Track days are one of the most exhilarating activities one can experience. It’s a chance to take your favorite car to a real race track to see what it’s capable of. See how you fair as a driver, learn firsthand about the culture of motorsports, and experience what performance driving is really like. We’ll be providing an overview of what to expect along with some Tesla specific tips for your first track day.
How Does it Work ?
Track days are set up by independent motorsport event organizers that make arrangements with various race tracks. There are usually several of them covering each state. Examples:
- Speed Ventures in Southern California
- NCRC in Northern California
- NASA throughout US
Each company will have 3 or more groups separated by driver experience. For example,
Blue – beginner
Purple – intermediate low
Black – intermediate high
Red – advanced
You start in the beginner group, and as you build your experience you move up to the next level.
How Much does it Cost ?
Depending on the track, the cost can be as low as $100 and as high as $400 per day. The average is usually around $200, but be sure to also include the following:
- travel/lodging costs
- track gate fee, around $15
- helmet rental if you don’t have your own, around $30
- about $60 per session if you want an instructor
- RV spot rental for charging, around $20 per day
- professional photos from the track (highly recommended), around $40
- participation in competition or ‘challenges’.
If you continue your racing adventures, over time you will want to get your own equipment such as a helmet, racing suit, racing tires and a professional camera.
Is it Real Racing ?
Technically speaking, racing refers to competition racing, also known as wheel to wheel racing. Open track racing competes for best lap times where as competition racing usually competes for best positioning (ie. the first one at the finish line wins). Motorsports groups such as Speed Ventures make it a fun experience by structuring the open track events to resemble competition with qualifying sessions and pre-grid positions.
Will My Car Get Damaged?
With competition racing, your objective is to win by any means necessary, which can include risking damage to your car as well as the competitor’s. In open track racing, the objective is to have fun, learn performance driving, be competitive, but walk away with your car intact. Safety should always be kept in mind and any risk-taking should be weighed against its consequences. The beginner group will consist of those who have never been on a race track before so exercise as much caution as possible when racing in this group.
Will my Insurance Cover Track Days?
In most cases, the answer is no. Your regular car insurance does not cover anything that happens on the track. Also keep in mind that car manufacturers, including Tesla, will not cover any warranty items that may have incurred while racing. A dedicated track insurance policy can be purchased for the Model S for approximately $400 a day, but that figure can vary greatly depending on how much coverage you’re looking for.
What is the Racing Format Like ?
The day starts with a driver’s meeting where you learn the rules for the event, but also given the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. Typically there are 4 or 5 20-minute racing sessions per day. So a group races for 20 minutes, then waits for about one hour while other groups race, and then the cycle repeats. It’s important to charge your Tesla during down time. Track driving consumes a lot of power so recharging in between sessions will ensure your Tesla Model S to have enough juice for three full sessions or four or five partial sessions.
ALSO SEE: The Tesla Racing Series
In the beginner group, the first one or two sessions are set up as a lead-follow exercise, where you follow an instructor. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn the proper racing lines.
What if I Have No Prior Racing Experience ?
It’s a good idea to get an instructor even if it’s only for one session. They can help you understand how to configure your steering and seating position as well as teach you driving techniques as you navigate the course. Lead-follow sessions are definitely a must for everyone. Another technique that is helpful is to follow a more advanced driver around the track and try to mimic what they are doing (if you can keep up).
Do I Need to Worry About Charging ?
Yes, you do. You will use approximately 4 miles of charge per 1 rated mile. Meaning if you have 200 rated miles, it will be enough for 50 actual racing miles. A typical track is about 2.5 miles, so 200 rated miles will get you 20 laps. Each session is approximately 10 laps. Without recharging you are good for about 2 full sessions. Charging at the tracks is usually done with NEMA 14-50, which gets you 4 hours * 30 miles per hour of charge = 120 extra miles, which is good for about another full session. Due to Tesla’s power limiting feature, we found it to be better to just run half sessions
Will the Tesla Model S go the Distance ?
The Model S is not built for racing. It overheats after one lap of hard performance driving. When that happens, power limitation kicks in to protect the car. A yellow dashed line on the power consumption gauge appears on the dashboard. The longer you go, the more severe power limitation gets. It’s a great safety feature as it lets you push the car as hard as you want without having to worry about car damage.
However this same protection mechanism has a drastic impact on the overall racing experience. You can start off as being one of fastest cars on the track on your first lap, to becoming the slowest car on the track in the subsequent laps.
Do I Need Racing Tires ?
On your first track day, no. Whatever standard tires you have on your car, they’ll work fine, as you won’t be setting any records on your first day. It’s only as you start getting more competitive and push the car harder, will you need to get tires that are more suited for racing. Bring a tire pressure gauge or a compressor if you have it. Your tire pressure should not be above 40 psi cold. Meaning, check your tire pressure in the morning before you get on the track. It should not be more than 40.
Is it a Strenuous Physical Activity ?
Yes it is. Performance driving for 20 minutes straight is a lot of work. Be prepared for that. Especially if you come from a drag racing or autocross background where racing sessions last under a minute. You will get used to it with time, but the first few times can be quite exhausting. Make sure to stay well hydrated, especially in the summer. A lot of tracks are in desert areas with hot temperatures and very low humidity. Drinking water is important to feeling well throughout the day.
Should I turn Traction Control and Regenerative Braking Off ?
Traction control will help you stay on track if you lose control, so leave it on. Regen braking improves stability during braking, especially at higher speeds, but it’s mostly a personal preference.
Is it OK to Capture my Track Experience with an Action Camera ?
Absolutely. GoPro is everyone’s favorite. It’s always nice to get GPS data readouts and overlays as well. Garmin VIRB is a leader in that area among consumer cameras in the $400 range, but they have serious accuracy issues. Professional action cameras such as AIM SmartyCam will be the best, but its high cost may not be for everyone.
Be safe and have fun on your first track day!