Open-Track FAQ/Newbie Guide
Open Tracking is taking your car out onto a real live race track like Laguna Seca or Watkins Glen and turning some hot laps. It's called HPDE (High Performance Driver's Education) by NASA, who uses the program to both provide track days and train future racers. It is not racing. Don't call it racing - it makes you look like a newbie. Safety comes first, and you should leave lots of room for error, especially as a newbie.
To get started, find an event near you and go! Be sure to find a school where you get an instructor - it's critical your first time out. Some tracks may run days where anyone can come run, and the prices are usually cheaper than an organized school with instructors, but don't do those until you have some experience.
Thanks to KingpinSVT for finding this comprehensive Track Listing\
Is open-tracking expensive?
Yes. It's a lot more than autocross or drag racing, but still a lot less than road racing. Expect to pay $100-$200 per day for between 30 minutes to four hours on track. You can find places for less, but most don't have instruction and are best left to more advanced drivers - it's well worth the money to get help at first. You can also pay more, and you might have to for more track time, or to access certain high-profile tracks.
Is it hard on the car?
It demands more than street driving of the tires, suspension, engine, and cooling system - but mostly the brakes. Any solid, mechanically sound Contour is track-worthy for a novice session, but upgraded brakes are nice to have. You don't need 12" rotors, just pads is fine at first. If you want to try tracking without spending money on upgrades, just flush them well and be ready to cut longer sessions short or take easy laps when your brakes begin to overheat.
Also note that while stock-replacement pads will burn up quickly when abused, track pads wear slowly at high temps. If you are doing several events it's probably cheaper to get one set of good pads and rotors than multiple sets of cheapos. If you take it easy stock pads should last multiple days at an average track, good track pads should go 10-20 track days, depending on the track, pad, rotors, etc.
Is it dangerous?
Again, moreso than street driving, but less than racing. Offs can and do occur. As a novice you'll probably work up slowly to the limits of the car and not take chances, so if you listen to your instructor you should be fine. If you're going to do much of this, get real (3" wide 5 or 6pt) harnesses and racing seats, along with a rollbar. If you're testing the waters just lock your seatbelt against the tensioner (not for safety, just to hold your butt in the seat) and go. Contours are safe cars in street trim, so if you sit upright and use the belts the airbags can do their job in the unfortunate event of a hit.
I'm not trying to scare anyone - most offs don't result in injury, and many don't result in any car damage. Some tracks are much more forgiving than others, with lots of runoff, so think about that before going. Watkins Glen, for instance, has some nasty corners. One in particular, turn 9, has Armco right along the track-out point. I just take it easy there, and super-late apex it. The correct line has quite a bit of risk if you take it balls-out, and it's not a race, so I throw that one away. Smart driving, good preparation, and listening to your instructor both in-car and at any meeting will keep you shiny-side up.
Enough negatives. Is it fun?
Oh my, yes! It's a hoot. The Contour feels really incredible on the track - they're far more popular there than on the autocross course. You'll become a better driver, get a feel for the limits of the car at high speed, crack triple digits legally, and come home grinning from ear to ear. You may think you drive hard on twisty back roads, but this is more different than you could ever imagine. It's like the difference between going skiing on the bunny slope or the muguls: mindblowing speed, really.
Last edited by Auto-X Fil; 09-11-2006 at 06:45 PM.
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