Preparing your car for a track day

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Preparing your car for a track day

Post by PeteH » Thu Mar 07, 2019 12:33 pm

This is a guide covering what you need to know in order to prepare for a track day. It covers what you need to do to prepare yourself and your car for the day. It doesn't cover the organisation or running of the day itself.

A great deal of information has been gathered by members over the past 10 or more years, and it can all be found here: viewforum.php?f=169
but, to save people wading through all of it, we have tried to capture the most important points below.

The first thing to say is; don't stress! Track days are fun. They are not scary, and you are free to drive safely within your limits. We would advise that if you are new to track days, and not confident, then join in with an exclusive session or day with this Club. If you do a track day with the RX-8 Owners Club then you can be sure that the standard of all the other drivers will be high. I have never heard of any significant driving issues reported by any member of this Club. To ensure you have a good time, and reduce the chances of any problems spoiling your day, the following advise is given.

Mandatory requirements. You will not get on circuit unless you meet the following:
- Your car must be in good condition. It must have no leaks. It must have seat belts and working lights.
- Your car must pass noise testing. The noise limit, and the way it is tested, is different at every circuit, so you must familiarise yourself with the limit, and ensure your car will pass. As a general guide, a stock RX-8 will easily pass any track day noise test. After-market exhaust systems can result in a fail. More details are given below.
- The driver must be at least 18 years old, and hold a full driving licence. Passengers must be at least 16 years old.
- You must wear a helmet. Most circuits will have helmets to hire, but some may not. Check first.
- You must have your arms and legs covered when on circuit.
- There must be nothing loose in your car, including the boot. Items such as dash cams must be securely attached. You must not use suction cups.
- Towing (lashing) eyes should be fitted. These are generally not mandatory, but are highly recommended. If you are stuck in the gravel, and the marshalls cannot find a lashing eye, they will tow your car out using any available part of the vehicle. Any damage caused will be your responsibility. So fitting towing eyes is a sensible precaution.

