HPDE Track Event Basics for Beginners (Part 2)

Part 1 covered finding events and provided a high level overview of what to expect for a hpde track event. In this post, I’ll get into more detail of the event and how the event execution unfolds.

Tire & Wheel Preparations

You will want to check tire pressures. If you’ve not been out on track yet, your pressures are considered cold pressures. My door sill recommended settings are 36 lbs for the front tires and 44 lbs for the rear – which seems absurd for a typical road vehicle, but street use is something entirely different from track use.

As the tires heat up from use while on track, the tire pressure will increase. Increasing your tire pressures will cause your tread temperatures to increase; more pressure stiffens the tire’s sidewalls which results in the tread having to do more work to keep grip, resulting in the tread getting hotter. If the tires become too hot, they will become glassy or greasy and will begin to lose grip with the track surface. Before my first session, I’ll let out 4lbs of pressure, to account for the tires heating up. I’ll take the first couple of laps easy to allow the temps to slowly build. After the session ends, I pull into the paddocks and immediately take tire pressure measurements and I make adjustments accordingly. Luckily for me, I run Toyo Proxes R888R, and I was able to find a super handy tire pressure guide on Toyo’s website. For my car setup, after immediately coming off track, I let out air to reduce the pressure to ~35lbs of pressure, hot, and make adjustments from there on out to make slight handling improvements.

cars line up in the paddocks
Pitt Raceway Grid Paddock

Next before going on track, you’ll want to torque your lug nuts on your wheels. My lugs require 118 lbs of torque, but yours will vary. I’d recommend checking your owners manual or finding a car specific setting online. You will need to check the lugs every time before you go on track. With the incredible stress you put on the car while on track, you’d be surprised to find just how often the lug nuts have come loose. In my experience, I’ve had at least one lug on the car come just a little bit loose, every time.

Don’t forget to grab your SA-2010 or newer helmet, required by all hpde track clubs. You’ll buckle in and swing by to pick up your instructor. Gridding will take place in a specified area of the paddock. When the session starts, you’ll move from the paddock to pit lane. Then race control will release you from pit lane. This all occurs within a few minutes and can be a little stressful, especially if you were caught up in a conversation with other drivers and weren’t paying close attention to the time. Your first lap out on track will likely be under yellow flag, allowing for drivers to make the mental transition to hyper-vigilante track mode, and allow for tires to warm up. This also means, there is no passing on the out-lap.

Equally important to warm up, are the brakes. To have the optimal bite and stopping adhesion, brakes need to be within their ideal operating temperature range. I’ll gradually up the pressure each turn on that first lap to build tire temperatures. In a 20-25 min session, you will turn 8-12 laps, depending on your pace and the length of the track. Your brakes will get very hot over the course of the session. Once the checker flag is displayed, you’ll want to slow your speed to 6/10ths or 5/10ths of your track pace to allow the car to take turns without applying a heavy amount of brake. The brake pads when really hot, develop a thin transfer layer of pad material on the rotor and generate friction by braking the bonds on the pad and on the rotor. You’ll need to carefully cool down the brakes in order to avoid an uneven build up (deposits) to be left on the rotors. Otherwise, you may begin to feel jutter while braking.

After your cool down lap, you’ll pit in, driving through pit lane and exiting the track, back into the paddock area. You’ll be careful to park the car and not be on the brakes any more than necessary to still avoid brake deposits forming on the rotor. Turn the car off and let the car (and you!) cool off.

With all that background knowledge, you’re now ready to prepare or “grid” for your track session. You’ll move your car to grid anywhere from 5-10 mins before the start of your schedule session. They’ll announce it over the PA, but as I’ve mentioned in my other posts, it’s very hard to hear. On top of just running a bit late, the schedules can change unexpectedly at time, which creates a bit more stress. At the June PCA track event, the scheduling changes over the course of the two day event were a hassle. The paper schedules that were distributed prior to the event were quickly stale as 2 accidents and a very extended fluid spill that took a session and a half for the track safety crew to clean up. Another driver that I shared the garage with, over the course of the event, commiserated and discussed that an app might be a better solution.

In fact, the club was trialing a website that was trying to deliver a digital schedule. But it too quickly was out of sync with the event. I heard the head of the event remark that the admin site was kludgy and difficult to make scheduling changes. With the schedule not being kept current through the app, the club organizers relied on the PA system to announce the schedule changes. Of course, if you’ve ever been to a track, you can’t hear the PA system! Tracks are loud. With more than 85% of US consumers with smart phones, a native mobile app (ios and android) could allow Clubs to publish and revise schedules real-time, and push notifications to drivers to notify them of track conditions or schedule changes. Time to get working on that solution.

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