Attending a track day is rewarding but expensive, so here’s how to make the most of it, according to an experienced pro. Now that the warm weather is finally upon us, it’s time to dust off the one-piece suit and book some track days. Closed-circuit ride days are the best way to test your bike and body to limits not possible on public roads.
Piss-poor preparation leads to a piss-poor day. Whatever your bike or riding experience, here are a few golden tips I’ve learnt from years of track riding. If used as a checklist, I guarantee you’ll make the most of your track time.
1. BOOK YOUR DAY
Most circuit days allow pre-booking with some offering early-bird discounts as opposed to paying on the day. From this time of year many circuit days (especially weekends and public holidays) tend to book out well in advance. I like to book my next track day at least a few weeks out to allow plenty of lead time to prep my bike, book time off work and earn some brownie points at home before she sees the credit-card statement.
2. PREP YOUR BODY
Arriving the night before with mates often leads to a catchup at the bar, but try and save that until after the ride. Circuit riding is mentally and physically demanding, so try for an early night and arrive as rested as possible. When it comes to food, excitement and nerves can reduce your appetite but try and eat a decent breakfast to build your energy levels for the day.
3. PREP YOUR BIKE
Whether you’re on a track-only sportsbike, a naked, cruiser or your daily commuter, it needs to be prepared for the day. My standard once-over begins with a quick check of the service schedule – if it’s due for a service then get it done. Then give the bike a thorough eyeball starting at the tyres. Have you got enough tyre for the day? The number of riders I see arrive at a track day with worn-out tyres is frightening. Check chain tension and give the sprockets a visual for wear, and check if your dash cam is properly working.
Ensure you have enough brake pads left to get you through the day because, needless to say, you’ll be braking much harder than you would on the street. Check that all nuts and bolts are tensioned and remove or tape your mirrors – they only get in the way.
4. PREP YOUR KIT
Get your full set of riding kit out a week before. Try it all on and ensure zips are working, knee sliders have meat left and your helmet visors (tint, clear, anti-fog) are serviceable. This allows time to sort any issues. Pack your kit bag and, if possible, your bike the night before as what takes 10 minutes the day before will take 30 minutes when you’re running late in the morning.
5. SET YOUR GOALS
This may sound a little advanced, but it applies to everyone. If your aim for the day is to simply lap the circuit with a smile then that’s fine, but if your focus is on improving your performance then plan for that. All too often a rider will head to the circuit with the aim of beating their PB time, but when they’re asked how they intend to go about it the response is often to the effect of “Today I’m going to really try”. Were you not trying last time?
How do you try harder? Grip the handlebars tighter and grit your teeth? Have a think about where you think you can improve, taking into consideration body position, line selection and bike set up. Spend some time identifying what you want to try and plan how you’ll fit that into your day
6. ARRIVE EARLY
Chances are you’re already wound up like a spring so take some pressure off by arriving early. Leave yourself time to find your pit, unload your bike and sign on before grabbing a cuppa and catching up with friends. I like to find out the day’s schedule. If it’s on paper I highlight my sessions and stick the sheet inside the lid of my toolbox, if it’s not then I take a photo of the list on display at sign on. Either way you have a quick reference to know when you’re scheduled to be on track.
Give the bike a final onceover, check your fuel level and install tyre warmers if you have them. Always arrive with more pressure in your tyres than what’s required. Once your tyres are hot off the warmers you set your pressure (track pressures are quoted as hot off a tyre warmer). It’s best to lower your pressure to what’s required than put cold air in a hot tyre to reach pressure.
7. EASE INTO THE DAY
Build speed progressively, allowing yourself time to get your eye in and brain up to speed. If you don’t have tyre warmers then you’ll need to warm up your rubber. Use the first session to assess conditions and get a feel for your bike. Remember to breathe. Relaxing your body on the straights helps avoid arm pump and cramps that are often experienced when pushing too hard too soon. Make a plan for what you want from each scheduled session whether it’s just spinning laps or trying changes to your riding or bike set up.
Try and choose a group that rides at a similar pace to you as constantly passing or being passed will distract your focus. Don’t hesitate to ask the organizers to be moved into a faster or slower group if required – there could be less traffic. Instead of sitting down for a heavy lunch, have a healthy snack after each session and keep drinking water even if the conditions are cold. Dehydration happens quickly and effects your ability to concentrate.
8. TAKING ADVICE
This is something you may or may not be looking for, but it usually flows freely at track days. Be careful of people offering advice before you’ve asked for it. Being a racer or able to set a fast lap time doesn’t make you an oracle. In saying that, I’ve received insightful tips from riders fast and slow, so it’s worth hearing someone out, especially those with knowledge and experience. I suggest you take all that you’re told with a grain of salt, use what works and discard what doesn’t.
9. ENJOY THE PROCESS
Some days it clicks and good lap times come easy, and some days feel like you can’t win a trick. Arriving prepared and rested is the best way to start the day on a positive and continue building positive momentum. Making improvements to your riding and bike set up is hugely satisfying. Be methodical, take notes of changes to both your bike and riding. You can reflect on those notes away from the track and also use them to better prepare for your next day on track.
There’s a lot of pressure involved in circuit riding including danger and excitement combined with high expectations of yourself, which can become overwhelming. If you find yourself in a frump just remember that negative thoughts lead to negative emotions that in turn produce negative outcomes. Sometimes it’s best to leave the lap timer switched off, remind yourself you’re not at work and focus on the positives, like you have a circuit waiting to be ridden!
10. CALL IT EARLY
Late in the day a combination of worn tyres and rider fatigue can snowball, resulting in mistakes. If you’re feeling spent then pack up and head home in one piece. Riding one more session just because it’s there can spoil a good day. If you ride to the track take care of your speed when returning to public roads the same day – 100km/h will never have felt so slow!