Setting up a race car or classic car for the racetrack is important. But remember, there is no such thing as a perfect set-up – that’s part of the beauty of motor racing!
Every driver will be different, just like every car will be different. It is important to go into track days with an open mind. You want to perform well, but the main goal is to have fun.
Setting up a race car for track days
Doing everything you can ahead of your track day is essential in setting up your race car. Remember: track days are meant to be fun. You’re not racing. It’s an enjoyable day at the track and you should go into it with exactly that mindset.
Your mindset and how you drive is going to have a bigger impact than anything you could do manually in setting up your race car. Tires, tire pressure, toe, camber – it is all useless if the driver isn’t in the right mindset.
Every circuit will do track days differently. Some racetracks will have different groups on track days – from novice to seasoned enthusiasts. Have the comfortability to know what group you’re best in: if it’s your first time on track, choose a novice group.
Understanding the rules of the track day is important – it will help you in setting up your race car.
The spacing of the seat is crucial – allow extra headroom to clear your helmet and make sure it’s comfortable. If you’re not comfortable behind any car you are driving, you’re not going to have fun.
The car has to handle to your liking: don’t buy a loose-handling car if you don’t like to drive loose. You have to learn what your driving style is like and then tune to that.
Making sure the mirrors are set is key and is often something that is overlooked when setting up a race car.
Thompson said: “If you put a helmet on and head out onto a racetrack, your seat position changes. By how you’re leaning and how you have to touch the pedals – you’re hitting them a lot harder – all that stuff changes and suddenly you can’t see out of your mirrors.”
Setting up a race car – fluids!
This may sound basic when setting up a race car – but it’s massively important. Fluids should be fully topped up. And make sure you’re using optimum fluids when it comes to brakes, oil and fuel.
If you’re using a streetcar, you will experience massive brake fade on a racetrack after just a few laps. That’s why it’s important to make sure optimum fluids are used.
Even in a professional race car, the brake fluid can boil over the course of race distance. In a streetcar, you’ll experience this in a matter of laps!
The importance of tires
The most important thing you can change when setting up a race car is what touches the road – the tires. Depending on what tire compound or type you’re using, tire pressure is the most important thing.
Don’t discount tire pressure. It’s easy to change but it’s one of the hardest things to get right. If you’re driving a sports car, don’t look at toe or other fancy stuff you can change – start with tire pressure.
When setting up your race car, research your tires. Just because a manufacturer recommends a certain optimum running temperature or pressure, it doesn’t mean it will be the most comfortable to drive. Safety is a huge priority but there are pretty safe operating windows you can tune within.
And if you’re running on street tires – they will be down to the threads within laps.
Parker Thompson said: “A lot of people are bringing their own tire sets, whether that be slicks or performance tires. I think that would probably be a good step. Once you’ve been to a few track days and you know what they’re about, I would look at purchasing a race set of tires. At the end of the day, that will probably be the biggest performance gain you can get out of any type of vehicle.”
Setting up a race car – brakes
Similar to fluids, brakes are vital to setting up a race car. Brake pads get shot during track days and you could end up warping your brakes.
Stock brakes are meant to last the test of time when stopping a traffic lights – not high speed and low-speed corners. If you’re using stock brakes on a streetcar – even if it’s a high-end performance, six-figure vehicle – it will still experience huge problems on a racetrack. Upgrading brakes is a necessity to setting up a race car.
Parker Thompson said: “If you’ve got street stock brakes and street stock brake pads and manufacturer brake fluid that doesn’t withstand the heat of going to track – that’s all stuff I would look at upgrading if you’re going to take tracking seriously. It’s going to cost you more if you’re not going to upgrade upfront, than it will if you do the latter.”
Ego check – keep the aids on
Keep the driving aids on while you’re learning. That means keeping traction control and stability control on when setting up a race car. Get used to the car before you switch aids off, because it will handle completely differently without them.
In some professional race car categories, it’s actually illegal for drivers to turn these aids off. So don’t worry too much about it!
Parker Thompson said: “I’ve seen more people bin it within the first five laps on track because they thought they could turn off the driving aids than anything else.”
“I know people who go to a track with zero ego. They don’t care about what lap times they do. They don’t care about driving their cars hard – all they want to do is enjoy driving the vehicle they bought.”
“If you’re one of those people who really has no sense for performance driving, and you’re not trying to get the most out of your car or anywhere near it – you just want a safe place to open it up past the speed limit – then use your discretion. You don’t necessarily need to spend all that money on upgrading the brakes or brake fluid.”