March 08 2012

Beginners Guide to a Track Day

Leyton Clarke, Track Day Instructor with Michelin partners RMA, provides the low-down on Track Days and those considering a Track Day for the first time:

Q –How long have RMA been established and who are your customers?

A - My Dad started RMA back in 1989, he’s an ex racer and a serious petrol head. As such, RMA has always been ‘enthusiast-led’ which is central to its ethos. Whilst we have a reputation of being very much ‘top of the market’ with lots of supercar owners, we do also welcome drivers of regular cars as well and those trying a track day for the first time. It really doesn’t matter how much the car costs as long as it is owned by an enthusiast who loves and respects their car- we don’t want drivers whose aim is to thrash their company car or hot hatch. Unfortunately, these type of drivers tend not to have respect for other track users so they aren’t welcome at RMA events. Whilst we promote membership of RMA, at least half those attending will be ‘day members’. They pay full price and don’t enjoy the member offers and special deals available from ourselves and our partners, including Michelin.

Q – How should a novice approach their first track day?

A - At RMA Track Days we always have a ‘Novice Only’ session at the beginning of the day with free tuition. It helps, but I also recommend that most drivers need at least one hour with an instructor for their first six track days. If they take on board what they are being taught their track driving skills will have gone from zero to hero, or at least to around eighty/eighty-five percent as good as a professional driver during that time. It’s the last few percent that’s really difficult! I split the instruction into one half hour session in the morning and one in the afternoon with a similar amount of time out alone on track putting into practice what has been learnt. It’s worth remembering that those two hours will actually equate to longer time spent driving than the duration of a typical Grand Prix- and that’s a long time to be concentrating!

Q - What does a typical Track Day comprise?

A- A typical day would involve meeting at the circuit around 8am, completing the registration formalities with the track day organiser, attending the drivers briefing and hopefully grabbing a coffee and a bacon roll. When teaching one- to- one the time spent in car is pretty intense, so we spend a lot of time looking over the Racelogic Vbox data which accurately analyses all driving and makes mistakes very simple to spot. At some point I will do a fast lap and use that as a reference point with the data to allow me to overlay the customers lap onto of mine and see where their time is being lost, all in all the day should be relaxed and enjoyable, you have plenty of track time so there is no need to put yourself under any pressure

Q – What are the common driver mistakes, and how do you improve driver safety?

A - Nearly all the incidents we see are simply caused by drivers going too fast, too soon. When coaching, I spend half my time telling beginners to slow down, it’s a matter of ‘get it right’ then working on the speed. One of the most common problems is that because race circuits are big and wide with no trees, lamp posts, hedges etc. there is nothing to gauge your speed by. Just about all novice drivers approach corners at considerably higher speed than they actually think they are doing, with the obvious consequences! Personally, I think a well run track day is a lot safer than driving around the M25 and I’m pretty sure the statistics from RMA events would bear that out. It’s simply a matter of paying attention at the drivers briefing, taking plenty of instruction and remembering that regularly ‘commuting’ in a performance car doesn’t make you a good track driver. I still have regular coaching myself as does just about every current Formula 1 driver even though they are supposed to be the best drivers in the world.

Q – How do you drive faster laps?

A –Most people are pretty good on the straight so it’s just a matter of learning how to get around the corners and come out of the other side quickly so you can make the most of the next straight, that’s the tricky part! To begin with you need to learn the basic sequence of events when approaching a corner; brake, gear, power, turn, etc. Then you need to begin to understand vehicle dynamics, trail braking, weight transfer and a whole lot more. Take on everything you learn, spend as much time on track as you possibly can and after a few years you should be a very capable track day driver. If you want to go further, do a season in Formula Renault then a couple of years in Formula 3 then go on to GP3, finishing off with a season or two in GP2, it will probably have cost you around £10m pounds but you should be a fairly capable driver by that point!

Q –Why should drivers choose RMA?

A –We’ve run events in some sixteen or more different countries and worked with some of the world’s best car manufacturers, this, along with our association with Michelin has gained us a massive respect from circuit owners across Europe and they tend to let us run events our way. For example we operate with an open pit lane which means people can go out whenever they want for as long as they want. This tends to work really well, and avoids all the queuing often associated with days run in sessions. We also allow overtaking to take place on either side wherever it’s safe rather than the usual, drive on the right, overtake on the left and only on the straights which I’ve always thought is completely crazy as it can cause massive tail backs and frustrations.

I suppose one of the other big differences is the roasting my Dad gives anyone who exploits their attendance at the event and drives like an idiot. I promise you, you don’t want to be on the receiving end….., but then most people know that and stick to the rules and those who don’t tend to stay well away, which is exactly what we want and it keeps the days safe.

To find out more about Michelin at RMA track days have a look at the article on theMy Michelin page of the Michelin website.

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