Track Car Preparation
Track days are becoming increasingly popular as a legal way to push your car and driving skills to the limit. Most track days permit any road cars but as driving on track is a lot different to the road, making specific modifications to the car can increase it’s potential and make for a much more enjoyable experience.
Some mods are essential from a safety point of view, others will help extract maximum performance regardless of the power of the car. Read on to find out how to transform that fast road Fiesta into a track weapon…
Uprated Brake Pads
Due to the speed on track, pads take a real hammering. It doesn’t usually take long to heat up OEM pads to a point where fade sets in and they become useless. Track specific pads such as EBC’s Redstuff have a compound which works effectively at higher temperatures. Be aware that the better a pad works at high temps, the worse it works at the lower temps when driving on the road. If the car is used on the road as well as track a good compromise would be a fast road compound.
Bonnet and Tailgate Pins
Bonnet pins are a vital for a track car and are certainly recommended for fast road cars where the original bonnet securing mechanism may be a fair few years old or of an older design. The main use of bonnet pins is to allow fast access to the engine compartment from outside the car, for instance in the unlikely event of an engine fire, or less relevant for modified Fiestas - pit crew mechanics.
A most useful bonus of bonnet pins, and a reason worthy of fitment in itself, is they hold the bonnet shut a lot more secure than the original catch. There have been quite a few occurrences of the original catch failing and the bonnet flipping up whilst the vehicle is in motion, causing damage to the car and potentially ending in a crash.
Tailgate pins are less common as immediate access isn’t required as often and a loose tailgate presents no real danger, just annoyance. However removing the boot release mechanism, wiring and catch may save weight.
Fitment isn’t the simplest task, as the bonnet needs drilling for the pin to pass through and also to screw mount the catches. Luckily the rubber bonnet stops on the slam panel can be unscrewed and the pins fit straight in, so no drilling is required.
Pins can be used in combination with the original catch. This makes the car more secure as the bonnet can’t be opened from outside the car, but will make getting it open fiddly. Removing the catch is easy and reversible, and a small padlock through one of the pins keeps things secure when the car is unattended.
Harnesses have two purposes - to restrain the occupants in event of a crash and to hold the driver in his seat to allow him or her to feel the movement of the car and make corrections accordingly.
Although best used in combination with fixed back race seats (see below) they can be used with standard seats, although the shoulder straps may fall down the sides of the seat.
There are two main types of harness - 2” and 3”. 2” “Clubman” harnesses usually have the standard seatbelt buckle. These are fully road legal and may replace standard belts. 3” types are intended for competition and are usually FIA approved. They are fitted with an aircraft type quick release buckle which releases all the straps at once with a twist of the buckle.
Harnesses are described with the number of fixing points, eg “4 point”. 3 or 4 points will work with standard seats, whereas a 6 point has a crutch strap which fits through a slot in the seat base. A 6 point is recommended as it stops the harness buckle riding up the body.
As with all safety devices it’s vital to pay attention to the fitting instructions, in particular the angle of the shoulder straps which should be as near to horizontal as possible - ideally mounted to the anchor bar on a roll cage. The eye bolts supplied with harnesses are a direct fit into the seatbelt mounting bolts of most cars (Fiestas included).
The original seatbelt may be legally removed and the car will still pass an MOT if the harness is ECE approved.
Certainly one of the most effective upgrades due to saving a considerable amount of weight, improving safety and providing a more direct driving feel. They also look the part!
Depending on price, seats will either have a tubular steel frame, a fibreglass shell or a carbon shell. Tubular seats are cheap but not very comfortable and quite heavy. Fibreglass shells are worth paying the extra for, with carbon being lighter but usually over twice the price.
Seats which feature head protectors are safer but affect visibility at junctions and roundabout when used on the road.
Fitting Race Seats
Some manufacturers offer tailored subframes but in most cases only generic mounting frames are available. Most decent seats are side mount so fitting is a case of obtaining side mount frames to fit the seat then modifying the seat runners to fit.
The ideal method is to have box section tubing welded to the floorpan of the car. This will allow the seats to be mounted low to aid weight distribution, but is difficult to revert back to standard.
Due to the lower position of the seats, the sun visors may not be low enough to block sunlight from the driver’s vision, this is where the original use of sunstrips comes in, rather than just as a styling accessory.
Another dual purpose modification - roll cages protect the occupants in a crash and also stiffen the shell of the car improving the handling.
Cages vary from basic four mounting bolt-in rear sections, to full multipoint weld-in items. A rear section will provide some roll over protection as well as stiffening the rear of the car and giving anchor points for harnesses.
