There’s pretty much a shortlist to success. You don’t have to drive the fastest thing out there. You just need to have the most fun safely and spend more time on track because your car is super reliable before leaving with a huge grin on your face. This statement reminds us of a day we spent in a VW Golf at Brands Hatch. The car was slow by comparison to all of the other fayre on track. A 2.0-litre 16v engine that was probably making 170ish hp on a good day, but it just kept going all day, whilst the McLaren, Seat Leon WTCC car and numerous other bits of really expensive, high-tech machinery seemed to constantly be in the pits having something fettled or played with. Hell, even when it rained the trusty little Golf just kept on going at close to maximum attack. Only the oil temp and a lack of fuel bringing it into the pits.
You’ll gain more speed and control from fitting a respected and well-known set of track day specific tyres than you will over any other modification. Talk to owners of your vehicle online and see what they recommend for your particular vehicle / wheel size. There are many different options out there now including special, road legal semi slicks from the likes of Toyo, Nankang, Hankook, Yokohama, Dunlop, Pirelli and even Goodyear. Don’t scrimp on the rubber you choose but bear in mind that due to the tread pattern and often the faster wear rates of the compounds used, if you use them to get to and from a circuit you might get reduced lifespan compared to conventional tyres. There are still plenty of capable ‘everyday’ tyres that will handle a track day, but the increased grip of the semi slick tyres will provide much faster lap times, particularly if you monitor the tyre pressures (it will increase as the tyre reaches temperature) and keep an eye on the temperatures of them as well as the day goes by.
2 Cage and seats
A cage might seem like overkill, but whatever you do, please ensure your car is safe for the track. Solid seat mounts (ideally installed by an expert with previous experience), properly installed race harnesses (hopefully with a dedicated harness bar to reduce the chances of a back injury) and even a steadfast, weld-in or bolt-in roll cage could be the difference between walking away from the worst happening, or visiting hospital on a stretcher. Yeah, it might ‘only’ be a track day car, but the worst really can happen in the most innocuous of circumstances. As a well-respected fabricator friend once told to us, “you only need a roll cage to work once,” it’s a statement we’ve never forgotten.
Not only changed for the purposes of aesthetics, but also switched to save weight and reduce the unsprung mass that the suspension has to cope with. By reducing the weight at each corner, the suspension will work much more effectively as less inertia means the wheels can be kept in touch with the tarmac far easier and require less damper rebound and compression force to do so making the car feel more alert and composed.
Bigger isn’t always better, in some cases you might end up with a vehicle that locks up the wheels and feels like it’s on a knife edge if the existing servo is particularly keen or the ABS sensors calibrated to kick in sharpish with the original leverage and rotational speed of the factory brakes. As a first step to better brakes uprate the rubber lines to braided stainless for increased pedal feel and resistance, replace brake pads for those with a track day specific compound and maybe even uprate your existing brake discs for slotted, vented or drilled and grooved options. In most cases, particularly if you’re stripping weight from a vehicle, you might even find that the next model up in your existing model range offers an uprated solution using OEM parts that costs a smidge of what a dedicated uprated caliper and bigger discs would set you back. Also, don’t forget to flush your brake fluid out and replace it with DOT5.1 fluid that has a higher boiling point than conventional DOT4.
You don’t necessarily require a 4-way adjustable setup to get the best from your car on a trackday. More adjustments often complicates matters for all but the most clued up of setup specialists. Start out with some uprated lowered springs and uprated dampers to reduce ride height and ensure that you have the factory geometry realigned once fitted. You’ll be surprised what sort of camber and toe adjustment exist in many factory suspension setups. Most track drivers tend to favour a little negative camber upfront to give the tyres some extra bite as you really lean on them. In one make race championships it’s not unusual to see some drivers opt for 2 to 4 degrees of negative camber so that the contact patches remain upright as they really put lateral G through the chassis. Uprated anti roll bars often enhance the positive feel of a car through the bends, while ride height adjustable coilovers allow for perfect corner weighting to keep the car feeling balanced, positive and confidence inspiring. Once you get into the realms of rebound and compression adjustable suspension, you really need to understand how you want your vehicle to react through a bend. Do you want the car to understeer or oversteer upon corner entry, apex or exit? Once you know what sort of behaviour you prefer it’s possible to switch any number of components to make your car handle in a particular way. Ultimately, neutral cars tend to be faster (and safer) for most new drivers as they inspire confidence at 9/10ths of the limit. Most BMWs for example, despite their fearsome RWD reputation, tend to be setup from the factory to understeer before they drift into oversteer – especially on factory rubber, so that inexperienced drivers don’t find themselves in a hedge backwards the moment they give it a size ten full and provoke the rear wheels.
Everyone thinks a fast car is all about horsepower, but as many a race driver will tell you outright pace is far more about technique, setup knowledge and circuit awareness than it is overall horsepower. A well-sorted chassis with a driver who knows their way around a track will often outgun a car with up to twice as much horsepower. Sure, it’s nice to have more at your disposal, but in some select cases it could lead to a car that’s less reliable, spends more time in the pits and isn’t out on track as much – which isn’
t what you want. Keep things simple in the engine department, increase cooling efficiency (particularly if forced induction and remapped), reduce oil temperatures with a bigger oil cooler and possibly even look to a higher viscosity oil if you intend to really abuse your engine at high RPM for sustained periods of time. Ultimately though, a remap, a high efficiency air filter, a free-flowing exhaust system and a decent radiator and intercooler setup will pay dividends, especially in modern cars where splitting the block from the cylinder head is rarely necessary to achieve good gains nowadays.
7 Strip weight out
Get rid of everything you don’t need. As Mr Chapman once famously extoiled, “Simpilify, then add lightness”. By bringing the weight down on the scales, any car will accelerate faster, benefit from enhanced braking and corner with reduced stress on the chassis components. There’s a reason people throw away air con and heating systems, door cards, back seats and anything else they can and that’s because it all weighs a tonne. If it can be unbolted without affecting the functionality you require, do it! Next step… Plexiglass windows