to be annoying!
You can concentrate on hitting your apex without worrying about someone sliding up the inside of you
People overtaking in braking areas and corners is the pet hate of track day organisers, so just don't do it. Then if you know you can't overtake or be overtaken, you can concentrate on braking, turning and hitting your apex without worrying about someone sliding up the inside of you, out of control, and passing you.
2. Don't tail-gate people
This sometimes depends on what car you're in, because you have a huge variation of cars on a track day. You can be in a car that's much slower on the straights but quicker through the corners, so you can run onto someone through a corner and be right on their bumper knowing that they're just going to check out on the next straight. But you don't want to be on someone's arse into the braking area, because you can't concentrate properly on where you're braking. If I'm in a touring car race and tucked up inches off someone's bumper, I always have to brake a little bit earlier than I normally would – unless I'm going to overtake them – so that I don't risk hitting them up the back.
So you don't want to be too close to someone, but equally, you have to be close enough for them to look around and see that maybe they should let you by on the next straight. It's a fine line, but if I'm on a track day, I get close enough so that they can tell that I'm catching them but not close enough to be a nuisance.
3. Don't crash on your first lap
You see quite a few people doing this. You have your briefing, you've chatted to your mates, you've told them how quick you're going to be, it's your first lap out so you're full of excitement and ready for it. But your brakes are cold, your tyres are cold, the track's cold. People do forget that the track is cooler at the start of the day compared to lunchtime, when the temperatures have come up and there have been warm engines, exhausts and tyres going over it.
You need a good few laps just to get a feel for the car on that day, the track conditions
If you go off on your first flyer, firstly you're known as that guy for the rest of the day. But also the organisers will give you a strong warning because you shouldn't be doing that. You need a good few laps just to get into everything, get a feel for the car on that day, the track conditions. But it does happen because of the excitement and people being a bit over-flamboyant out of the pits.
4. Don't overtake people until you know you can get by safely
Again, this comes down to respect and spatial awareness. I've had moments on track days with cars where I've thought, 'OK, they've definitely seen me, I'm going to pass on this straight', and then they'll suddenly wander over the track and literally have no idea you're there.
It helps to learn who's in a particular car on that day and what they're like. There might be a car you know you need to give a really wide berth to and wait until they let you past, because otherwise they definitely won't have seen you. But equally, if most people are competent, they should have the spatial awareness to glance in the mirror now and then and let you go – even if it's just a little flick of the indicator, or they make it apparent that they have actually seen you.
5. Remember that it's not a race
Pretty much anyone on a track day is going to want to be the quickest guy there – of course they are! But you need to bear in mind the bigger picture that it is for enjoying your car, driving on a cool track and having a good day out. If you want to go and race people, it's better to do a proper test and then go and do a race.
You'll see people in the latest Porsche GT3 and their competitive instinct won't let an A40 past
You don't want to be getting too competitive with people on a track day and pissing each other off. But the amount of times you see it, it's comical. I've been on days before in our family's Austin A40. You'll see people in the latest Porsche GT3 road car and this little A40's catching them, and their competitive instinct won't let an A40 past; they'd rather pull into the pits than let you past! In a way, I get that, because I'm competitive and so are other people on a track day – but you do need to keep a lid on it a little bit.
6. Check your car over before you go out
Checking your tyre pressures is the most basic thing to do. I always test the tyre pressures the night before and then check again in the morning when I get to the track to make sure I don't have a puncture. If you have a tyre going down, it can quite easily end up with you in the gravel.
Around the clockwise Donington track, your left-hand pressures will be rising quicker than your right-hand pressures
If you've driven to the track day in your car, then you should look to drop your tyre pressures before you go out on circuit. Cars on track will usually run around 2.0 bar hot, which is around 29PSI, whereas most road cars will run more than that as their cold pressures. If you run that much tyre pressure on the track, then the car won't handle and grip as well. So going from road to track, drop your pressures a fair bit and then also keep an eye on what they're rising to. Also bear in mind that, around the clockwise Donington track, for example, your left-hand pressures will be rising quicker than your right-hand pressures, so you'd then look to set the left-hand pressures a bit lower to account for that.
Otherwise, use common sense. Look underneath the car and see if anything's leaking out. Look in your engine bay – is there anything leaking? If there is, where's it coming from and can you do anything about it? Check your oil, check your fuel, check your water, keep an eye on your gauges, and keep checking your tyre pressures and that your wheels are tight.
It's worth taking a few tools along too – you don't have to have a comprehensive tool kit or spares package, but basic stuff can save your day if needed. If it was me, I'd take along the following:
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Small jack
- Wheel socket
- Wheel gun or wheel brace
- Basic spanner set – or just a couple of adjustable spanners because you're covered for all sizes then
- A couple of cable ties, because then can get you out of trouble if you've got a hose hanging down or something like that
7. Take a break
When I started racing, I was amazed how tired I felt at the end of a day. It isn't because the driving's physical – it's the mental pressure and concentration, and it's amazing how tensed up you get on the wheel.
It's so worthwhile to go out more often but for shorter periods and with breaks in between. Say you went out and were driving around for half an hour solid – you could be driving around for 30 minutes doing the wrong things, having the same moment at the same corners and not knowing why. Whereas if you come in, you'll sit there and think, 'Maybe I'll try that'. Then you'll go out for another five-minute run, and you'll be driving much better, just from having had a drink, a bit of a chill out, talking to people and giving your mind a chance to relax and get your thoughts straight, rather than just pounding round. Otherwise, you're burned out by lunchtime, you've got a headache because you haven't been drinking water and you've been concentrating so hard, and then you'll want to go home. So it's better to just do more short runs and have breaks in between – that's what I'd do.
8. Don't go faster than you're comfortable with
I think nine times out of 10, people go off on track days because they're trying to catch the car in front, or not be caught by the car behind. There's no shame in being slower than someone on a track day – it's not what it's about. Go as quick as your car wants to go – don't try and go through a corner 5mph quicker if you've had a moment there the lap before.
Know the limits of your car, but know your limits as well
Also, don't try and keep up with someone who's either better than you, or more experienced, or whose car is quicker than yours. Because one, you'll go off; two, you'll annoy people; and three, you won't necessarily be invited back to the next track day. Know the limits of your car, but know your limits as well. If you're just starting out, try and edge up in a gentle, steady manner, rather than trying to go from a beginner to an expert within two laps, because it just doesn't happen. If you can progress through the day and get better, then great. If not, it doesn't matter.
So remember Andrew's golden track day etiquette rules:
- Don't overtake into corners
- Don't tail-gate people
- Don't crash on your first lap
- Don't overtake people until you know you can get by safely
- Remember that it's not a race
- Check your car over before you go out
- Take a break
- Don't go faster than you're comfortable with