6 Tips to Maximize Your Motorsports Test Day
Testing is crucial in motorsports, but not every racing program has the resources to test often. Follow these tips to help you maximize test days and time at the race track.
Motorsport has become increasingly competitive over the past several years on both the professional and amateur level. As budgets have grown and development of manufacturer backed GT4 and GT3 cars have narrowed the playing field, testing has become increasingly critical to gaining the advantage over your competitors on race day. Testing can serve many purposes including driver development, race car setup development, pit crew training, etc. While every one of these components will improve a team’s chances at landing on the top step of the podium, often budget and time constraints limit the scope of any one individual test. Because of this, it is important to maximize the dollar per mile benefit of your racetrack testing time. Below we’ve listed our tips to best maximize your motorsports test days.
Have a testing plan
Put simply, a test plan consists of what you plan to accomplish on your test day and the order in which you will complete these objectives. Test plans are critical because they enable a race team to avoid becoming side-tracked or disorganized while at the track. For example, let’s say a test plan is to work on suspension tuning. The plan might be to run through a suspension setting sweep aimed at improving pace or minimizing tire wear. A test plan may outline that a driver will do 5 laps, pull into pits, allow the crew to tweak the suspension settings, and then go out to do another 5 laps. Just by outlining this plan, we have now informed the driver to run at a consistent testing pace, the crew of what tools to have ready in pit lane, and all members of the team of the cadence of the test. Furthermore, we can plan what time of day might work best for this type of testing for the most accurate results possible. It may make sense to run this plan in the mid-morning, when temperature is most consistent and minimizes the risk of skewed results due to variable track temps. As test plans grow and become more complex, organizing the testing order becomes more critical. If our above example test plan were to also include driver development for an endurance racing program, it may make sense to have the driver coach do a data lap first thing in the morning, then allow each driver to do a 10-lap track orientation collection, and then move onto the suspension testing plan. This would allow for weather to stabilize all while not wasting precious track time.
Prepare parts ahead of time
Once we have decided what we want to test, the next step is equally critical in maintaining testing efficiency – preparing components to be tested. Swapping parts on and off a car can be the single greatest time suck during a test day, so making sure everything is set up and ready to go is critical for getting the most bang for your buck while the track is hot. A prime example of this is aero testing. Let’s say our team has some dive planes that we want to test to see the impact on the car’s overall balance. Instead of mounting the dive planes at the track, the best plan would be to mount the dive planes on a spare bumper at the shop. That way, at the track, the team can simply disconnect the standard bumper and re-connect the upgraded bumper for an immediate A-B test on the impact on the car’s overall balance. This will also make the driver’s job easier because the time between runs will be minimized, allowing them to have a sense of the car’s balance fresh in their head. This type of shop prep is equally true for any adjustable components on the car like shocks. It is worth setting these components up ahead of time in a jig or by mounting and dismounting from the car in the shop to avoid unnecessary delays at the track.
Debrief with your coach/engineer
A test is only as successful as the data taken back from it. This is why it is critical that a driver debriefs with their engineer or driver coach following each collection. The debrief can be as simple as just advising how the car felt and can be as complex as diving into the racecar’s balance in each section of every corner on track. Specific issues should be discussed, especially if they are the target of the test. It is also advisable to fill out a debrief sheet to maintain records of each session. This will especially make it easier to dive into persistent car issues later down the road or find your way back to a strong race setup if the car is damaged on track. To make this easier, we have downloadable debrief sheets available on our website for some of America’s most notable tracks.
With practice time being a premium in many sports car racing series, especially those where drivers share a car like IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge or GT World Challenge, testing is also a critical component of driver development. While seat time for seat time’s sake is valuable on its own, there are ways to accelerate the learning curve during test days to maximize your race preparation.
Study the track ahead of time
The first step starts before you arrive at the track - that is to orient yourself with the track and build a reliable baseline. This can be achieved in multiple ways: watching video, reviewing data, and running laps on the sim. With the prevalence of onboard video/data systems like VBox and AIM Smartycam, there are countless videos on the internet of just about every car and track combination imaginable complete with throttle and brake position detail. This is a great first step to orienting yourself with a track and getting a baseline sense of braking points, turn in references, even passing opportunities against other cars. To maximize value, it is better to find an experienced driver’s lap than one from a novice’s track day. This can easily be vetted by comparing their lap time against race results or qualifying times from a similar car at the same track. While watching the video, it is helpful to print off a track map and fill it out with simple reference points for you to review prior to your first on track session. If you have a teammate or coach who has been to the track previously, reviewing their data and track notes are helpful and can provide a sense of brake pressures and brake shape, min-speeds, reference points, and racetrack characteristics. Last, racing simulators like iRacing are excellent tools in racetrack familiarization. On these services, you can get a real sense of the flow of a circuit making it easier to find comfort during your on track test.
Do sighting laps before driving
Once you have arrived at the track, street car discovery laps are an excellent way to build a sight picture before the track goes hot. Sighting laps should be conducted at low speed and preferably with someone who has been to the track previously and can give insights about each turn. During these laps, you can also pick up new possible reference points, note any camber changes on the racing surface, and note any potential track hazards that may have not been obvious in video or on the racing simulator.
Review data and take notes
Once track lapping has begun, it is generally advisable to do multiple collections of 10 or so laps for driver practice. Between these sessions, if data acquisition is available, drivers should compare data against the fastest driver or data lap to see where the most opportunity for improvement may be. Video is also a valuable tool and can be utilized to answer questions about the racing line and car placement. Racing software like VBOX Circuit Tools allow drivers to compare video side-by-side making it easy to identify differences in corner approach. Modern advances in racing technology have enabled the average consumer the capability to broadcast live in-car data streaming back to the pits. This can be especially helpful during collections where a driver can have live and specific feedback from their driver coach during a collection – further maximizing every lap’s potential for driver development. After each session, drivers should update their driver notes. For ease of note taking, our website has track maps of several North American race courses available to print under our Information & Forms tab. These will be helpful in the long term when you return to the track and don’t need to spend a session getting back to speed and re-locating braking points and references.
Whether it be at a standard track day, a private test, or at one of Max Track Time’s limited attendance open track testing events, these strategies will enable your team to accomplish more at the track and allow you to gain a competitive edge during race weekends. For teams interested in gaining the value of a private test with the ease of a track day, please visit our events page to explore opportunities for 8 hours per day of limited-attendance, open-track/open-passing testing. Our events feature fully catered lunches and an all-day beverage service, further ensuring your team can ignore ancillary tasks and focus on what you came to do - test.