Love at First Lap


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TrackWorthy - 2019_Toyota_86_TRD_Special_Edition_03
The tachometer is climbing: five, six, seven-thousand rpm reads behind the needle as it sweeps to the right. You’re still full-throttle, listening to the engine crescendo before engaging the next gear.

You’re normally frequenting the rear-view and scanning for police during such exploits – but not this time. What you’re doing is perfectly legal – in fact, it’s making you a better, safer driver.

The next corner is fast approaching, and you judge your braking point as you execute a clean corner entry. Eyes on the apex, one last heel-and-toe downshift has you ready to blast out at full throttle.

Welcome to a track day, behind the wheel of your vehicle of choice.

To say track days are enjoyable would be an understatement commensurate with the assertion that sex is great, or Swiss chocolate is delicious. There are no words that quite capture the excitement, satisfaction, and overall bliss of unleashing a sports car on track, in its natural habitat.

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There are a few barriers to entry. You can’t drive a minivan – nor would you want to. The consumables: fuel, tires, brakes and entry fees aren’t exactly cheap. You also need a measure of physical fitness to handle the G-loading of the car, especially during lengthy lapping sessions. But the reward is just and exceeds the cost – whatever that cost is.

You need not spend a fortune. A bone-stock Toyota 86 will provide – to my estimation – 70 percent of the thrill of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

And that’s the magic of track time – it’s what you put into it that matters. A driver that has their heart in it is visibly quicker from the pit wall, and quicker on the stopwatch too; consider the magic of the great Ayrton Senna at full attack.

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And if you add some sticky tires and hone your skills, you just might find yourself passing much faster cars in your humble Toyota – GT3s notwithstanding.

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Street racing is not just cliché – it’s dangerous. I can attest to the carnage of poor choices, and egos exceeding skill after responding to many crash scenes as a Toronto paramedic. If you really want to drive fast, and you really have what it takes – prove it. Take it to the track.

Many friends have been paralysed by a misguided impetus to modify their cars prior to hitting the track. Brake upgrades, power increases and handling improvements must be completed before entering pit lane, they say. But they’re wrong, and missing out.

What resides between your ears is far more important and will impact lap times far more than that brake upgrade, or power boost. You have to get on track to start the journey of performance driving.

So where do you start? There are many options; I personally recommend a performance driving school to get things rolling. Many fundamental skills are learned, and an essential knowledge bank of motorsport how-to is garnered at a quality school. You’ll also meet many friendly, like-minded people who are keen to build a community of safe, joyful, and competitive track day drivers.

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The hedonistic payoff of a sizzling hot lap is thrilling – but it’s a flash in the pan. Track days are about far more than an adrenaline rush. In fact, I suspect I’ve worn out my adrenal glands a good many years ago. But inner battles, a drive for excellence, and friends I’ve made at the track keep bringing me back.

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When you’ve done your best to achieve a lap time of 1:36.02, how do you find the tenths of a second required to land you in the 1:35s? Or the seconds required to land you in the 1:32s?

There’s an old adage that says, “A bullet always tells the truth.” In much the same way, so does a stopwatch. You can’t fake it. You can cheat, but you’ll always know it was a lie. To build speed on track and to become an accomplished driver, you must improve yourself continually. Sharpen your mind, focus your vision, exercise your body. It’s all encompassing, and it builds more than driving competence – it builds character.

And yes, once you’ve built yourself into a driver, it’s fair game to improve your car. And that’s a good part of the fun.

But at the end of the day, it really couldn’t matter less if your brakes have more bite or your engine more horses. With your dash needles sweeping left to right, what matters most is the smile on your face, tucked discretely under your helmet. A smile that’s truly TrackWorthy.

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