HPDE Track Event Basics for Beginners

race track badge
Mid Ohio Sports Car Course Badge

First HPDE event

If you’ve never participated in a track event, I’ll outline how I went about getting involved and prepared for my first hpde event. In the summer 2015, my company did a corporate track outing at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, as a team building exercise. Going into the event, I already had the car bug and the thrill/speed bugs, so it was a foregone conclusion that I would enjoy myself. Upon arrival, we checked in and completed the registration process and signed the track waivers. The whole process was paper-based; they didn’t have any track event registration software. It was a bit surreal since I work in IT and every attempt is made to make manual process, automated, and paper, digital. They also checked our drivers licenses and issued us a track badge to wear. We were taken to the Mid Ohio tower for some classroom instruction. The instructor covered an overview and history of the race track, and “walked” us through each of the turns of the course. During the course overview, he covered track day safety, including the track flag rules, corner spotter locations, each type of flag, and what actions to take based on the type of flag shown.

HPDE flags

  • Yellow Flag: Caution! Slow down, danger ahead. No passing until you encounter you see a green flag the next flag station. Do not come to a stop on track. No passing.
  • Black Flag: Pointed – Driver must come into pit for consultation with race control. It could mean unsafe driving, car had 2 wheels off track, or one of the spotters observed something wrong with your vehicle. If it’s generally waving, all cars come into pit immediately.
  • Red Flag: Danger ahead! Check your mirrors and come to a controlled stop on track, off the racing line, ideally in the view of a corner worker. Do not exit your car.
  • Yellow and Red vertical stripes Flag: Caution! There is fluid or debris on track. Some times you see this in conjunction with the solid yellow caution flag.
  • White Flag: There is a slow moving vehicle on track. It could mean a slow driver or the car is being limped in – be vigilante.
  • Blue with Yellow diagonal stripe Flag: There are faster cars coming up behind you; let them pass. Typically, the corner work will wave it and then point it at you, if you’re slower and need to yield to faster cars.
  • Checkered Flag: End of session. Begin your cool down lap and pit in. No passing.

After we covered the basics, we left the tower and walked to pit lane where a couple of Acura ILX cars were warmed up and ready for hot laps with the instructors. I hopped in the car with my instructor, all cocky, I own the track. I quickly learned my day dreams of track time where quite different from reality. It turned my stomach upside down, from my uneasiness with how quickly turns were taken. Yet, when I was done, the adrenaline rush was off the charts. Next up was the skid pad simulator. The track had a vehicle on castors to simulate drifting. Again, I was overly confident in my ability to control the car. After a few attempts, I was able to string together a couple of exciting runs. Next up was an autocross course. There were several of us on the course at one time, which is a bit abnormal, but it was a corporate event. I quickly found that I had better pace than the rest of my co-workers. Before I knew it, they were calling an end to the session and we were packing up our stuff to head back to the office. When I left that day, I was hooked.

Finding HDPE events near you

After returning home, I started searching for driving schools, track time, and racing. I stumbled across the Porsche Club of America site and found the concept of hpde aka high performance driver education. I found another set of great event clubs through HPDE Junkie. I could search for events at a particular track, or a particular set of dates. Drilling down on the events, revealed a list of independent track event organizers which included AutoInterests, Chin Track Days, Porsche Club, MVP Track Time, among others. I then plugged those into Google and found event more options. It now came down to my time and my budget.

Track Day Costs

Track day costs will vary from club to club, but range $350 to $500 dollars. That dollar amount is for the event registration. The event may span from 1 to 3 days. Your actual time spent on track will also vary, but can be 2.5 to 5 hours over entire event, depending on the format, number of drivers, etc. Meaning you may only see a total of 90 mins of track time each day. One thing to keep in mind, while you’re on a race track, hpde is not a racing event, but is used to develop skills that you may ultimately use in a race conditions. With the Porsche club, it’s mainly a session based format vs open lapping. Sessions typically last 20 to 25 minutes, but if your event has fewer run groups and drivers, they may extend the session to 30 minutes. Though, day 1 of a 3 day track weekend might entail open lapping for advanced drivers only. Otherwise, sessions are divided into beginner, novice, intermediate, and advanced driver groups based on level of experience. There’s definitely a bit of mystery of how quickly one advances to the next tier. There’s a lot of subjectivity and variability between different clubs, even within the PCA. Though, I have seen at least one independent motorsport club clearly document what characteristics and traits are needed at each level.

Aside from registration fees, other track days costs you should expect to incur include an inspection performed by a qualified mechanic ($80-$200). Consumables like tires, brake pads, fluids are another area of potential cost. Depending on how recent your last oil change was, you may want to change your oil ($50-$120), as well as flush your brake fluid ($100-$150). Over time brake fluid absorbs water, which lowers the temperature at which it will boil. With heavy use of your brakes on a track, if not properly maintained brake fluid can reach the boiling point quick, which will render your brakes inoperable. Not something you want to happen while traveling at 100+ mph. Depending on what else your mechanic finds, you may need to change our your brake pads ($200-$400).

pitt raceway panorama
Pittsburgh International Race Complex

Cars to expect

You can expect all kinds of cars, Mazda Miatas, Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, Porsches, etc. Some cars are prepped – meaning a racing team has prepared the car for track use. Others were driven to the event, just as they were on the street, stock. You’ll see typical sports cars, but you’ll also see sedans. It’s a little odd to see the occasional Lexus GS-F or Cadillac CT4, but cool to see how they perform. I was at one event were a driver had custom fabricated a front splitter to a Mazda Miata – out of plywood! You’ll see FW, RW, and AWD cars. Though they handle a bit differently, the fun is all the same. Although my track day car is a Porsche 991.1 with a naturally aspirated flat six boxer engine. Any car will do, as long as it’s safe for the track. The car is rear wheel drive and has brembo brakes. You can see a list of all my modifications here. I’m not currently running with a roll bar or roll cage, but that’s something I may add in the future. You’ll see drivers in the advanced groups with full cages and HANS restraint systems.

Classroom & Track instruction

As a beginner driver, you’ll attend classroom instruction twice a day to review track conditions, safety, review the prior on-track session, and build some rapport with your fellow beginner drivers. Also, you will be assigned an instructor who will ride with you to you acclimatize to driving on a track, coach you on safety, help you locate corner worker stations, appropriate pace, guide you to the right racing ling include brake and turn-in points, as well as overtaking and being overtaken. It’s all about repetition and committing this information to memory, so it becomes a flex. It’s possible that by day 2 your instructor may certify you to run a couple of solo sessions. Though that will depend on how quickly you pick up the basics, with the greatest importance placed on safety and track awareness. Another point to be aware of is that in the lower experience tiers (beginner through intermediate), passing is restricted to certain straights. Unless you’re in the advanced group, you’re also expected to use the “point by” pass, which is initiated by the car being overtaken. The car being passed will point to the particular side they wish to be passed on, by raising their arm out of the window. Passes on the left are just a straight arm out the window, whereas passes on the right require the arm to extend up over the roof of the car to make it clear to pass on the right.

We’ll cover more info on the event execution and how a track schedule app improves the experience, on an upcoming follow up post.

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