Track Day Modifications



So you have taken the plunge and bought a car for track days. Congratulations, fun is on its way! Read on to learn how we prepare track day cars in pretty much the order we do it. There is some logic to this!

Stage 1: Basic Preparation

Regardless of your choice of track day car, your modification journey starts here with a few essentials jobs to make sure you pride and joy does not break down on the first lap!

Oils and Servicing

It goes without saying that you should give your car a thorough service and change the oils in the engine, gearbox and differential. It makes sense to use oils from a proprietary brand that are blended for track day and race use. We would also suggest checking the engine oil level after each session over the course of your track days (oil consumption can be higher than in normal road use).

Also check (and renew if worn) the brake linings and discs, give the cooling system a good flush to remove built up silt to get the cooling system back to its original performance.

Make sure the tyres are in good condition with plenty of tread left. Hard track use will wear tyres down so make sure you will have some tread left to drive home at the end of the day.

Spanner Check

Safety critical this and should be completed before every track day or race day! Your first inspection before you take to the track for the first time should be even more comprehensive as over time, stress and vibrations caused by every day use will have tried to loosen everything on your car.

Check the tightness of brake caliper bolts, engine mounts, gearbox mounts, the exhaust, subframe mountings, the steering rack and all the suspension and steering fixings. Its is also a good idea to check the seat and belt mounts and secure any loose trims and fittings both inside and outside the car.

We would generally advocate having the wheel alignment done at this stage. The adjustability of standard components within your cars steering and suspension will dictate what adjustments can be made. It is also worth bearing in mind that some cars such as Lotus Elise, Vauxhall VX220 and other similar cars have superb handling straight from the factory so therein lies a choice. A standard OE alignment will restore a cars standard handling characteristics whilst you could even have a track day r race alignment done by a reputable firm that will be able to tune the cars handling to suit what you want it to do. It is worth noting that most road cars are set to be slightly slow to react to steering inputs and built with a tendency to understeer at the limit of tyre grip as this is deemed the safer default for the average driver. A track day or race alignment can sharpen up steering response and reduce understeer but can make the car a bit more twitchy on the road.

Stage 2: Basic Modifications

We have assumed that you have completed your first track day and want to start modifying the car to improve its performance. A good read is our Modifying Suspension Guide as it goes into understanding grip and suggests ways in which you can reduce understeer and oversteer depending upon what your car is doing at the limit. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let us consider the next steps of car modification.

When modifying a car to improve its performance it is a good idea to test the car on track after each modification so you understand what and how each modification works and translates into the cars performance.

New or Track day Tyres

The first step in your modification journey will be to replace your cars tyres. The choice is yours as to whether you fit new performance road tyres or sticky track day tyres but a word of caution, some aftermarket coilover kits aimed at the fast road market are not designed to accept the higher side loadings generated by stick track day tyres so you may have to budget for a more track focused suspension set up in the future. This is no bad thing especially of you intend to build a track only car, just a word of caution!

Reduce Weight

Loosing weight from around the car will increase its power to weight ratio hence it will accelerate and brake more quickly. Its free power! The added bonus is that reduced weight can help reliability by removing some stresses on components within the car.

No need to go mad at this stage buying lightweight carbon this or titanium that, just loose what you don’t need in a track day car such as aircon systems, stereo equipment, back seat, spare wheel, carpet and sound-deadening material, maybe even centre consoles etc. you could even replace your battery with a smaller one, perhaps even relocate it to the boot of the car for weight distribution. Don’t get rid of door cards though, or door mirrors and interior mirrors as it make life difficult to close doors and see other track users looming up behind you!

Better Brakes

Often one of the first things that begins to show weakness is the cars brakes. Constant hard braking akin to an emergency stop every few hundred yards can quickly overheat the brake ads and fluid resulting in at best, extended cooling down periods or at worst, brake failure!

At this stage fitting race spec pads such as Ferdo DS2500 or EBC Red or Yellow pads will be enough although it may be worth looking into performance brake discs designed to dissipate heat more quickly than road discs.

Changing your brake fluid to a race derived fluid is also a good idea as log as you are prepared to change it more frequently than road car brake fluids. Other modifications could include ducting cold air from the front of the car from fog light apertures and removing stone guards to circulate air more quickly around the brakes will help.

Cool It Down

We have found that along with the brakes, cooling systems take a pounding on track days. We would suggest if your car is suffering from increased temperatures in the cooling system it is worth replacing engine driven fans with uprated versions or fitting electric fans. Fitting a larger capacity aluminium radiator will also help reduce temperatures by increasing cooling capacity.

Adding bonnet vents, cooling ducts and bonnet risers can get rid of heat trapped in the engine bay especially on turbocharged cars.

Suspension Ride Height

Modifications to suspension at this stage will be dictated by your ultimate goals in terms of what you want from the car and what your intended suspension set up will be.

Fitting a set of lowered stiffer springs is an obvious first step. Along with or followed by fitting uprated and even adjustable (stiffness) dampers. These two elements can make a huge difference in improving grip and handling. Don’t overdo stiffness though as going too hard on springs and damping will make the car too skittish on the road or rougher tarmac tracks.

