Guide for track day first timers

Over the years the same questions arise from people heading off to their first track day with the MX-5 Club of NSW at either Wakefield Park or Sydney Motorsport Park (SMP). So we thought it would be a good idea to list out what needs to be done to your car and what to do when you arrive at the track, all in one easy to find guide.

If this is your first time on a track, we recommend that you first attend a Club Driver Training Day. This is a non-timed, easy introduction and a good familiarisation into the capabilities of your car for the first timer to driving on a closed circuit.

Let's assume you’ve read the supplementary regulations for the event, found the class you should be running in, and have registered for the event through the Club's online booking system.

We recommend that you apply for a CAMS "Level 2 Speed" licence keeping in mind it can take a few weeks for your licence to be approved and sent to you. If you only intend to attend Wakefield Park, then you might consider the slightly cheaper option of a AASA "Club" licence. The AASA licence is not accepted at our SMP track days.

You have also printed out all the forms and paperwork required on the day (links sent by email), which include:

  • Information Sheet - tells you what you need to know for an enjoyable day
  • Scrutineering Sheet - required for you to enter your car
  • Video Camera Form - you will need this if you intend to carry a video camera or laptiming device in your car
  • Disclaimer Form - required for registration at the track
  • List of entrants - tells you who else will be there
  • Grid Sheet - explaining which group and order you will run in

Now what?

Before the event you need to ensure that your car is ready, like you, to have an enormous amount of fun. This means that you must check all the basics normally done when your car is serviced, plus a couple of track requirements depending on whether you're running at Wakefield Park or SMP.

OIL. If your car hasn’t had an engine oil & filter change in the last 10,000 kilometres, do it now before the event. A full synthetic oil is recommended and is cheap insurance against engine failure, provided the engine is in good condition to start with. Check the dipstick while the car is on a level surface - it should be up to the maximum fill level.

FLUIDS. Next, make sure that all your are fluids are topped up. ie coolant, brake fluid, gearbox oil, differential oil. If your brake fluid hasn’t been changed in the last two years, change it. DO NOT use a silicone-based fluid in an MX-5. A DOT 4 rated fluid is all you'll need. Also check to ensure your car has no underbody fluid leaks etc. This can lead to a failed scrutineering check.

BRAKE PADS. Check your brake pads still have plenty of material on them. If less than 4mm, change the brake pads. If you anticipate doing multiple track days, this may be an opportunity to upgrade to performance brake pads. As a rule, the front brake pads will wear faster and benefit most from performance pads. Generally rear brake pads will last far longer and standard pads are fine.

TYRES. Your tyres should be roadworthy when you present it for scrutineering. If your tyres are down to the tread wear marks you will not pass scrutineering. Before you get to the track, pump your road tyres up to 37psi. Air is not available at SMP and the pump at Wakefield Park is temperamental sometimes and the queue can be long when it does work. Take your pressure gauge with you to the track and check the pressures immediately after each run. As the tyres get hot, the pressure increases. You should aim for a maximum pressure of 40 psi hot in street tyres. Any higher than this and they lose grip. Don't think you need to start with expensive race tyres. Your standard road tyres are more than enough to enjoy a track day. With experience, you will consider various tyre options, dependant on your chosen class and desired performance level. But fear not, your current roadworthy tyres are suitable. You should expect extra tyre wear to occur during a track day - how much is really up to how hard you drive. Regular competitors usually get at least a full season of club track days from a set of street tyres.

BATTERY. Make sure your battery is secured by the metal bracket and doesn't move around. Cable ties will be rejected at scrutineering. NA and NB model MX-5s must have a vented battery.

FIRE EXTINGUISHER. A fire extinguisher is required for Sydney Motorsport Park where the event is run under a CAMS permit. Fire extinguishers are not required on road registered cars at Wakefield Park, although they are recommended. When you buy a 1kg fire extinguisher, the bracket must be made of metal and include a metal belt style retainer on the mounting bracket. Simple push-in style extinguisher brackets are unacceptable. The extinguisher must be no older than 3 years from date of manufacture or inspection.

