Track Days in Your Aston Martin (Part 1)

I originally compiled most of this information for a post I wrote on 6speedonline. If you’ve read that, you’ll see a lot of it carrying over but with a few updates.

This series of blog posts is about my experiences taking my '07 V8 Vantage to track days. This is meant to address a number of things ranging from mileage to maintenance to performance to events. Much of this can also apply to non-tracked cars (maintenance, for example). Part 1 of this series is about track days in general and I'll get into the specifics of Astons on track starting in Part 2.

I'm not an expert driver by any means. I'm just sharing my experience and hopefully helping others along the way. When I generally refer to a car, it's the V8 Vantage since that's what I have the most experience with.

Disclaimer: While I am a huge fan of HPDEs and encourage people to participate in them, you are ultimately responsible for anything that happens if you do so. Don't blame me if something goes wrong! And please note that any pricing provided in my blog is subject to change, and is provided for estimation purposes only.

Bottom Line Up Front

First thing's first: Should you do a track day in your Aston? In my opinion, YES! You'll learn more about yourself and your car on track than you ever will on the street. Track driving is completely different than street driving, even if your driving on the street is.... um, spirited.

Our cars are meant to be driven, and you'll gain a ton of appreciation for it by using it to its full potential. Even if you're not planning to track your car regularly, it's worth doing at least one HPDE.

Plus, there are often trackside photographers that get some awesome shots of you driving your Aston on track. And who doesn't want a picture of that? The banner pic for this blog post is one such picture, and I've got plenty more from that and other track days. 

Track Days and Pricing

There are plenty of ways to join a track day. I highly, highly recommend going to an HPDE (high performance drivers education). You get an instructor that rides along with you and teaches you how to drive your car on the track. As you get better, they push you further. If you have difficulty, they scale you back. Don't go to just one, either. Different instructors will teach you different techniques and you will always learn something every time you go to an HPDE. Various groups host track days – BMWCCA (BMW owners club), PCA (Porsche owners club), Chin Motorsports, and even my local Aston Martin dealership. Private groups sometimes rent out tracks and then sell slots to participate (these are often solo driving - no instructors). HPDEs are very organized to help ensure safety. Private track days vary depending on the organizing group, so do your research on each group before signing up. Poorly organized and mismanaged events can be a terrible experience.

HPDE's generally cost $200-300, though some can be more expensive - $400 or so for a single day, but those are often catered or include other things that warrant the price. A day at Summit Point's FATT (Friday at the Track) HPDE costs $250, while a full weekend with BMWCCA at Summit Point is $330. Costs vary depending on the hosting group and what all is involved, but these numbers should give you a good idea as far as pricing goes. However, these do not include insurance. Most insurance companies will not cover damages incurred on a racetrack. There are a few companies that offer insurance for events, and a quick online search for "track day insurance" will point you in the right direction.

Basic Rules for an HPDE

Since these blog posts are meant more for us amateurs, I'll be sticking to discussing HPDEs and leaving solo track days out. Different groups have different rules, but there are a few that are consistent regardless of the even organizer:

  • Corner workers, marshals, and other track staff are the authority. Do what they say. Failure to obey will result in you being removed from the track.
  • Watch the flags at corner stations, they tell you what’s going on around you and will help keep you safe.
  • Never try to race during an HPDE and only pass when given permission.
  • Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Be smooth in all you do, no sudden or jerky inputs for throttle, brakes, and steering.
  • Drink lots and lots of water. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get dehydrated without realizing it.
  • Leave your ego at home, it's dangerous on track.

Last thing: If you can, ride along with your instructor during one of their sessions. You'll learn a lot by watching what they do, what lines they take, and how they control their cars.

Safety

Safety should always be your first concern in everything you do. Whether you're working on your car, driving on the street, or pushing it through a track day - one safety-related mishap will immediately ruin your day.

Let's not mince words: Driving on a track is inherently dangerous. You're traveling at high speeds and lots can go wrong. That said, track days are usually well organized and structured in a way that keeps all participants as safe as possible. Pay attention to all the rules of the day, and mind the corner workers (they'll let you know if there is anything going on).

There is no passing allowed at an HPDE without consent from the car being passed. You must wait for them to signal you so you can go by them, and this is only done in designated areas. Likewise, if you're holding up a car, let them pass! Passing restrictions are in place to help prevent cars from coming into contact with each other.

Helmets are often available for rent at the track, but are usually limited in quantity and are first-come first-served. It's best to bring your own in case you miss out. The lighter the helmet, the better. The reason is simple - if you get into an accident, you don't want the weight of your helmet jerking your head around (which can seriously injure you). Most events I've been to require an SA2010 rating for your helmet. If you're buying a new helmet, get the most recent rating available to ensure your helmet stays compliant as time goes on.

Don't drive past your limits, and don't try to prove anything to anyone. You'll quickly get heated and you won't be able to maintain your concentration. If you catch yourself getting sloppy, seeing red, or otherwise losing your concentration, back off for a lap to regain your composure.

What to Bring to an HPDE

You can fit everything needed for a weekend at the track in the trunk of an Aston. Here's a pic of the first HPDE I went to (a BMWCCA-hosted 2-day event at Road Atlanta).

Take out the cargo divider (pull the red tab and unhook the strings) and you have lots of space to work with. In the pic above, I had a folding chair, camera bag, weekend bag, helmet, jacket, tool case, two tool bags, tarp, and a box of tarp weights. Everything fit back there and I had nothing in the cabin area.

That list of items might be more than you need for a track day. I took a bunch of tools just in case of emergency since it was my first time tracking my car. If you’re worried and want to play it safe, bring them along. You'll be leaving them out of the car when you're on track, so you don't have to worry about the weight or movement of what you bring.

At a minimum, you'll want to be able to do the following while trackside:
Check your tire pressure (tire pressure gauge)
Check your oil (rags/paper towels, extra oil to top off)
Check your lug nuts (socket, ratchet, torque wrench)
Clean your windshield (rags/paper towels, glass cleaner)

You'll need to wear long pants (no shorts) and closed-toe shoes (no sandals, flipflops, etc), so make sure you're wearing those when you go to the track or take them with you and change there.

I also recommend taking a folding chair, lots of water or Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator (it's got what plants crave!), food/snacks, and stuff for being in the sun even if it's overcast (sunglasses, sun block, etc). If you can manage it, a fold-out canopy is great to have as well.

More to Come!

In the next blog post in this series, I'll be discussing Astons themselves on track - things like wear and tear, vehicle characteristics and dynamics, and some basic modifications that will really help out if you intend to track the car enough to warrant them.