With our years of building, racing and driving in top level sports car racing series in North America, we’ve learned a lot – and we can help give you the simple, useful information you need to make your track day a success. I love the fact that an article like this is not only a good idea, but that it is almost needed at this point. There are so many Model 3’s hitting the track these days and we keep getting asked a lot of really awesome track related questions, so I wanted to take some time to prepare a guide for all of you. Whether this is your first time going to the track, or if you’ve been lapping for many years, this guide is worth reading.
We’ll discuss how you can prepare your car for the track before the event, what you should check on your car at the event, tips for you the driver, and setup advice that you can apply to your car to improve its performance. This page will likely be updated and refined over time, so be sure to bookmark it and check back from time to time.
The first thing you want to do before a track day is put together a track packing list. It only takes forgetting one little thing to be a real headache that can take away from the day! Here are a few recommended things to bring to the track based on what we’ll call your “commitment” level.
I Just Want To Have Fun, Man
- Lots of water!
- Full-length pants
- Full-length shirt
- J1772 charge adapter
- Tire pressure gauge
- Shop towels + cleaning supplies
I'm New To This But I Want To See How Well I Can Do
- Tire compressor
- Torque Wrench
- Bin(s) to organize your stuff
- GoPro camera with a good helmet mount
- Laptop + Charger
In It To Win It!
- Toe plates/strings for alignment adjustments
- Brake fluid (Castrol SRF is what we suggest)
- Tool-kit to adjust the suspension, bleed brakes
- Jack + Jack stands
- Track-set of wheels/tires
- Track brake pads
Pre Event Car Prep:
If you’ve driven on the track before, the first thing you’ll want to do is change the brake fluid out for racing brake fluid. OEM fluid can boil under aggressive use, especially if its a few years old. Brake fluid absorbs moisture, which lowers its boiling point. When brake fluid boils, you’ll feel the brake pedal lose consistency and it will require you to move the brake pedal further to get the brakes to activate. At an extreme, the pedal can go to the floor before enough brake pressure builds up – so boiling brake fluid is dangerous!
If you use the brakes as you should, you’ll also want to look at an upgrade after your first time at the track, as the OEM pads and rotors will be the first thing to kill the fun at the track. Overheated brakes will result in the pedal becoming very firm without an increase in stopping power – this is because as the brake pads overheat they lose their friction, so require far more pressure to produce the braking forces required. If you’re having to press the pedal noticeably harder each corner and start to smell brakes, that’s a sign to take it easy and cool off or you could risk losing the brakes!
If you have racing brake pads, you’ll usually want to install them before heading to the track so that it’s one less thing to do when you get there. With electric cars and heaps of regen you can use very aggressive pads without worry because you hardly ever need to use them!
You’ll want to check the torque of the wheels if you’ve changed them recently using a torque wrench, torque to 130lb-ft. Setting the tire pressure high before your drive to the track will improve efficiency and result in you getting to the track with a slightly higher charge, we usually set ours to 46psi cold on the way to the track.
If you have modified suspension components it’s wise to check that everything is tight as it’s not uncommon for alignment shops to leave an adjuster or bolt loose – and once the alignment goes out of whack on the track your entire day is gone. You can check our suspension arm install page here for torque specs. Lastly, remove everything out of the car you don’t need to bring with you. Frunk, trunk, interior, center console – empty it. Things go flying, believe us.
Tires are everything. The only part of the vehicle actually touching the ground, great care must be given to these black circles. First step is tire pressure. Tire pressure increases as the tire temperature increases, and the ideal “hot” pressure is far lower than the pressure you’d normally run in day-to-day driving. For this reason, you need to lower the tire pressure when you arrive at the track. This is super important! Tires work horribly on the track when over-inflated.
So what is the ideal tire pressure? Well, that depends on the setup of the chassis and the wheels and tires on the vehicle. A car at factory ride height with a lot of body roll, using the OEM 8.5″ wide wheels and 235 tires is going to need a lot more tire pressure than a 275 wide tire on a 10″ wheel on a car with sports suspension. The reason, in a nutshell, is that the tire rolls over, and the more the tire rolls over the more pressure is required to keep the middle of the tire pressing into the road and helping produce grip.
As a general rule of thumb, a stock car will need pressures as high as 40psi hot to keep the tire from rolling onto the sidewall, whereas a car with a proper amount of negative camber and firm suspension can be closer to 33psi hot. The ideal pressure also varies based on tire selection, but generally, a car with a wide wheel to support the tire and a properly setup suspension should be aiming for 33-34psi hot all around.
To achieve the target hot pressures, you need to start lower when the tires are cold. How much increase the tires will see is based on a number of factors as you can imagine, so bleed the tires down to the target pressure as quickly as you can when you come off the track, or even better monitor the pressure on the Tesla display while on track and note how much to adjust the pressure at each corner for the next session. As a rule of thumb, tires will come up between 4-7psi for a novice driver.
