Track attack: SA’s trackday culture

Do you wait until the absolute last moment before merging on to the highway? Do you close your following gap if you sense a car next to you wants it? Do you revel in “traffic grand prix”, judging your progress against another car that merged with you, doing anything to come out in front? Well, if you answered yes to any of the above you probably view driving and traffic as a competitive arena, making you more than eligible to attend an open trackday.

And that’s why on the eighth (or eighteen hundredth) day, God provided us with racetracks. Asphalt paradises uncluttered by society and laws. Avenues brushed with burnt rubber and doused in the scent of race fuel. Avenues that allow us to stretch our, and our cars’ racing legs, and leave the choke of the everyday commute behind.

Granted, it is a great way for owners of high-performance cars to experience their cars, but there are no restrictions on who or what, may or may not participate.

Bringing along your Volvo Estate is no bad thing – they did compete in British Touring Cars ever so many years ago after all. And besides, for me, the promise of exotic machinery blasting round the track sweetens the experience.

Organisers handle the differential between vehicle performance and driver experience in different ways. On my day at Killarney Raceway in Cape Town, more competitive drivers with higher performance cars could pass other cars in any situation, while another group could pass, but not under braking or in a corner. Other tracks separate groups purely on engine capacity, others on advanced or beginner drivers.

The value of time on the open track comes in discovering just how your vehicle truly behaves, and how best it can be manoeuvred in the extreme, no-limits environment of a racetrack. Having pushed to a level you will seldom experience on the open road, in my opinion, you can only leave a trackday a better driver, not the other way round.

First things first: you will need a race helmet, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Go to the track with at least two-thirds of a tank of fuel – cars are thirsty out there.

Inflate the tyres to slightly above the recommended pressure for a full load. Tyres get worn at the track; it’s unavoidable, but doing this will save you at least some wear.

Remove all extraneous objects from the car before you go out on track. CD covers, cellphones, cigarette packs – they’ll fly around and distract you. Consider even leaving the spare wheel in the pits; weight kills performance.

The fuzz are known to visit open trackdays, jotting down license plates and even passing them on to insurance companies. So, depending on how many “priors” you have, you may want to tape over your license plate.

In the car, seating position is everything. Position yourself at a sufficient distance from the dash so your wrists rest on top of the steering wheel, with your seat upright. This ensures you control your vehicle only with stiff, strong arms and not your upper body and shoulders.

Now, how do you get your Volvo Estate lapping as quickly as the big boys? The golden rule, which anyone who has ever been on a skidpan can testify to, is do all your braking in a straight line. This means that all four wheels are equally loaded while decelerating and you’ll get maximum grip. Also, make sure all braking is finished before you turn into a corner and you’re back on the throttle.

A great racing driver (I forget who) said: “Anyone can go fast in a straight line; it’s how you go around corners that counts.”

To ensure this and make sure you select the best line for a corner, always keep your eye focused as far around the track as possible. Trust me: it just works. Imagine a ribbon rolling out in front of you as you take the corner. Both turning in and exiting the corner must be done with utter smoothness to avoid upsetting the balance of the car. You may not want to be smooth at first, but smooth is fast and you’ll be surprised how little turn-in is required to get around some corners.

Sessions last 10 to 15 minutes and then you pop back into the pits to cool down. When resting in the pits, pop the bonnet to let the heat dissipate from the engine bay.

Don’t put the handbrake on, your brakes will be running hot and can melt on to the discs. If you drive a turbo-charged car, remember to leave it idling for a few minutes to let the turbo cool itself.
The rest of the time can be spent bonding with your fellow disciples of speed, surprising yourself at just what a nice guy the guy in the scary-looking Subaru really is.

On your way home, still drenched in the excitement of the day and while you’re diarising the next event, I guarantee you the last thing on your mind will be closing your following gap, merging late or winning your “traffic grand prix”.

You gotta love trackdays—

Where to find your trackday fix:
Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit Raceway Freeway
www.phakisa.comAldo Scribante Motor Racing Complex

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Ray Leathern
Guest Author

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