How to Modify Your Car for a Track Day

Track Days are awesome. Fact. They allow anyone, no matter what the budget, to get out on a track and have a blast in their own car. While there’s no reason that you can’t do a track day in a standard, unmodified car, it wouldn’t be as much fun as getting out on the track in a car with a few track day mods and taking your first steps into motorsport.

With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a track day guide explaining how to modify your car. You’ll probably be surprised at how cheap it is to give your car a track day setup – and many of the mods are actually free – so read on to find out more.

Why go on a track day?

A track day is about having fun. Rather than racing the other cars on track, you’re there to learn more about the way your car drives on the limit whilst in a controlled environment. For this reason, we’re really more interested in making your car fun to drive than we are in increasing its power output right now. Power is great, but track days are about cornering fast rather than being the quickest in a straight line – which is pretty boring anyway (apologies to any fans of drag racing!)

We also recommend that you try your car out on track before you make any major performance mods to it. This will allow you to judge where your money could be best spent, and you’ll learn more about the tuning process as a whole because of it.  Don’t forget as well to check with your insurer if you’re covered for track use – as most standard policies don’t cover this.

Preparing your car for a track day

Circuit driving will put a lot of strain on your car in places that it probably isn’t used to. This means that before you take your car out on track it’s important to give it a thorough service.

We’re not just talking about the usual oil and filter changes here, (although they are still important). As well as the usual suspects you’ll be wanting to check for tightness on all the most important parts of your car. Your brakes, powertrain and suspension are the most critical components to check, but you’ll also want to ensure that your interior is well screwed together – there’s nothing worse than your glove box deciding to pop open when you’re giving it some around a tight bend!

On most cars – especially older ones – it’s really best to check every nut and bolt that you can find! A decent torque wrench and a Haynes Manual will allow you to check for the correct tightness on crucial components.

Just in case anything does fall off your car on the big day, it would be wise to carry some duct tape and cable ties which will allow you to put together some classic bodge-jobs if the need arises.  We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve MacGyvered things together with duct tape. Insulation tape is also useful for taping up your lights (which most track day organisers require).

Pay attention to your tyres and fluids

Don’t forget to pay attention to your tyres on the day – you’re going to get though a lot of tread on-track and if you’re driving home afterwards then you need to make sure you’re legal.

tyre tread gauge will take the guesswork out of this and ensure that you don’t end up with points or a ban.  As a bonus, many tread gauges double up as tyre pressure gauges – which is useful because the heat generated by track driving will mean that your tyre pressures rise.  As a result, you’re probably going to want to let some air out of your tyres when on track.

Don’t forget to pump them back up before you drive home though!  A foot pump or portable air compressor is ideal.  If your tyres are brand new, it’s worth ‘scrubbing’ them in before driving on track, as you won’t get full performance from them until they’ve worn down a little.  This can be done by doing some mileage on them, but we also offer a tyre shaving service if you need them scrubbing in fast. Tyre shaving also has the bonus effect of reducing ‘squirm’ from tall tread blocks – although it’s a bit extreme for a first-time track day!

Next up, you need to pay some attention to your fluids – which will have much more to deal with than usual. It’s paramount that your engine is well lubricated, so rather than filling it up with any old junk, make sure that you use a performance engine oil that will do a much better job of protecting your lump whilst you thrash it to within an inch of its life! It’s also worth checking out forums and owner’s clubs to see if your engine could benefit from a different grade of oil whilst on track – as many do.

When you change your oil, you should take the opportunity to fit a magnetic sump plug. Whilst your oil filter will grab most small particles you’ll be surprised at what one of these little magnets can pick up, so for a few quid they’re well worth it. Bear in mind that your engine might use more oil than usual whilst you’re revving it hard, and you’ll want to change the oil after a few track days as well as keeping a close eye on your levels whenever you drive on track.

You’ll also be using your brakes a quite a lot when driving fast, so a re-bleed with some performance brake fluid is a must. Performance fluid will help to avoid the horrible feeling that comes with boiling your brake fluid and the pedal hitting the floor when you need it most (even more so for heavier cars). This is not nice, and can be a painful/expensive experience!

