Organizations like Pace Motorsport, run by Toronto, Ontario's Robin Virtue and Duncan Johnson, have been producing on-track events to help enthusiasts get the most out of their cars. Pace Motorsport runs events at Mosport—the famed ex-F1 road course just outside of Toronto—using the Driver Development Track, which was specifically designed and built as a track for training. The course features multiple configurations that allow event organizers to tailor the course to their participants and it can be set up with a range of slow and high speed corners.
I drove one of the best track day machines, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, at a recent Pace Motorsport event. Virtue and Johnson have developed their track days to be focused on safety, learning and fun. Most of my track time was spent without any traffic and all of their drivers were courteous and safe when sharing the track. (Side note: the Evo is a track weapon, and its dual-clutch gearbox and Brembo brakes make it easy to drive and also one of the fastest cars on nearly any track.)
Drivers who have never been on track can find the concept fairly daunting, but the rewards can outweigh the effort it takes to get on track. With the right training, drivers will improve their road driving by developing better visual habits and quicker reaction times. Experienced driver and racer, Noah Quaio, talked about the benefits of on-track driving experience and said, "For beginners it definitely helps you to know the limits of your car so when you drive on the street you make sure you don't go anywhere near that, just to be safe. I think it's very helpful for beginners or anybody who would like to keep their skills sharp. For anyone with a performance car, you've got to do this for sure."
What motivates these drivers to make the leap to driving on a racing track? For some, it's to learn how their car handles in extreme situations. Another track novice, Ron Marek, said, "It's a great way to learn how to drive the car. Cars were built for this and there's nowhere on public roads that you can do what you can do here. In a couple of laps with an instructor and you're out there having fun."
For others, it's to become a better driver, since testing a car's limits often tests a driver's. Podolski said: "These are high horsepower cars and running around this track with the traction control off, you really get a feel for how the car handles and what to expect. A lot of times people panic and think they need to hit the brakes, when the not-so-obvious solution is to hit the gas a little harder, and you're not going to learn that in street driving." Marek echoed Podolski and said, "I wanted to know what my car can do and there's no safer place to do it at a track like this."
Before your first track day, you need to prepare a few specific things. Most importantly, you need to ensure your car is in good working order and pay particular attention to the condition of your brakes and tires. Make no mistake, driving your road car on the track will wear tires and brakes much more quickly than driving on public roads, but that's part of the price of admission to track driving.
You also need to ensure your car's interior is clean and free of any loose items, such as floor mats, soft drink bottles and even your child's toys. When you're on track, you don't want to be distracted by little Johnny's SpongeBob SquarePants doll rolling underneath your feet when you're braking at high speed.
Of course, when driving on track, you'll also need a helmet. Car-specific helmets can only be found at auto racing supply shops and are not inexpensive. Many track day organizers like Pace Motorsport can even provide loaner helmets to novice drivers, making it easier for you to get on track.