Well here we are, I finally made it to my first track day.
I spectated friends at a track day a couple of years ago and decided that it looked like so much fun I wanted to give it a go myself. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve only owned cars that either wouldn’t be fun to take on a track (autos) or would probably break on the track. Fun fact, I actually built the Corolla to be my first track day car, but that sadly came to an abrupt end before it saw any track time 🙁 Gosh that would’ve been amazing to drive on the track.
So, with some new brakes, fresh fluids, and some increased intake noise, the Jazz was ready for some track time.
We went up the day before so we wouldn’t have to drive the two hours to the track the morning of the track day. A nice cruisy drive; the Jazz does well on the open road, with my only real gripe being the short 5th gear meaning about 3000rpm at 100kph.
The weather on Saturday, the track day, was about perfect. Started overcast but burnt off quickly, and ended up a nice day that wasn’t too hot.
I rolled in and grabbed a pit next to the friends we were there with (who were there in a much faster, but still very understated 2ZZGE powered AE101 Corolla wagon)
The first task was to confirm my registration and get the required wristband, which was then followed by a driver’s briefing to tell you how the day was going to run and what not to do.
After that, the day really began. My first time on track, albeit, starting with a training session.
They ran three groups, which worked their way through three “activities” on the track; Cornering basics, emergency braking and then the slalom.
My group started with the slalom, which was surprisingly hard. We went through it the first time just doing what we thought was best and were told “There’s a trick to it, we’ll let you know what it is on the second run”. I didn’t hit any cones, but it was a frantic sawing at the wheel to swing the car back and forth around the cones. Later on, we were told the trick was to not look at the cones but to pick a point on the horizon, focus on that and use your peripheral vision to avoid the cones. This leads to less frantic point-and-shoot swerving, but I found it quite hard not to look back down and focus on the cones. I guess this is similar to target fixation you get when on a motorbike; if you look at what you don’t want to hit, you’ll hit it.
The cornering test was just about using the width of the track correctly and aiming for the apex. The old Jazz didn’t really have the speed from a stop to make the best use of this test.
Finally, the braking test was an interesting one. It’s not often you get to just absolutely drop anchor and stomp on the brakes. I’ve done it on the road a couple of times but not quite like that. I’ll tell you what, it’s a good way to make sure the pads are bed in!
The first time I did it, at 80kph, I (like most others) got told off because we had predicted when the marshall was going to drop the flag which signalled us to stop, so we began to slow down. The second time I sent it at 100kph and didn’t come off the gas until I was on the brakes. I’m glad I had ABS, some of the cars that didn’t looked pretty rough locking up and sliding along in a cloud of smoke.
After a couple of goes around each activity, we came back into the pits to get ready for our actual laps
I donned my helmet, and gloves and got ready. I was in Group 1, which was the slow group for slow cars and slow drivers (or should’ve been… Looking at you, wanker in a way too fast late model Porsche), which is more or less restricted to road speeds and no passing in the corners
And we were off
Theres me, carving up the corners (with the ill-fated Golf in front of me)
There were a lot of cars on track for this first session. Thankfully this group thinned out a bit through the day as people decided they wanted to go faster so went into the faster groups. I stuck in group 1, which is where I belong for now.
I got a few good laps in, where I took down a Lotus 7 thing
And an MGF thing
Unfortunately after about 4 or 5 laps, we were all red-flagged and had to return to the pits as the aforementioned white Golf GTI went pop on the first corner and died a very smoky death. We all lined up in the pit lane for a bit but eventually got moved back to the pits for an early lunch while they removed the Golf from the track.
The usual track rules were applied, don’t pull the hand brake (so you don’t clamp pads/shoes onto a hot rotor/drum) and pop the bonnet to let the heat out
The Jazz was proving very good on the track. No brake fade, everything was working well and it used no fluids. I had a windscreen mount for my phone, which I was using with Torque Pro on that session, to check the engine temps since the car only had a hot/cold idiot light, and the temps were rock solid no matter how hard I pushed it.
After lunch, Group 2 and 3 went out for their laps of the track, and then it was my time in Group 1 to go again.
I lined up, but this time one of the instructors asked if I wanted a passenger. Heck yeah, so he grabbed a helmet and jumped in. His instructions were awesome; I was using more of the track, braking harder into the corners, braking less where I didn’t need to, and generally going faster than I was for the first session. For these laps, I had RaceChrono running on my phone, and averaged a 1.56 with a 1.52 as my best lap time this session. I won’t lie, it was a bit funny with him saying “Gun it, full throttle” out of corners only for me to say “The pedals already to the carpet, it’s all we’ve got!”.
After 7 laps, we were done and I pitted
After a break while the other groups went out, it was time for my final session of the day. I was getting tired, and the car was starting to get a bit slippery, with the budget tires getting a bit hot.
But still, I went out there and pushed as hard as I was brave enough to. I was braking late and heavy, clipping the curbs and trying to get a nice clean line. The rear was even starting to rotate at points.
This corner, the Hairpin, was one of my favourites. Start wide on the right, down into second, turn hard into the apex and then let the car drag you to the outer curb with the throttle wide open. It’s like a slingshot.
It may not have been the fastest car on track, but it was the quietest. Even with the pod filter there wasn’t a lot of noise from it
Even without any power, I still passed a few cars (mostly with drivers that were a bit less confident, but a win is a win) and had a decent battle chasing down this whale of a V8 BMW 7 series. I could out brake and corner better than him, but had nothing on the V8 torque out of the corner.
I did eventually pass him just before the final corner, but I feel like he gave me that one
I tried to hold my own against an ex Police car VF Commodore too, but just didn’t have the power on the straights
For this 9-lap session, my lap times dramatically dropped. I was consistently down around 1.51 (down from 1.56) but had a best lap of 1.50, which is a good 2 seconds less than my previous best. Can’t complain about that (even if it’s still probably the slowest lap times of the day)
The speeds on my fastest lap were pretty decent and showed the areas the instructor really helped with
I did at one point, not on the fastest lap above, hit a blistering 131kph on the front straight, but that’s as fast as the car went all day and all it had in it.
There is definitely something to driving a slow car fast. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel, even if it was just in a 1.3L Jazz.
The Jazz did really well. It drove there, did a good 20+ laps, and drove home without issue. The tires were a little noisy since the rubber got a bit hot and sticky, but it’s wearing back again through normal use. The low power was of benefit in this case; sure, it sucked having no power to get out of corners, but it also meant the tires weren’t fighting traction.
The car did roll quite a bit in corners, but at no point did it feel like that was an issue. The biggest issues were having no power to exit the corner, and the front tires washing out if you tried to turn in too hard.
I can highly recommend everyone hits the track at some point. I’ll be back there again for the next one early next year. Whether it’s in the Jazz again, or something else, time will tell.
– Most photos and videos courtesy of my lovely wife who spent the day watching me drive a Jazz in a way Honda didn’t intend.