We even sell a variety of brake-bleeder systems if you don’t want to do the job the old-fashioned way! Whilst your lines are empty, it’d be rude not to fit some braided brake lines too – which will further firm up your pedal feel.

To make sure that your car is handling the way its manufacturer intended, it’s also worth getting your alignment checked. A full four wheel alignment is best, and will ensure that you’re getting the most from your chassis.

Helmets and safety equipment

You’ll also need a helmet before anyone will let you go out on track. A lot of circuits and track day organisers will rent suitable headgear to you, but this stuff tends to smell a bit funky, and eventually you’re probably going to want one of your own.

We sell a full range of racing helmets from budget models to full Snell-approved, fire-resistant lids from some of the biggest names in the business like Arai, Bell and Sparco. If you really want to get serious, then get in touch as we can also hook you up with some of the best custom helmet painters in the business.

A top safety tip when you’re on a track day is to avoid using your handbrake when parked in the pitlane. This is because the heat generated by track driving can cause your brakes to lock themselves on. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a wheel chock so that your car doesn’t go rolling off (and as a bonus, you’ll also get to shout “chocks away” whenever you set off … or maybe not). You could use a block of wood, but a proper chock is always more secure and you don’t want your car rolling onto the track now do you?

Finally, you may want to consider investing in an action camera like a GoPro to record some footage of your track endeavours. Most tracks will let you do this as long as your camera is securely mounted although some might make you sign a copyright waiver or pay a fee.

Having a camera system from your very first track day will allow you to see how your driving is improving, and to see where you might be going wrong. Besides this, you’ll also be able to put together some pretty cool videos of yourself bombing around a track to show off with!

Track day mods

After your first track day you’ll have a much better idea of where your car’s weak points lie. All cars are different in this regard, but there’s one modification that will almost universally make your car much better to drive. We’re talking here about the tyres. Specific track day tyres will give your car massive amounts of dry grip, whilst at the same time being road legal so you can still drive to and from the track.

Toyo R888 track day tyres are a very popular solution and are attractively priced, but grip like the proverbial in the dry. Even if your car doesn’t have a lot of power to put down, you’ll still benefit from the improved braking and cornering that a set of track day tyres will give you, which is of course what these events are all about.

Even with racing brake fluid fitted, you may have found that your brakes had a tendency to fade when used on track. This is a common problem, and is something that you can fix with a few choice brake upgrades.

The first thing to do is to fit some performance pads – although you might decide to fit some better discs at the same time. If you really want to improve your brakes, then a big brake conversion with multi-piston callipers from the likes of Brembo or AP Racing will be just the ticket – providing the ultimate in braking power – especially when coupled with a set of decent tyres and some uprated suspension.

Further improvements in handling can come from a number of different sources – with the cheapest being to simply strip the car out! Removing the back seat (if you have one), stereo, spare wheel, sound deadening and even heater will all save a few kilos, and improve everything from handling to braking and acceleration (although it will also make things a lot louder inside!)

If you remove your spare wheel, then don’t forget to carry a can of tyre foam, and an anti-mist treatment for your windscreen is a very good idea if you’ve removed your heater.

Further weight loss can come from fitting a pair of racing seats and harnesses which will also have the twin benefits of making you feel more ‘connected’ to the car and increasing your safety. Most track days will allow you to take a passenger along (provided that they wear a helmet), so the second seat will probably come in useful.

If you found that your engine was running a bit hot on track, the best thing to do is generally to fit an oil cooler. These things do exactly what it says on the box, and will help to keep your oil and engine nice and cool. This is of great importance when you’re really giving it some! On a car that will see road as well as track use, it makes sense to fit a thermostatically-controlled oil cooler – as otherwise your engine may take forever and a day to reach operating temperature during normal use!

Another good idea if you’re worried about heat is to convert your cooling system to run Evans Waterless Coolant. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds and simply requires you to thoroughly flush your system with Evans Prep Fluid before you fill it with waterless coolant. Not only will Evans coolant raise the boiling point of your cooling system considerably, it will also prevent corrosion (because there’s no water in it!)