Making adjustments to the suspension and alignment is called “chassis setup.” The goal with a track car is to have a vehicle that is stable, and utilizes the front and rear tires equally on all phases of a corner – that is on entry, middle, and on exit. This is very challenging because dynamically a lot of different things are happening during those different phases.
On entry, the vehicle is (if driven properly) trail braking, so there is a lot of load on the front tires. During the middle of the corner, the tires have a fairly even distribution of load on the front and rear, and on exit, the rear tires (or all four for AWD) are trying to accelerate while at the same time steer.
When the car won’t turn as much as you’re asking for with the steering wheel – or when the front tires give up first – that is called “understeer.” When the back of the car slides, or when the rear tires give up first, that is called “oversteer” The naming of those terms is pretty intuitive. When the car seems to just go where you point it and all four tires are very close to their limit at the same time, with just a hint of understeer, that is what we call “balanced.”
It’s important to note that just about any setup if driven incorrectly can have horrible understeer. This is simply because if the setup was shifted any further towards oversteer it would just spin-out if driven wrong – which is obviously more dangerous and harder to drive than some understeer! We’ll talk more about that later.
If you’ve been to the track a number of times and feel you’re ready to look at making improvements to the setup of your car, you can determine if the car has too much understeer or oversteer. The Model 3 is an incredible chassis, which is generally very balanced with our recommended setup. However, the main tuning tool on this platform to dial out understeer is to remove rear toe-in. This is very common in professional racing, especially with lower power, AWD vehicles.
Damper adjustments also play a big role, with compression and rebound being required to get the most out of your tires. Rebound is generally the main tuning tool – too much of it will cause the tire to skitter over the surface and not absorb small undulations in the road, effectively robbing you of grip. Not enough of it will result in the chassis moving too much, removing response and, at the extreme, resulting in instability. We won’t get too in depth into damper tuning for this post, but if you have adjustable dampers from us – we generally suggest setting them between 5-7 clicks off full stiff – that is set them to full stiff, then soften by 5-7 clicks for both compression and rebound.
Negative Camber is the angle the tires are tilted inwards at the top. Road cars usually have just enough negative camber to be safe and provide decent handling, where-as racing setups usually want anywhere from -2 to -5 degrees of camber depending on suspension type, tire type, and size. More negative camber is needed due to the fact that as the body rolls, the tire rolls, and compliance in all of the bushings and wheel bearings stack up, which results in the load being transmitted through the outside of the tire. Negative camber helps statically offset this effect so that in the middle of the corner the contact patch of the tire can be evenly distributed on the surface.
This results in the majority of the load being on the inside of the tire when moving in a straight line, which you would think would be a big hindrance to braking performance. In reality, with modern radial tires, the braking performance falls off only slightly with increased negative camber, and the gains from cornering far out-weigh the braking losses.
The amount of camber you select will likely be the best compromise if you’re not doing a track-specific alignment. The rear of the Model 3 has a good amount of camber gain (change in camber as the suspension moves through its travel), so a lot of static camber is not required. Wider wheels and tires require less negative camber as mentioned before. Around -1.8 to -2.2 in the rear is a good place to be for a track setup.
Toe is the term for how we talk about the angle the tires steer statically. Zero toe is when the tires point perfectly straight ahead, and toe-in is when they point into each other. Toe-out is the opposite. Front toe-out has the effect of increasing steering response, at the possible loss of total mid-corner grip. Rear toe-out has the effect of creating oversteer and instability in braking when taken to the extreme. Too much rear toe-in, however, will result in significant understeer and a reduction in corning power. Generally anywhere from +/- 2mm of toe per corner is the range you will want to work in.
Corner balancing is the practice of ensuring that the mass of the vehicle is evenly distributed across the corners of the car. If you have coilovers and they are not adjusted properly, this will result in the car having the effect of sitting on a stool with one leg that is too short. This results in a car that has different cornering characteristics when turning left versus right. Due to how heavy the Model 3 is and the relatively soft spring rates used, corner balancing isn’t critical – but it can’t hurt. Make sure to ask the shop that is corner balancing your car if they have checked to make sure their scales are perfectly level. Corner balancing on an un-level surface is worse than not corner balancing at all! You can read more about corner balancing on an article I wrote for Modified Magazine in 2010 here.
Learning How To Drive:
The best time to learn how to drive is well before you get to the track. Using tools like racing simulators and video games is a massively economical way to learn how to go fast. If you are fairly serious about learning how to be quick at the track, or even if you’re doing it just for fun, it’s worth spending a few minutes to learn the basics and to practice in a video game.
The basic concept of going fast around a racetrack is that you want to carry the most possible speed around each corner, and you want to slow down for that corner as late as possible and accelerate away from that corner as soon as possible. When starting out, the first focus should be on maximizing your exit, then work on how much speed you can carry throughout the corner, and finally once you feel you are at the maximum of the car in the middle of the corner and on the exit, work on braking later and later and carrying more speed into the corner.