If you intend on going coilover suspension in the near future though, it may be as well to skip the uprated spring and damper set up and go straight into a set of coilovers which will give you uprated springs, adjustable damping and add adjustable ride height into the mix. For more information on suspension read our Exhaust and Intake Systems

At this stage don’t waste your money on expensive engine tuning as there is still enough to keep you busy harnessing the power you already have. We would recommend simply improving breathing for a little extra power and that race car sound, be it induction roar or exhausts note. Be careful on noise limits though, make sure your chosen system complies with the maximum noise levels of your chosen tracks.

Seats and Roll Cages

At this stage consider fitting a good seat and harnesses to hold you in securely as you throw the car about the track. Being more directly connected to the car gives a better feel, but seats are a very personal thing so it’s worth trying a few out before buying.

Any motorsport can be dangerous so many people fit a full roll cage to their track day car. You will also have the added advantage of a stiffer chassis with less flex meaning suspension settings will stay put for more consistent handling as the car wont twist as much under corning loads.

It is worth noting though that a roll cage brings its own inherent dangers! With hard steel bars right next to your head, a roll cage is only really safe if you are very tightly secured in the seat with a race harness and wearing a good helmet. If you still intend to use the car on the road then the roll cage tubes near the driver’s head must be fitted with proper motorsport cage padding. Or perhaps consider a rear cage which will add stiffness and increase safety whilst racing whilst limiting the potential for severe injuring when driving without a helmet such as on the road.

Do not use these cheap ‘show’ cages as they offer no crash protection. If you are going to fit a cage then make it an MSA approved one.

Stage 3: Serious Modifications

At this stage we assume you are getting a bit of a track day veteran and know your car needs more serious modifications to go faster, you are driving it to its limit and maybe even have formulated some kind of modification plan or parts shopping list. This is the stage we like most, serious gains come next and your track day car is often transformed!

Adjustable Suspension

The next stage for the suspension is stiffer race oriented springs and dampers and to build more adjustment into the suspension. Changing the camber changes the way the tyre tread contacts the road when cornering. Stiffening things up and removing compliance in the shell and chassis so changes in suspension geometry under hard corning are equally important. Now is a good time to read our guide if you haven’t already! Those that have will realise that you now want to be looking into the following parts, fitting them and then taking the car to have a track day or race suspension alignment done to make the most of the upgrades.
  • Uprated Bushes
  • Uprated Engine and Gearbox Mounts
  • Stiffer Antiroll Bars
  • Metal Bearing Top Mounts
  • Strut and Chassis Braces
  • Adjustable Suspension Arms
  • Adjustable Coilover Kit
Purchasing a tyre pyrometer is a good idea at this point. Your aim is for an even temperature across the surface of the tyre indicating that the tyre is in full contact with the road and gripping the road with its complete cross sectional surface. Or instance if a front tyre has too much heat on one edge, changing the camber by a small amount should increase its contact with the road and increase its grip. Small adjustments can make a huge difference!

Tyres

If you haven’t already got them, sticky track day tyres offer more grip than sports road tyres but be aware they do wear out quicker. You could even consider slick tyres as they offer phenomenal grip. A word of caution though, that extra grip is going to generate side loadings that only coilover kits designed for racing will accept. Do not consider sticky track day tyres or full slicks if you are running a fast road and occasional coilover kit and make sure every suspension component is up to the job as these loadings will quickly show up any weakness in inferior so called race parts. Slick tyres also increase stresses in your brakes and engine too…

Bigger Brakes

For ultimate braking performance larger calipers and bigger diameter discs will be required. An investment into a good quality big brake kit is highly recommended. Race grooved discs are the best bet as they clean the pads and dispel gases on every application, be wary of cross drilled discs, they look nice but can crack if they have been treated then drilled. Big brake kits are generally supplied with braided brake lines to improve pedal feel and controllability.

Most braking comes from the front and many track days will have a big brake kit fitted to the front (with perhaps uprated discs and pads at the rear). As we improve front braking performance it is worth considering a brake bais vale or a brake bias pedal box to restore balanced brake pressures front to rear. In rallying brake bias is also used to rear steer the car combatting understeer!

Engine Tuning

Normally aspirated engines tend to be expensive to tune so you could consider a swap to a larger more powerful engine. Turbo engines can be tuned to higher power levels relatively easily. Either way, the world is your oyster, just don’t forget to get your ECU remapped with a rolling road session to support the modifications you do optimising the increased performance and building in reliability.

Transmission Upgrades

To support reliability in a car with a large increase in power, a stronger gearbox becomes a necessity, as does an uprated clutch and engine and gearbox mounts. Increasing power and reducing car weight can lead to the tyres being more likely to spin. A limited-slip differential can solve this. Many types are available from factory viscous and torque-biasing differentials but we have found that plate type diffs work best in competition.

More Weight Loss

The strict diet starts here. A 20 to 30% weight reduction over standard will make a significant difference to the way your car accelerates, brakes and corners.

If it isn’t helping performance or safety, ditch it! Look at removing door innards (motors and mechanisms), heater unit (could be replaced with a heated screen) and excess wiring.

Consider changing metal skins to fiberglass or carbon fibre such as doors, boot, bonnets. Evan roof panels on some cars can be changed for lighter stronger materials! Window glass can be changed to Perspex. Boot floors can be cut out and plated over with thinner metal. Dashboards can be replaced by smaller pod dash designs.