Getting your supercar truly track day ready involves two different types of preparation
1. Simple maintenance
2. Preparation around optimising its performance on the track
We’re not going to get into the details of simple maintenance for the purposes of this blog beyond stating the obvious; your car should be well-maintained, serviced, and important components and systems. Tyres and brakes should be in great condition and not too worn. Additionally, make sure you have your track day insurance booked.
Instead, we’re going to discuss how to use aftermarket parts to ensure your car can cope with the extreme demands of being used on track. Track days are mercilessly punishing on a car system. Tyres wear out very quickly, brakes are annihilated, and the engine is worked very hard.
Furthermore, track usage tends to bring out the serious comfort and safety orientated deficiencies that your supercar will experience. You will find its performance isn’t so impressive. For example, the brakes will fade quickly because they’re too small and not powerful enough, the suspension isn’t responsive nor adequately stiff, the tyres lack both grip and durability. Additionally, the handling balance is geared toward safety instead of direct response; making it boring and ponderous on track. Addressing all these deficiencies, is essentially what using the aftermarket is all about.
Address the Handling and Durability Deficiencies: Suspension and Tyres
Optimising handling for track days is a real black art. Indeed, the term “handling” encompasses a great deal, so for the sake of simplicity we will cover the most basic tips in two areas:
- Suspension; suspension geometry, ride height, and hardware can all be replaced or upgraded. The nature of the change or upgrade very much depends on what the owner is looking for. This is very much an “experienced drivers” area. How is your car handling on track? Does it roll too much? Is it understeering? Is it too pointy? What handling result are you after?
When you know the answers to that final question, it’s only then that a suspension upgrade can be suggested to you to deliver the result you’re looking for.
It would be wrong for us to recommend a generic solution because there isn’t one, but we can advise that most owners are looking for a stiffer suspension setup which makes the car more responsive and less likely to roll in corners or squat and dive.
To achieve “stiffer” or more responsive result can necessitate all or any of the following parts: dampers, springs, anti-roll bars and electronic suspension control units. It can then be combined with new geometry settings, such as ride height, camber, caster, tow and even rake to configure the car to whatever driving behaviour is suitable for the owners tastes on track.
It could also be that suspensions changes or upgrades are not required – something far more fundamental and obvious like a different set or compound of tyres can utterly transform a car’s handling favourably. The “new” Michelin tyres for the Porsche Carrera GT have utterly transformed a spiky on-limit handling balance to a more controllable and progressive balance. Trofeo R tyres found on the latest McLarens and limited-edition Ferrari (like the Ferrari 488 Pista) confer more grip on track making you that touch faster. However, depending on the exact type of tyre chosen it can last a lot longer on track than your normal road tyres.
The truth is, any combination of suspension parts and tyre changes can be applied to deliver, more grip, greater responsiveness, specific balance and handling characteristics. The Ferrari 458 is nicely upgraded with sport springs and a more focused, revised geometry. Whereas a 911 GT3 owning “track day warrior” may want passive KW three-way adjustable dampers, with a very aggressive geometry which wouldn’t be much fun for road use at all! It would be too stiff and is likely to bounce down the road, whilst following cambers and being incredibly nervous to drive.
Address the Power Deficiencies with Exhaust and Power Upgrades
Getting more performance from your supercars engine for the track is very formulaic, but the result depends very much upon whether your car is Normally Aspirated or Turbocharged.
The sequence of events is based on simple principles – increase the amount of air going into an engine, add a commensurate amount of fuel, provided that the exhaust isn’t proving to be a “flow rate bottleneck” then you’ll get more power.
For this reason, we recommend that your quest for track day power begins with exhaust upgrades, as these can be completed at the same time as any Power Kit/ECU upgrade. These exhaust upgrades must reduce backpressure in its simplest form. Think of backpressure as the resistance on the pistons on the upward stroke of the combustion cycle. Fit performance manifolds, sport catalysts/test pipes, plus high flow silencers to eliminate any downstream bottleneck. However, you do run the risk of making the car too noisy for the track – a ludicrous sign of the times.
Next (or at the same time) install your power kit/fit your ECU upgrade which will optimise the engine exclusively for power.
Only now should you consider the fitment of specialist intake/ high-performance air filter upgrades to allow greater airflow (in optimal circumstances) into the engine. The idea is that each upgrade augments the performance/power increase achieved from the other, giving an increase in power which is greater than the sum of each component part.
Turbocharged engines are especially sensitive to all three of these changes as turbos are driven by exhaust flow. Dropping backpressure, causes the turbos to spool faster and lower down the rpm range. Turbos themselves are part of an assembly to compress and force more air into an engine, so intake upgrades which permit more air flow give disproportionately good power increases.
Finally, power kits/ECU upgrades can add massive power by merely programming the engine to allow greater maximal intake manifold (boost) pressure – in effect more air in through the engine. Add the whole lot together, and the power increases from this sequence of upgrades can be orders of magnitude greater than the same upgrades for Normally Aspirated cars.
Address the Braking Deficiencies while adding more response with Lighter Wheels
Lighter wheels confer substantial handling advantages. They reduce unsprung weight which allows dampers, springs, steering and braking to react faster giving a higher quality and more rapid response.
Therefore, make a note of how the weight of the wheel compares to the standard wheel. In addition, check how the wheel set may be combined with a different size/specification of tyres to give you different handling and balance characteristics and even potentially, more grip. Next, you can see how the wheel may work with an existing or upgraded suspension. You are slowly going to realise that track day optimisation is a combination of different pieces – suspension, wheels, tyres, and geometry. It’s essential to have an expert to guide you through the process, to make sure you don’t add one component which subsequently undermines the positive effects of another.
Many Porsche GT cars that are used on track days are often fitted with super light aftermarket wheels which permit different rubber for specific use on track. Another example for Ferrari is the excellent BBS FI R wheels for the 430 Scuderia, which are lighter than Ferrari’s 16M option wheel. They widen the track, but still use the stock rubber by clever adjustment of offset.
It’s worth pointing out certain other modifications may dictate different and often larger wheels. The Ferrari F40 needs larger wheels just to fit a braking system which works – the standard one is plain scary! The standard wheels are too small, to allow adequate clearance for bigger discs and brake calipers. A set of 18” OZ Racing or Enkei wheels are essential which handily take us to the topic of braking.
Normal road car brakes get absolutely trashed on track. The repeated extreme stops from very high speeds, cause them to fade as they struggle to dissipate the heat generated with every brake application. A few laps later and the brake pedal has got longer and softer until you’re braking halfway up the straight for the next corner! And during all this, they’re wearing out exceptionally quickly which will mean a nasty bill at the end of the session.
You can upgrade any portion of your brake system to enhance performance and reliability – larger discs, bigger calipers with more pistons, more powerful hydraulics, specialist compound brake pads, along with new brake lines and hoses which more effectively handle all the temperatures in the system.
What you choose to do in this case, is less to do with preference and more to do with budget. Steel braked Ferrari 430’s is often upgraded with the great value Brembo Granturismo Brake system which gives the car some much-needed stopping power.
Earlier generation Porsche 911 GT3’s and GT2 are often upgraded with floating discs. This is where the disc is mounted to the hub, with an assembly which permits it to expand under temperature to prevent warping!
The latest generation of supercars often come fully equipped with very power carbon ceramic brake systems which can and do withstand track day abuse. The issue here is that they are still vulnerable to wear and they are devastating expensive to replace even from the world’s most competitive suppliers.
In this instance, many owners ask us to conserve their original brakes by fitting an aftermarket part, which offer broadly similar performance but are cheaper to replace when worn.