A general rule of thumb is that you want to be accelerating and close to full power at or just after the apex of the corner. If you don’t know what the apex is, start with these great books from Ross Bently called “Speed Secrets” here!
Novice drivers will generally enter the corner too slow and use some throttle to keep the car at a constant speed. That is fine to start, but the goal should be to get to the point where you can brake and trail-brake or coast all the way to the apex, and then transition to heavy application of power. “Maintenance throttle” is something that driving schools teach to create safe, slow drivers. We want you to be fast. Not slow. The Model 3 has ABS and you can use it to carry a lot of speed into the corner – this is the difference between expert drivers and amateur drivers.
The best way to learn the track (outside of driving it in a simulator) you’re going to be visiting is by watching videos over and over again until you can drive the track in your head with your eyes closed. You should be able to draw the layout of the track on a piece of paper. It’s a silly waste of money to arrive at a circuit and have no idea which way the track goes. That’s an expensive waste of a day! You’ll be proud of yourself and feel better knowing you spent the full day working on your driving, not learning if that corner up ahead is a fast kink or a hairpin. Even if you’re going just for fun, or just to see what the car is like, wouldn’t you want to know beforehand if you were in a 70mph zone or a 20mph zone? On the track, there are no speed limits or suggested speed signs, you’re expected to know how tight each corner is!
Arriving At The Track:
First things first when you get to the track – go register and get your wristband. Put the sticker on your car and go to tech if they have one. Right after all of that housekeeping is taken care of, set the tire pressure! Then empty everything out of the car. For one is safer, and secondly, any extra stuff you have in the car is just more weight that will slow you down!
If you have adjustable dampers, set them to the suggested settings. Plug the car in to charge if possible and try to keep the SOC above 70%. Performance starts to deteriorate below that. Turn off the air conditioning while charging, as that will be taking away up to ~3kW of power that should be going into the battery!
If the track day you’re going to is good, they will have a track-walk before the event. This will give you the opportunity to walk the circuit and take it all in. I can’t tell you how much I suggest you do this. A track-walk is the only chance you’ll get to learn the circuit with your heart rate at rest, in a relaxed mode. You can look at each bump, braking zone, curbing and corner in detail. All of this high-resolution knowledge will be stored subconsciously in your brain and it will be accessed when you’re on track, whether you are aware of it or not. It makes a massive, massive, massive difference! I can honestly say that for the tracks I’ve visited for the first time where I was able to do a track walk I was far better at getting up to speed and mastering the track versus tracks I couldn’t. There is just a lot of detail you can’t pick up at over 60mph!
Finally, pro tip, know when your sessions are. Some events run on a strict time schedule, others delay things as issues pop up. You’ll want to know a few minutes before your sessions so that you can be ready and get out there straight away if you want to run for the entire session! Pay attention at the drivers meeting and they will explain the format of the day to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
On Track For The First Time:
First things first – have fun! It’s not meant to be intimidating. Just drive within your limits and enjoy the experience of being able to go as fast as you want! Turn the camera on if you have one, it will be very useful to review after the fact.
I suggest spending the first few laps driving very slowly (like ridiculously slowly) and just making sure you know the track, and driving the car on the proper line. As you build speed, if you are unable to stay on the proper line, or accelerate at the proper point, this means you’re over-driving outside of your abilities, and you should take it down a couple of notches.
When you over-drive the car you are no longer in “learning” mode. Your brain is in fight or flight mode and just trying to keep you from damaging your expensive car. So in the interest of improving as quickly as possible, I suggest you stay within your comfort zone and focus on hitting your marks. Work from the exit of the corner backward, and try to go a little bit faster each lap, noting when you go too fast in one zone that you negatively affect the next zone (i.e. braking too late so you’re not able to hit the apex).
This guide isn’t meant to be intimidating, and I hope it isn’t overly basic for those of you with track experience. The whole thing is just about having fun. Going to the track is really no big scary thing. People go to track days all the time! Your first time out should be focused just on being prepared and organized and going through the motions. After that, you can learn from your experience and improve your driving and the car as you are able to push it beyond its limits.
We’re here to help and love that you guys are going out there with these EVs. Keep at it, you’re inspiring a whole new group of people – all of those guys with BMWs and Porsches who never thought they would see an electric car on the track, much yet such a capable one! We can inspire these people to see how cool and fun EVs are, and consider them for their next purchase – if not for a track car then certainly a road car! And inspiring these “car guys” has a magnified effect, since these are the “car experts” in their circle of family and friends. Converting them to EV owners will no doubt influence a number of others to consider an EV. So yes, you’re actually saving the world by taking your Tesla to the track. (I’ve been watching too much Silicon Valley).