Autocross days are fun and challenging racing events that allow you to learn your cars’ limits in a safe and controlled environment. While it’s a ton of fun, you won’t reach the same speeds on an autocross course as you would at a track day, and each run is relatively short (around a minute), so the wear on the car is minimal. You get to meet and compete with like minded car enthusiasts without worries about breaking local laws. Odds are high that you have events in your area so you can join in on the fun. Our AutoTempest team members enjoy autocross events so much that this will be part one of a three part series.
What is Autocross?
Autocross is a timed driving event where a course is created using cones in a parking lot of other concrete surface area. You will try to complete the course in the fastest time possible while not hitting any cones. A cone that is knocked over or pushed out of a surrounding chalk box will cost you a two second penalty. Half of the day you will be racing and the other half you will be working on the corners to replace cones that are struck.
What to Bring
Your vehicle in good mechanical condition with good brake pads and tire tread depth, no fluid leaks and no loose parts. You will need to bring an approved helmet. Some events may have loaner helmets but be sure to check in advance as well as helmet requirements. Bring some masking tape or white shoe polish for your race number. Bring plenty of water and food in a cooler. You’ll also need protection from the elements such as sunscreen, hat, umbrella, gloves, layers, and closed toed shoes.
Preparation is Key
Prepare and pack your items in your vehicle the night before. Confirm you have enough fuel or decide if and where you will stop for fuel. If you are using an electric car, give it a full charge and be aware of local charging options. Check and set your tire pressures to factory specifications. (We will talk more about tire pressures and tire selection in future guides). Torque your wheel lug nuts to factory specifications. Remove any loose floor mats and other loose items. It is easier to leave loose items at home rather than removing them at the track.
Get there Early
Find the registration desk and introduce yourself. Ask what your race number is and sign any required documents. If there is a vehicle and helmet inspection, find out where you need to be and when. Ask how and where you can refuel if you need it. Some race tracks have fuel pumps and charging stations on site. Find out where the washroom facilities are. I suggest using the facilities before your nerves kick in.
During the Event
Study and walk the course as many times as you can. Do your best to memorize the course. Listen to others discussing the course and their lines. Before your first run, ask for a ride along with an experienced racer. On your first run, your goal is to stay on course and not get lost. Start slow and progress as you learn the course and become more comfortable driving at speed. Remember you are there to have fun so enjoy the day.
Working the Corners
While others are racing you will be expected to work at one of the corners to replace cones. When cones are struck you will need to replace the cones back into place. One worker will have a radio and red flag so they can call in penalties to the timing desk and also to stop a driver if there is an incident on track. Watch for cones that have been struck and only replace them when it is safe to do so. If a cone is still upright and touching the chalk line box it is not a penalty, but still should be replaced in the center of its box. Keep the red flag unfurled and ready to fly should there be an incident. Sitting, picture taking, and cell phone use is not allowed. Never turn your back on a car. Be respectful and do not take any pictures or video any on course incident.
Don’t expect to be the fastest driver your first time out. Keep your ego in check and know that you will improve with practice. Enjoy the people and the stories they have to tell. Get hooked and come back again. Come with a positive attitude, be friendly, and have a great time. Also watch for part two of our guide to autocross series coming soon: How to Improve at Autocross.
Don’t have a vehicle for autocross? Your first autocross vehicle might be just a few clicks away. The Mazda Miata is highly recommended because it is enjoyable, reliable and generally affordable.
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