Guide for track day first timers

Over the years the same questions arise from people heading off to their first track day, so we thought it would be a good idea to list out what needs to be done to your car, what to do when you arrive at the track, and what to expect at an MX-5 Club track day, all in one easy to find guide.

Mazda MX-5 Club of NSW track days are currently run at either

  • Pheasant Wood Circuit (PWC) near Marulan south of Sydney, or

  • Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP) in the Sydney suburb of Eastern Creek.

If this will be 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.

Your starting point will be the event page for your chosen event on the MX-5 Club website. The upcoming events can be found here. On the event page you will find details about the event, the rules (called Supplementary Regulations) that will apply, and guidance on how to enter the event.

Let's assume you’ve read the Supplementary Regulations for your chosen event, found the class you should be running in, and have entered for the event through the club's online booking system.

We recommend that you apply for a Motorsport Australia "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 PWC track days, then you might consider the slightly cheaper option of a AASA "Club" licence. The AASA licence is not accepted at our SMSP track days. The Motorsport Australia Speed license can be used for both PWC and SMSP track day.

You should have also printed or downloaded the documents required on the day (links sent by email), which include:

  • Information Sheet - tells you what you need to know for an enjoyable day

  • List of entrants - tells you who else will be there

  • Grid Sheet - explaining which group and order you will run in. This is explained later in this guide.

As part of the entry process you should have already completed the online Self-Scrutiny Form and Disclaimer Form.


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 PWC or SMSP.

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 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. If you are using street tyres, when they are cold you should pump them up to around 32 or 33 psi. You can do this before going to the track, or if you take or can borrow an air pump you can do this at the track. Note that air is not available at SMSP or Pheasant Wood. Take your pressure gauge with you to the track and check the cold pressures at the beginning of the day and then check the pressures again immediately after each run. As the tyres get hot, the pressure increases. You should aim for a maximum hot pressure of the mid-30’s psi 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 SMSP where the event is run under a Motorsport Australia (MA) permit. Fire extinguishers are not required on road registered cars at PWC, 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 in a car presented for scrutineering at an event 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 SMSP and PWC. 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 the tape pulling off paint when it is removed.

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 PWC 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 Pheasant Wood Circuit. Drive in and find a spare carport. Take everything out of your car. Empty the glove box, pockets, and boot (including the spare wheel if you have one, tools and jack, etc). Fit your blue battery triangle and tow hooks, if necessary. Head over to the control tower and collect your timing transponder and if your car number is between 1 and 60 also your magnetic numbers. Once they are fitted to your car, take your helmet and be fully dressed in the clothing you intend to wear when on-track, and drive to the drive-through scrutineering area near the control tower. You should have already completed all your entry paperwork online, include the PWC disclaimer, so that will be checked and then you will be given your driver wristband and scrutineering sticker. Once scrutineering is complete, 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/Amaroo Circuit. The circuit is entered from the south side, off Ferrers Road. Turn left to enter next to the guard's shed, head down the road about 300 metres and the track and control tower are on the right. Claim a space in the open pit area to the north of the control tower (there are no carports). Do the same as for PWC except the scrutineering is done in the garages of the control tower, magnetic numbers are available from the office next to the garages, and timing devices are available from upstairs in race control. In case of wet weather, gear can be stored in the garages after scrutineering is completed.

DRIVERS BRIEFING. Listen for the call to attend the compulsory drivers briefing. The Clerk of Course is the chief official who will be running the event and they 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 be with you during your first on-track session, and they will be available to offer advice during the day if requested.

How a track day is run. All the drivers at a club track day, which can be up to 60 at PWC and 72 at SMSP, are divided into numbered run groups with up to 12 drivers in each group. This division is based on achieved lap times so that drivers with similar lap times are put together in the same group. Then within each group drivers are again ordered by achieved lap times, with the fastest driver first in the group. When your group number is called, you drive your car to the "Dummy Grid" where the Grid Marshall will line up the cars in the intra-group order. When the previous groups on-track session is completed, at the direction of the Clerk-of-Course, the Grid Marshall will release each car of your group on to the track with a 3 to 5 second gap between the cars. Your on-track session will run for 6 minutes at SMSP or 10 minutes at PWC, and then the chequered flag will be shown at the Start/Finish line. The “out” and “in” laps are not included in your sessions times.

First-timer session. All first-timers are assigned to the same group, but with the order within that group based on the organisers perception of the likely relative speeds of the first-timer's vehicles, as there are no previous lap times to work from. In your first session on the track your advisor will drive your car with you in the passenger seat and they will explain the driving lines, apexes and braking points, etc., to get you around the circuit safely. He/she will do three laps and return to pitlane where you will swap seats then you drive three more laps with the advisor in the passenger seat giving feedback. 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 bank balance doesn’t necessarily mean having the best lap time.

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