BLUE TRIANGLE. These are placed on the bodywork to indicate the position of the battery, and are required at both SMP and Wakefield Park. They are easily made with blue tape or adhesive vinyl film (eg. Contact). Each side is 150mm long.

TOW HOOKS. Tow hooks must be fitted prior to scrutineering. The factory issued tie-down hooks are acceptable on MX-5s. In the unlikely event that you get bogged in a gravel trap, it is essential that your car can be quickly and easily towed out of the trap.

Polish the doors of your car. Why? The Club supplies magnetic door numbers which must be secured with tape, and a good layer of wax ensures the tape is easily removed at the end of the day. The wax also stops the possibility of pulling off paint.

OK, so now the car is ready, what do you do on the day of the event?

CLOTHING. Make sure you’re wearing full-length non-synthetic protective clothing and have an approved helmet, as per the supplementary regulations for the event.

FUEL. Arrive with plenty of fuel as you can't buy it at the track. Non-turbo cars can easily do a full Wakefield Park track day if you have ¾ of a tank at the start of the first run. With more experience, you’ll carry spare fuel and run with less in the tank on the track but for now, you won't be breaking any records, so turn up with plenty of fuel.

GETTING THERE. Do not be tempted to speed on your way there - save it for the track! The roads to and from motorsport facilities are heavily policed and landing a speeding fine is a perfect way to ruin your day at the track.

Arriving at Wakefield. Drive in and find a spare carport in the two rows on the left. Take everything out of your car. Empty the glove box, pockets, and boot (including the spare tyre if you have one, tools and jack, etc). After everything is out of the car, head to the registration office.You will need your club membership card, CAMS L2S or AASA licence, scrutineering and disclaimer paperwork. You will be registered for the day, get your track day attendance wrist band and club magnetic car numbers. Return to your car, affix the numbers, battery blue triangle and tow hooks and take your car to the scrutineering area. Take your paperwork, helmet and be fully dressed in the clothing you intend to drive in. After scrutineering, return your car to your parking space and head to the control tower and pick up your timing device, once affixed to your car, you are ready for the drivers briefing. Then simply follow the other drivers to the briefing as you have just made it past the most confusing part of your first track day.

Arriving at Sydney Motorsport Park, South Circuit. The circuit is entered from the south side, off Ferrers Road. Turn left at the guard's shed, head down the hill and the track is on the right. After arriving, claim a space in the open carpark to the north of the control tower (there are no carports). Do the same as for Wakefield Park except the scrutineering is done in the garages of the control tower. In case of wet weather, gear can be stored in these garages after scrutineering is completed.

DRIVERS BRIEFING. Listen for the call to attend the compulsory drivers briefing. The Clerk of Course will explain how the day will be run, explain important safety requirements, and identify the key officials who will ensure your day runs smoothly. As a first timer, you will be assigned an advisor who will drive your car with you in the passenger seat and explain the driving lines, apexes and braking points, etc., to get you around the circuit safely. He/she will do three laps and then swap seats with you and do three more laps giving pointers on where you should be and what you should be doing. Listen carefully. After this first run, you will drive on your own.

THAT'S IT. Apart from saying "have fun", which you will, remember that it's the nut behind the wheel that's the biggest performance improvement to lap times, not the bits bolted on. Many excellent club drivers participate in the standard classes and the biggest cheque book doesn’t necessarily have the best lap time. Dicing with someone in your class whose times are within half a second of yours is more exciting than winning by three seconds.

See you at the track.

Secrets to Going Fast in a MX-5

Car set up: Alignment, corner weights and good maintenance/proper equipment

Seat time: Can't go fast if you don't practice ...

Coaching: Find someone who's fast in a MX-5 and ask for help! Remember that an MX-5 is a low horsepower, high handling car so get your braking done before the corner and get on the power early to go fast out of the corners.

For more detailed tips & tricks, click here and here