Preparing for rain on track day

Cars navigate a wet track
MotorAuthority.com
Cars navigate a wet track

Road racing series around the world race in the rain, and most track day organizations drop the green flag rain or shine as well. Wet conditions and reduced speeds might not be what you have in mind and hope for when you sign up for a track day, but it’s a great opportunity to learn gobs about driving, your vehicle, your tires (sweet), and car control in a safe environment.

So grab your poncho and galoshes, here’s some advice on how to approach and maximize wet track days.

But seriously, grab your poncho and maybe your galoshes.

Because nothing will put a dent in your enthusiasm for a wet track day like soaked clothes and puddled driving shoes.

Don’t bank on available shelter at the track, and sitting in your car between sessions feels like solitary confinement after a while (been there). If anything, be overly prepared in terms of outerwear and rain countermeasures. Rain jacket, a second pair of shoes for wearing outside the car, and an umbrella are mandatory.

You want to be the guy or gal with the umbrella, not the one asking to share. Very hard to look cool while making that request. See our complete list of track day supplies and ideas of what to bring to any track day.

If you value your car interior, bring plenty of towels.

The rumors are true. For safety reasons, in anything short of a deluge (where a red flag is likely), most track day organizations require cars run with the front (at minimum), or all four windows down. This is surely the most excruciating fact about a wet track day for those who pursue both performance driving and car detailing hobbies.

A small bit of psychological comfort: For most vehicles, the rain primarily stays outside the window openings while at speed, not pouring in. Nevertheless, anticipate some interior drying and clean up after each session.

If you can’t stand the thought of rain on your leather, and value your interior more than developing a performance driver skillset, then that’s cool; probably best to sit out a wet track day. One thing’s for sure – you can’t be preoccupied with the interior condition of your vehicle, or trying to clean and control the water inside while driving!

Enjoy driving line flexibility, and the potential for creativity.

Whereas on a dry track the racing line is largely inflexible – there’s the “right” way through most corners and the slow ways – a wet race track allows for some flexibility in how you navigate the corners. This opens up the potential for driving creativity, and who knows…maybe the discovery of the Senna wet weather driving gene.

If you’ve ever watched a wet Formula 1 race or other road racing series in wet conditions, you’ve seen drivers experiment with a wide variety of lines through the corners. That’s because they’re searching for the areas of highest traction and greatest speed potential.

Adjusting your driving line, and navigating through the corners on the hunt for maximum grip is a massively fun and rewarding experience.

A very general rule of thumb: The wet driving line is one-half to one full car width off of the standard, dry weather racing line. Staying on the “rubbered in” dry racing line in wet conditions can be a very similar experience to driving on ice. Pay attention to the grip characteristics at both ends of the car, and adjust your driving line through corners to find the highest available traction.

Steady and smooth is the way.

Nothing will teach you to become a smooth driver quite like wet track conditions. A wet track rewards steady and smooth driver control, and penalizes drivers who are harsh with throttle, brake, or steering inputs.

On a wet track, putting the vehicle out of balance is always just a small driver misjudgment away. Even if driving with extreme caution, you’re likely to experience moments of oversteer, understeer, anti-lock brake engagement, and traction loss at the rear of the vehicle when accelerating and/or during various stages of cornering.

If the performance driving hobby and track days are about more than just having fun, and can encourage better driver behavior, vehicle control and understanding, then it could be argued a wet race track is the absolute best environment to advance those more “meaningful” ends. Improper track driving can be somewhat concealed by dry race tracks in combination with competent performance car chassis and properly grippy tires. Not so on a wet race track.

The skills developed during a rainy track day can be applied to winter driving, driving on slippery wet public roads, and an advanced understanding of vehicle balance and control can be of potential life-saving benefit to a driver at any time.

Expect evolving track conditions.

Even if weather conditions are relatively consistent, conditions on track are likely to evolve throughout the day. Within the timeframe of a lap or two, puddles and standing water can develop. A short break in rain can create dry patches in braking zones and corners.

So expect inconsistent, evolving track conditions. Adjust your speeds and driving approach accordingly. If/when you establish some comfort with the track and the driving line, try to leverage improving track conditions by gradually picking up the pace. However, don’t assume or take grip for granted in any areas of a wet race track. Trust your eyes (more on this below) and the signals coming through the vehicle chassis.

If it’s going to be properly wet, shelf the track tires.

Thanks to tread characteristics and depth, high performance street tires shine in wet conditions as compared to most dedicated track tires. There are numerous advantages to motorsport tires, but maintaining speed and control through standing water is not on the list of benefits.

In wet conditions, tires like the Continental ExtremeContact Sport and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S reign (catch the pun like a moment of oversteer, catch it…) supreme.

If your car is already equipped with high performance street tires, then your track day preparations and tire concerns just became much more straightforward. “Run what you brung” and don’t fret about tire wear – wet track days are considerably lower impact on your tires.

(Tire insight: Still plan to adjust tire pressures for track driving. Even at reduced track speeds, tire pressures can climb to well beyond specification, and outside of the optimum window.)

Vision is your best asset on a wet race track.

Eyes up, and looking far down the track toward where you intend to drive is an important performance driving technique. Doing the same on a wet race track will help you anticipate the available grip in any given section of track.

Writing for Road & Track, experienced road racer Jack Baruth provides the following guidance:

“If the track ahead isn’t shining at all—if it looks wet but not reflective—you should be able to lean on your tires pretty hard. The moment you can see it "shine", however, it’s time to back off a bit. Now here’s the trick: the farther away you are from the corner, the lower of an angle you are to the track surface—and the lower of an angle you are to the track surface, the better you can see the beginnings of the shine… Yet another great reason to keep your eyes up and focused as far ahead on the track as you can.”

Listening to your tires and chassis will inform you of the available grip around the track, but your vision can help you anticipate what to expect before you arrive.

Most track day organizations run rain or shine, and for all of the reasons detailed you really should get in on the action either way. Hopefully now you know how to approach and maximize rainy track days!

Not sure if your current tires are up to the task? Sufficient tire tread depth and good condition are required for traction on a wet track. Shop performance tire options by entering in your vehicle, or give us a call for help at (866) 961-8668.

https://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/news/a32406/how-to-find-and-keep-traction-on-a-wet-road-or-track/

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