Fitting Roll Cages
Even a basic bolt-in cage can be troublesome to fit. They are designed to fit tightly to the body shell, meaning that may bits of interior trim will need to be removed. The main hoop also tends to fit too close to the B pillars to allow the the original seat belts to be retained.
A weld in cage will need painting after fitting, so these are usually fitted to bare shells, especially as the more advanced cages mount through the bulkhead into the engine bay (triangulation).
Plumbed In Fire Extinguisher
A device you hope to never need, but it might prove a life saver. There are two types - mechanical and electrical. Mechanical use pull cables and electrical use a button. Electrical require less effort to activate - useful if you’re upside down in a ravine - but is more complex and more expensive.
The bottles, which is steel or alloy (more expensive) is mounted in the car with nozzles in the engine bay and passenger compartment (usually under the dashboard). Kits are supplied with activation cables or switches - one for inside the car and one to go on the scuttle panel for marshals or fire crew to activate.
Fitting a Plumbed In Fire Extinguisher
The bottle is usually mounted in a footwell, the passenger’s for single seat cars or behind the passenger seat. Having it on this side of the car helps offset the weight of the driver. The floor will need drilling for the brackets.
The piping is soft aluminum which is bent into shape to route it to the engine compartment and behind the dash. Always use an air line or can of compressed air to blow any swarf or alu dust out of any trimmed pipe before fitting.
If the car is to be used on the road it’s advisable to disable or disconnect the external cable or invariably someone will pull it despite there being no fire…
The purpose of engine oil is to lubricate, cool and protect the engine from corrosion. To high an oil temperature reduces the effectiveness of the oil leading to premature wear and in some cases engine failure. As an engine on track is running at high load for most of the time it’s advisable to fit a cooler to keep oil temperatures down.
Fitting an Oil Cooler
Fitting is relatively simple. A sandwich plate fits between the back of the engine block and the oil filter. This plate has send and return pipes leading to the cooler core, which should be mounted at the front of the car in a location which receives air flow.
After installation the system will need to be filled with oil. Due to the extra piping the engine will require filling with more oil than normal. Crank the engine five or six times with the fuel pump fuse out, this will pump the oil around without starting the engine (the same as priming a turbo).
Battery Cut Off Switch
As seen on most rally and saloon race cars, this is the red switch mounted on the scuttle panel which stops the engine when activated. Useful in the event of an accident and also a good additional security device.
Fitting a Battery Cut Off Switch
Rather than simply cutting the connection from the battery, the switch also cuts the ignition and diverts power from the alternator to prevent damage. This means there’s a bit of wiring to do, and the switch should be mounted on the scuttle, where marshals will expect to find it.
Often viewed as simply height adjustable suspension, 2.25” coilovers really come into their own for track use. As the surface of a track is much smoother than the road, the ride height may be set lower to reduce body roll, and the damping set harder. Stiffer springs can be used and as there is a huge range of poundages available, stiffness can be tailored for the conditions of a particular track.
This process is the same as any other suspension kit. The Haynes manual covers this in detail.
Stronger and lighter than glass, polycarbonate windows are another way to reduce weight, especially if the window winder mechanisms / motors are removed as well. You’ll loose the ability to wind the windows down, so get sliding panels for ventilation if required. The rear window will no longer have the de-mister either, so be aware of this if planning to use the car in colder weather.
PMMA, mostly known by the brand names Perspex, Plexiglass and Acrylite is cheaper but can suffer from stress cracking.
Polycarbonate windows are usually clear, but tinted versions are available for a little more. Most kits include side windows and the rear screen. The windscreen can be replaced, but no form of plastic windscreen is road legal.
One of the most effective ways of improving the handling of a car is to reduce the unsprung weight. The prime candidate for this is the wheels. Lightweight wheels such as the Team Dynamics Pro Race series are around 25% lighter than other wheels. For example a 17” Pro-Race 1 is over a pound lighter than a 15” Compomotive MO, despite being two inches bigger (17.3lbs for the Pro Race, 18.7lbs for the MO).
This means the car can accommodate larger brakes under the biggest wheels, without compromising the handling normally associated with increasing wheel size.
There are plenty of companies offering slick tyres which will give you maximum grip on a dry track, although these are not road legal and wet weather performance is non-existent. These are difficult to obtain in low profiles for 16 and 17 inch wheels too.
Road legal track tyres such as the Toyo R888 solve these problems. The R888 is a cut slick, similar to a motorbike tyre, which has a medium to soft compound providing excellent grip, but also has water dispersing grooves for use in light rain. It is available in a wide range of sizes including the essential 205/40 17 inch.
Be aware that the sidewall profile is very blocky, so clearance is more of an issue than with other tyres.