General recommendations. These are not in any particular order. They are sensible things to consider when attending any track day:
- Brake pads. The brakes probably take the biggest hammering on a track day. Ensure you have more than 1/3 of your brake pads remaining. Consider taking a spare pair of front pads as well. On events organised by the Club you will find plenty of people willing to help you change the pads, if you need to during the day. The worst thing that can happen is that you run out of pads during the day, and have to get your car recovered back home. The RX-8 has exceptional brakes for a road car, and the standard brakes are more than good enough for the track. However, if you have cheap road pads fitted then they are likely to wear very quickly. Many owners who regularly attend track days choose to fit higher specification "track pads".
- Tyres. Make sure your tyres have at least 3 to 4mm of tread depth at the start of the day. Unless you are seriously over-driving, you should find that your tyres will still be legal for your drive home. People will discuss tyre pressures at great length..... Ignore it! Just make sure your pressures are around Mazda's recommended level at the start of the day, then check them after your first session. After the first session you will find that the pressures have gone up quite a lot, so drop them back down to Mazda's recommendation. Then just check them occasionally through the day. When you become more experienced you may want to start playing with the pressures, but as a novice you will not notice the difference, and you have bigger fish to fry!
- Type of tyre. As a novice road car tyres are fine. Make sure they are of the correct speed and load rating, because you will be stressing the tyres very highly on the track. It is best to avoid "ditch finders", simply because the lack of grip will be very obvious on track, and that will take away some of the enjoyment. As you become more experienced you may start to consider semi-slicks. These are road legal track tyres. They will give a significant step in grip, but they may cost a considerable amount of money. As a novice they are really not necessary. We should also mention slicks. Many operators (but not all) will permit slick tyres, so check first. You can only fit slicks if your car has a roll cage. Also note that you may not actually improve your speed by fitting slicks, because it is actually very difficult to get slicks into the right operating window. Cold slicks are slower than ordinary road tyres.....
- Engine oil. Start the day with your oil at about the 3/4 mark. If you fill more than that then you risk oil burps. You will use a lot of oil at track speeds, so check the level regularly. If the level drop to 1/4 top it back up to 3/4. Do not let it drop below 1/4, because you risk oil starvation.
- SOHN. If you have a SOHN (or similar) fitted then you engine oil level obviously shouldn't drop, but your 2T reservoir level will drop quickly. Keep a close check on this, because you really don't want to run out.
- Brake fluid. Firstly, ensure that it is topped up to just below the max mark. As your brake pads wear your brake fluid level will drop through the day, so you do not want to start with a low level. If you do not know when your fluid was last changed then it is highly recommended to do a thorough flush before your track day. Old fluid will have a very low boiling point, and when the fluid boils your brakes stop working. Fresh DOT4 or DOT5.1 fluid will not (or should not) boil on track. As you become more experienced you may elect to use racing brake fluid. This has an even higher boiling point, for extra security. However, it is really not necessary for track days.
- Coolant. Ensure your coolant is half way between the min and the max. If your coolant is close to the max level then you may find that some coolant escapes through the radiator cap when the engine gets very hot. This is not necessarily a problem, although it may look dramatic, and gain the attention of the marshals.
- Fuel. Start the day with a full tank. At track speeds you will probably only get somewhere between 60 and 100 miles to a tank. Many people choose to use high octane fuel (Shell v-Power or similar) when on track, but this is your choice. In theory the RX-8 doesn't require it (although it does no harm either).
- Gearbox and diff oil. You don't have to do anything, although it's a good idea to check the levels. Track use is very hard on the gearbox and diff, so you may want to consider changing the oils after a few track days. You may also notice that at track speeds it is harder to engage some gears (4th is notorious on the s1 box), and a gearbox oil change to a high quality fluid can help with this issue.
- Ignition. Track use will stress your ignition to the limit. If you have doubts about the health of your ignition systems then it is prudent to fix it before you venture on track.
- Insurance. Track day insurance is not mandatory. Many people never take out track day insurance. Some people wouldn't go on track without it. It's totally your choice. Be aware that insurance is purely for your own car. You are responsible for any and all damage that occurs to your car on a track day. So if someone hits you, you pay for your own repairs. You cannot claim from them, and if they have their own insurance then it won't cover damage to your car.
- DSC (Dynamic Stability Control system). The RX-8 has a very sophisticated traction control and stability control system. Many people ask if they should turn off these systems when on track. It's your choice, but the general recommendation, particularly for novices, is to leave them on. The systems will not intervene, or "stop your fun", as long as you drive the car within its limits. You can drive the car to the absolute limit of its grip with the DSC fully active. The DSC system will only intervene to "catch you" if you overstep the limit. Leaving it on could save your car if you get it very wrong. You only really need to turn it off if you want to have a play, and deliberately drive beyond the limit. If you drive in this fashion then you may well be back flagged anyway....
- Timing. Don't do it! Timing your laps is banned on all track days. If the organisers catch you they will stop you, and may exclude you from the rest of the day. Many people use dash cams, and you can often work out your lap times, after the event. This is a grey area, and most track operators will tolerate it, as long as it is not too obvious (possibly don't post your times all over YouTube!)
- Seat belts. You have to wear a seat belt (obviously). Modern inertia reel belts don't hold you during hard cornering, so many track day drivers find other solutions. The "CG-Lock" is a very effective way of locking the seat belt in place during track use. CG-Locks can be bought from the club shop. You can also fit harnesses and competition seats, but if you are considering this then you are probably no longer a novice.
- Noise. As mentioned above, all circuits have quite stringent noise limits. These are not flexible or optional, and if your car exceeds the imposed limits then you will not be allowed on track. You should find out what the limits are for the track you are attending, and try to assess whether your car will pass. As a general rule, a stock RX-8 will easily pass all noise tests at any circuit in the UK. Fitting a non-resonated decat and a something like a Toyo backbox will put your car close to the limit on many circuits, so be warned! If you have an aggressively ported car, with a straight through single exit exhaust, then you will certainly fail the noise test at any track day. Rotaries can be very noisy. Also note that after-market intakes can make your car much noisier. They may not affect the static test much (because that measures exhaust noise), but they will affect drive-by noise testing. If you are not sure whether you will pass noise test then posting a question on the forum can be a good way of getting a reasonable idea. There will probably be another member with a similar exhaust and intake configuration to yours, and they may have experience of being noise tested at various circuits.
- Wheel nut torque. Check it! Wheel nut torque should be checked regularly through the day. Use a torque wrench. Too much torque can be as bad as too little torque. And while we are talking about wheel nuts, don't go on circuit with aluminium "weight saving" wheel nuts. These are not recommended for the track, and there is a strong chance they will fail under track stresses. And if you must use spacers then only use hub-centric, fully bolted spacers. Simple spacers will over-stress your wheel studs, and could lead to your wheels coming off (I have personally seen it happen).

Finally, what tools to take:
- Torque wrench for the wheel nuts
- Tyre pressure gauge
- Tyre pump (The RX-8 compressor is actually quite handy)
- Oil. You should take a spare litre for a full track day.
- If you are considering changing pads then you will need a trolley jack, axle stands and a basic tool kit. Rear pads will need a caliper wind-back tool.
- Everything else is optional, and unlikely to be required, assuming all goes well and your car is well prepared beforehand.

Above all else, enjoy it. It's meant to be fun!

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