There isn’t much good news around in these Covid-infested days, particularly from the beleaguered automotive sector, but there is one kind of business that has thrived since the lifting of total lockdown: track days.
It’s easy to see why. Even before the pandemic, people were increasingly turning to track days, for two reasons. First, modern performance cars are so fast that it’s increasingly hard to exercise them properly in public. And second, if you do attempt to drive fast on the road rather than track, you will at best incur the wrath of the locals, at worst risk anything from your licence to your liberty.
“The track day market isn’t just back to normal but exceeding what could normally be expected,” says Ben Taylor, boss of the British Automobile Racing Club, which lets tracks such as Thruxton, Pembrey and Croft to track day organisers. “Even our own track experiences, where you drive our cars on track rather than your own, are coming back strong. You have to take Covid seriously and be assiduous in all processes, like thoroughly sanitising every car for each new driver, but if you show that level of care and professionalism, customers are now far more likely to be put off by the prospect of bad weather than anything else.”
Indeed, driving a car around a track is one sport you can pursue while guarding very effectively against the risk of coronavirus transmission. You’re usually alone in the car, and even if you have a friend or instructor next to you, there are surely few face coverings more effective than a balaclava and full-face helmet with the visor down. This, combined with people catching up with track days they might otherwise have done during lockdown, likely accounts for most of their current popularity.
There’s another factor at play here, too: at a time when the greatest restrictions have been placed on our movements since the war, the idea of cutting loose and driving a good car around a great track as fast as possible is a fantastically liberating thought. And so long as you and your car leave in the same number of pieces as you arrived, a track day will deliver on that promise in spades.
So what’s stopping you? For most, it’s a mixture of factors such as cost, thinking you have the wrong car and the fear of anything from not being fast enough to hurting your car or yourself in a crash. My aim here is to answer a few such questions for track day newbies and hopefully put minds at rest.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that you won’t struggle to find a venue: the track day market is so valuable to circuits that if there’s one near you, it’s guaranteed to either host its own or let its facilities to one of the many track day companies out there.
* Think about how much noise your car makes. Many UK tracks have stringent noise restrictions placed on them, and you don’t want to drive all the way there only to not be allowed on track. Remember that just because it’s quiet enough to be allowed on the road, that doesn’t automatically mean it will be allowed on track. If in any doubt, ask the organisers.
* Make sure you’re happy with the organiser’s track protocols, particularly regarding how and where to overtake or be overtaken. Remember that not all track days are ‘open pit lane’, where you can spend as much time on track as you like. Some are run-in sessions with limited laps.
* Wear the right gear, which means full covering of both arms. You won’t be allowed on track in a T-shirt. And if you can, wear a decent helmet: it doesn’t need to cost thousands and be made from carbonfibre, but it does need to be in good condition and have never been in a crash before. Helmets can look okay on the outside but be structurally compromised.
* Don’t mistake test days for track days. Test days are for racing cars, usually attended by race teams trying to set up or develop racing cars. For these, you not only need to be clad in FIA-approved race gear from head to toe but also have a competition licence.