Track Days in your Aston Martin (Part 2)

In the first post of this series, I discussed HPDEs and track days in general. Over the next few posts, I'll be covering three main topics: wear and tear, vehicle dynamics, and track-oriented modifications. Since wear and tear is usually the most important issue for an Aston owner, let's start with that.

Wear and Tear

Driving your car on track can greatly accelerate required maintenance schedules and reduce the life of certain components. Tires, brakes, and oil are the main things to keep in mind, as they'll require replacing far more often than they otherwise would. Tires that might last two or three years could need replacing after only half a year. Oil changes are no longer a once-a-year task, but twice a year. Even though you can't visibly inspect oil like you can tires or brakes, yes, oil does break down and will need to be replaced more often.

If you decide to track your car regularly - or even just a couple times per year - expect to deal with wear and tear. Also keep in mind that while you might be comfortable with a certain level of it, many prospective Aston Martin buyers may decline to consider a car that has been driven on track, especially if it shows signs of track duty.

Brakes

Brake pads wear out quicker on track because you're getting on them much harder than you would on the street. You might instead choose to spend the extra money to get dedicated brake pads and take the time to swap them whenever you go to the track. It's pretty easy to check pad thickness while the pads are still installed. But after a hard session, it's worth removing them to look at pad surface itself. Here's what I found when I pulled mine off last fall:

Even though they had nearly a third of their pad material left, the surface was pretty chewed up. This is obviously a concern for you, as worn-out brakes can compromise your ability to slow or stop the car effectively. You'll also notice in the picture above that the clear coat on my brake caliper has started coming off. All four of my brake calipers are like that, and it's from the extreme heat the brakes are subjected to under hard braking. It's purely cosmetic for now, but does expose the calipers - specifically the paint - making them more susceptible to further damage. It's easy to redo the clear coat but is a bit expensive due to the labor involved. The calipers have to be removed, refinished, and reinstalled, then the brake fluid has to be flushed. All of that adds up.

Many track day organizers require your pads have at least half their life left. As you can see from the picture above, sometimes material thickness isn't the only concern for your pads. I made a video showing how to pull the pads off the car. It was my first ever video like this, so go easy on me! I also made the video to address a question that kept popping up: can a street pad handle track duty (the short answer is... kinda but not really).

Like pads, rotors will wear out quicker as well. They'll last longer than pads, but they're more expensive to replace. The original Brembo rotors are great pieces of equipment but, like any large brake rotor, they're heavy. My buddy Stuart over at VelocityAP worked with Wilwood to develop a two-piece rotor kit to replace the Brembo ones, dropping considerable unsprung, rotating weight. I sell them as well in my online store.

CV Boots

Another component I found with premature failure was a CV boot. A while back I heard the tell-tale clicking sound coming from the right rear wheel and thought the wheel bearings were shot. So I jumped the gun and ordered a new wheel hub assembly. My local indie mechanic put my car on a lift and took a look. Turns out I was premature spending all those hundreds of dollars on the hub assembly. The problem was just the CV boot. The boot had torn wide open, allowing the grease to fling out and go bone dry.

My mechanic happened to have a CV boot from a Ferrari F355 on hand and gave it a try. Turns out it was a perfect fit! He packed it with grease and the wheel bearings were back in action.

I later heard that lowering a car can put additional strain on CV boots because of the altered angle of the axles going into the wheel hubs. I knew that was the case for lifting a vehicle, like a truck, but never really considered it in the opposite direction - that is, the same strain when lowering a car. I've got H&R springs on my car (I'll discuss them in my next post in this series), and they lower the car quite a bit. That, along with track duty, and it's no wonder the CV boot failed after "only" about 50k miles.

Tires

If you track your car hard and often, this is going to be your greatest expense. Tires wear out quickly when put through their paces on track and they can burn off in as few as three track days under an aggressive driver. A $1500 set of tires that survive three days, well, you do the math.

It sounds terrible and cost-prohibitive, but most of us won't have to worry about burning through tires so quickly. But $1500 for a set of tires isn't an exaggeration. Two things you should never skimp on are brakes and tires. Brakes keep you from going off track and plowing into a wall. Tires are the only thing that keep your car connected to the pavement and let your brakes do their job.

Paint

This is a big one. Taking your car to the track puts your paint at risk. Not just from something major, like hitting a wall, but also from smaller things like pebbles, grime, and tar that get kicked up from the pavement. The majority of this can be fixed with a good detail but that isn't ideal. The best way to handle paint damage is to take preventative measures.

I'm a big believer in clear vinyl wraps on a car to protect their paint. Case in point, these pictures of my car.

I did a dumb thing and this happened.

Luckily, I have a clear vinyl wrap on the front half of my car that saved my paint. All that needed be done was to remove the damaged vinyl.

And then it was good as new! Well, mostly. I still need to replace the vinyl wrap since I now have a big section missing, leaving the paint exposed.

Vinyl wraps are worth their weight in gold. And when we're talking about the cost of a paint job for an Aston Martin, that isn't a joke. Even if you only drive your car on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it's worth getting your car wrapped. If you track your car, the wrap is all the more important.

The Drivetrain

It's hard to say how much stress is put on your drivetrain. The engine, transmission, differential, clutch... it's all being pushed to beyond what it would see on the street (well, hopefully it isn't being used on the street in the same way). Race car engine lives are measured in miles (or kilometers) and those lumps are rebuilt far more often than a street engine. You're probably not straining your engine like you're in a full-blown race, but it still stands to reason that you're running your engine pretty hard on track.

During my last track day I noticed oil all over my left-hand valve cover. It was easy to tell where the oil was seeping from - it was coming from a vent hose fitting.

Initially I expected that the seeping oil was caused by running my engine so hard that pressure built up in the cylinder heads and that pressure overwhelmed the o-ring sealing the vent tube. That might be the case, but it might not have been strictly from track duty. My buddy Justin had the same seepage from that vent on his '06 V8 Vantage, and I saw it again on an '08 V8 Vantage that I worked on just last weekend. Seeing it on three engines from three different years leads me to believe that it's either the o-ring that can't keep doing its job as it ages, or it's a design flaw that will reoccur anytime the engine is worked hard, even with a new o-ring.

A good way to protect your engine against damage is to make sure your engine and gear oils are up to snuff. Use high quality products and replace them more often than the normal service schedule demands. Change your engine oil twice per year instead of once. Change your gear oil every year or two instead of every four years. You should check your engine oil levels more often as well. You'll be consuming more oil during a track day and will need to top up accordingly. Changing oils and fluids more often gets expensive, especially when they aren't cheap to replace even on a normal maintenance schedule. But don't skimp on them. They protect the mechanical components of your car and preventative maintenance is a lot cheaper in the long run than repairs.

Coming Up Next

There's still more to cover regarding tracking your Aston Martin. in Part 3 of this series I'll cover the V8 Vantage's characteristics on track and some tasteful modifications you can do to give you better performance without having to sacrifice the car's manners during normal street driving.