If you find that your car often runs a bit hot on the track then an oil cooler could also be a worthwhile investment. Doing exactly what the name suggests, we recommend a thermostatically-controlled oil cooler in cars that will be used on the road as well as on the track otherwise it could take weeks to reach operating temperature!

Another good idea if you’re worried about heat is to convert your cooling system to run Evans Waterless Coolant as this will raise the boiling point of your cooling system and prevent corrosion. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds as all you need to do is thoroughly flush your system before you fill it with waterless coolant.

The cheapest method to give your engine some extra cooling is simply to cut chunks from your front bumper to allow for greater airflow, and on some cars an auxiliary headlight can be removed to allow for a cold air intake. Ducting can also be aimed at your brake callipers in order to reduce fade.  If your car didn’t come with them as standard then fitting some auxiliary gauges to keep an eye on things like your oil pressure and oil temperature could save your engine (and a lot of money) in the event of a catastrophic failure.

After you’ve fitted some track day tyres, handling can be further improved in a number of ways – with the most obvious being to fit some performance suspension. We recently wrote a whole article on how to improve handling and only really scratched the surface of the subject, but if you’ve stripped your car out as above then eventually you’re probably going to want a roll cage. This will stiffen your car’s chassis no end – as well as providing obvious safety improvements – so it’s no surprise that it’s a common track day modification.

Depending on the track you tend to drive at and the car you do it in, you may find that you’d get a lot of benefit from fitting a limited-slip differential (LSD). If your car has a standard ‘open’ diff, then you might find that during hard cornering, the inside driven wheel spins up as the power is transferred to the un-weighted side of the car.

This is because an open diff just transfers power to whichever wheel has the least resistance. If you tried to set off with one wheel on the floor and the other in the air for instance, the car wouldn’t go anywhere – the wheel in the air would just spin. A limited-slip diff eliminates this problem by ensuring that power is balanced between the two sides of the car at all times, reducing wheelspin and allowing you to power out of bends more effectively.

A limited-slip diff can also help with straight-line traction in higher-powered cars, again by ensuring that wheelspin is limited. This isn’t a cheap mod but it can be very effective. Again, owner’s clubs and forums are the best places to find out the type of diff that your car has fitted – as sometimes LSDs can be standard fit or available as factory options.

Not forgetting the noise!

Although the aim of this guide isn’t to get your car producing big power figures, there is an aspect of a proper driver’s car that we haven’t yet considered – the noise it makes.

Depending on what you drive, you might like the sound of your car already (who could resist a burbling Alfa V6 or old-school Impreza flat-four for instance), but even with cars like these there’s room for improvement.

Fitting a performance exhaust and induction kit is the most effective way to change your car’s voice – and should bag you a bit of extra horsepower into the bargain. Do bear in mind that most British circuits have strict noise-limits so don’t just go out and make your car as loud as possible, because you will get tested!

The sky’s the limit

As with most things car-related, the sky is the limit when it comes to prepping a track car. In the future you might want to consider playing with your aerodynamics or fitting fully-adjustable suspension. Both of these will give you a multitude of settings to mess about with to create a car that’s perfect for your driving style and the tracks you frequent.

Eventually you’re probably going to start craving more power – but you’ll be surprised at how much faster you’ll get simply by practicing your track driving and receiving instruction where available.

So there you have it. Following this guide should leave you with a car that’s both fun and fast on track, and you’ll learn a lot about vehicle dynamics along the way. As we say, doing track day mods in stages is always the best way as it’ll allow you to feel the benefit and assess how your car is progressing as you go along.

Don’t forget that if there are any mods you don’t want to do yourself, we’ve got a fully equipped Performance Fitting Centre here in Wrexham who will be more than willing to sort you out and you can tie your visit in with a trip to see our vast Showroom, too.

 

Are you a track day veteran? What’s the biggest tip that you’d give to a newbie? Any subjects you’d like us to cover in the future? Let us know below!

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