So, one of the Carbs and Coffee founders got married. Don’t panic – the new Mrs Carbs and Coffee is more than understanding enough of our motoring mayhem. It will be business as usual, even if he has to be a little more “responsible.”
In case you needed any proof, we did a track day on the morning of the wedding. Yes, you read that correctly. A track day on the same day with a few friends. At least the wedding car (Alfa Romeo 4C) was just there to spectate instead of being taken out on track.
This was my first track day in over a decade. The last one was an Alfa Romeo Club track day at Zwartkops in Gauteng where I quite spectacularly spun my 156 while chasing down a 159. I was 20 and stupid. Thankfully, my student car came to a stop in the kitty litter just a few metres away from the wall. I genuinely have no idea what I would’ve done if I hadn’t been so lucky, but nobody thinks about these things at the age of 20.
Having done a couple of years of karting since then and certainly having grown up a lot, I was confident that I would manage the red mist and have responsible fun with my Honda S2000.
The street car track days at Killarney set you back around R500 as a Killarney member, which gets you between 3 and 4 sessions depending how the morning goes. It doesn’t sound like a lot of track time, but putting 30 laps on your road car isn’t a joke. Brakes and road tyres aren’t designed for that kind of punishment. It’s a very fair price for the entertainment. The true cost is of course higher when you factor in wear and tear etc.
The S2000 is bone stock with a beautiful mid-front engine, rear wheel drive configuration. It’s a great car for a track day, especially when you watch over-boosted hatchbacks being packed away due to reliability issues.
Having overheated the brakes with surprising ease through Tradouw Pass on our roadtrip to Knysna earlier this year, I have been planning a brake upgrade. This track day was the perfect way to see the old brakes out (this sounds ridiculous but it isn’t, provided you know how to drive a car within its limits).
Attendees can elect to drive in one of three groups. The only difference between groups is the level of overtaking allowed. There’s no insurance for a track day, so putting your financed-over-7-years-with-a-50%-balloon BMW debtmobile in the wall isn’t recommended.
Most streetcars therefore elect to do group 1 (only allowed to overtake on the straights) or group 2 (overtake on the straights and under braking). Group 3 allows overtaking anywhere i.e. normal racing rules. This is typically reserved for race cars doing testing or street car drivers who enjoy committing financial suicide.
The usual suspects were in attendance. Lots of Beemers (including a magnificent 1M) were joined by an assortment of Fiesta STs, Nissan Z cars (350 and 370), heavily boosted student car Toyotas and some more exotic specimens like a bright yellow Lotus Elise and Porsche 996 911 4S. The only classic car in attendance was a gorgeous blue MGB.
As I waited in the pit lane for the first session, I realized how insanely different it felt to be sitting in my car with a helmet on as opposed to in my kart. It actually felt claustrophobic, as I’m so used to stretching out in the kart and seeing nothing but blue sky above me.
After an extensive internal debate about whether it was a good idea or not, I decided to drop the top. Freedom. Suddenly, it felt like I was in my kart again. Well, right up until the first tight corner.
A kart has zero body roll because there is no body. You’re basically sitting in a frame with wheels. The S2000 has very little body roll for a road car, but throwing over 1.2 tons at an apex definitely isn’t the same as 185kgs including the driver.
I should also mention that this was the first time I’ve driven on Killarney’s main circuit.
My main focus was not on lap times, but on having fun. That’s the key ingredient for success when doing these track days. You have to drive within an acceptable level of risk. If I am in the mood to hunt down those final tenths, I should be on the kart track in a machine and environment designed for that purpose.
In my opinion, the easiest way to get it wrong is by braking late. Sure, if your brakes work every time and if you concentrate 100%, you should be fine. The problem with street cars is that the brakes aren’t designed to deal with the heat of track driving and they fade after a few laps if you don’t look after them.
Having experienced this a decade ago, I can confirm that you would far rather realise you have brake fade at the 150m board than the 50m board.
Engine braking is also your friend, helping to shed speed without toasting your brakes.
A combination of gearing down and braking early (which is absolutely not the fastest way around the track) ensured that I had a huge amount of fun with no brake fade and no incidents. By the third session I was 10s off the time that Deon Joubert did in a stock S2000 at Killarney back when it was launched. There’s at least another 7s to be found in aggressive braking, with a further 3s to go in driver skill. That’s not the point of a track day though.
Having gotten the S2000 sideways once or twice and experienced what it feels like closer to the limit, I now feel more confident with the car overall. You shouldn’t be getting it sideways on public roads, but mistakes do happen. It’s better to be equipped to deal with those mistakes by giving yourself track time.
I’ll be back…with better brakes. What was that about not chasing lap times?