On the Right Track
Volume 48 Issue 16
Aug 26, 2023
Ever thought about driving your Ferrari of a racetrack? Dom Miliano gives us some pointers to make your experience both safe and enjoyable.
At this year’s running of the Le Mans Classic 24-hour road race, Ferrari broke the stranglehold that Toyota had on the top step of the podium.
It seemed fitting (and cool) to me that the Scuderia scored their tenth overall win at the 100th running of this greatest test of endurance.
Then, it got me to wondering if this result might inspire some Ferrari owners to want to experience the thrill of driving their cars the way they were meant to be driven – on track!
Maybe that even occurred to you!
Live the Dream - To some, that may seem like a Walter Mitty dream, but it’s not as outlandish as it sounds.
Quite a few Ferrari Club of America regions hold regular Driver’s Ed track days (DEs) so the chances are good that a local group will have at least one event at a venue near you.
Add in that most Ferrari Annual Meets offer a “taste of the track” when they are held at or near a race course to give owners a chance to safely and legally “feel the need for speed”.
I personally have seen FCA members enjoy that experience at Watkins Glen, Road America, and New Jersey Motorsports Park so not only is it possible, it’s surprisingly easy to do.
Preparation is Key – If you plan to run your Ferrari on a race track for a DE event, getting your car ready is important.
The engine oil and brake fluid are stressed when your car is driven at high speeds for the typical 30-minute lapping sessions.
Fresh oil of the proper viscosity (check the owner’s manual) and new Ferrari-approved brake fluid are necessary.
New brake fluid is really critical because it chemically absorbs water from the air over time as it ages (i.e., it’s hygroscopic) and that water lowers the fluid’s boiling temperature.
Then, when the brakes get hot from track use, the fluid could actually boil in the calipers and dramatically affect braking efficiency.
Even if you never drive on the track, regular brake fluid changes prevent rust from affecting your very expensive calipers.
Your brakes need to have at least 50% of pad life to ensure you won’t run out of stopping power so have them checked beforehand by a competent mechanic.
Next, make sure your tires and wheels are in good shape. A dented, or worse, cracked wheel isn’t safe – on the street or track.
Plus, if a tire has experienced a hit from a pothole, it could develop a bulge in the sidewall – again, not safe for the street or track so do a careful inspection or have it done at a quality service facility.
Your tires will need to have sufficient tread too. While race cars run with slick (i.e., treadless) tires, street tires come originally with as much 11/32 of an inch of tread. For safe track use, your tires should be at least 6/32 of an inch.
Helmets, Shoes, Suits, etc.– If you only plan to try a track day once, buying a helmet and fire suit is an expense you probably can skip.
Running in a “novice” group in a street car, drivers are usually not required to wear a fire suit.
If you are fortunate enough to have a Challenge car or another true race car, then a fire suit or Nomex is both smart and safe.
While the top race car drivers wear true racing shoes, a good pair of flat bottom sneakers is all you really need for your first attempt on track.
Knobby soled running shoes are not recommended – they do not afford the driver the precise pedal feel on the brake, gas and, if you’re really cool, clutch!
Most groups I have run with suggest long sleeve shirts, too.
The big expense of buying a helmet can be postponed if the group running the event has loaners. Make sure to call ahead to be sure.
The inside of the loaner can be freshened with sanitizing wipes and adding a disposable balaclava is a recommended addition.
If you get hooked on the fun of on-track driving, you will want your own helmet.
I recommend you make sure to buy a helmet from a shop where you can try it on and is staffed by pros who know how to properly evaluate fit. (Eyeglass wearers may have to try several designs to find one that works for you).
Very important, don’t buy a motorcycle helmet. Track-use helmets need a current Snell rating of SA (special application – look for that sticker on the inside) with a testing date less that 10 years ago.
True race cars are required to have a fire extinguisher in the interior that is easily reached by the driver. However, novice run groups are usually exempt from that requirement.
Good Instruction Makes for a Fun Day – Once you have found an event that you want to drive your Ferrari in, go to YouTube and search for instructional videos on that particular track.
Watching these videos will give you an advanced look at what track junkies call “the line”.
Every major track has several videos so search carefully and watch a few to see how each driver / instructor presents the best approach to every corner. (Even if you never drive a track, these videos are entertaining).
At the track, your car will undergo a brief inspection so empty the trunk(s) and remove anything in the interior like GPS devices, cell phones, and charger wires that can be distracting or come loose at speed.
You will be assigned a run group with drivers and cars that are similar to yours and match your experience level.
A qualified instructor will sit “right seat” and may have a communication device that sits inside your helmet so he/she can give instructions without shouting.
Besides videos, there are many books written about performance driving.
The great Denise McCluggage wrote in one of her columns for AutoWeek that “Going Faster”, the Skip Barber Racing School manual, was the best “how to” book out there.
I have a copy and agree with Denise – it really explains the art and skill of track driving better that any I have read.
Final Thoughts – The car club I belong to calls DE events, “Safe Serious Fun”. Safety is stressed, instructors are certified and you and the cars around you on the track are all watched by corner workers to ensure no one is endangering other participants.
If bad behavior is seen, that driver is black flagged and brought in for a talk by the chief of the event.
That driver must follow the rules or will be sent home – I have seen that happen … yes, safety is that important.
I highly recommend trying a “taste of the track” – it’s the most fun you can have in your Ferrari without laughing.
Plus, at the end of the day, you will have gained valuable driving experiences that will make you safer when you drive on the road.
Remember, Ferraris are meant to be driven.