5 Thoughts on Track Days vs. Time Attack
Your road map to understanding what each format will give you. Spend accordingly.
How are They Different?
On the surface, Time Attack and HPDE events look pretty similar on the surface: you’re not wheel to wheel racing for position and the outright goal is to get the best time possible. Many local clubs have their own version of a time attack you can participate in without loads of mods or emptying your wallet with expensive entry fees. While many may opt to stay in the track day community we should look at the benefits of each so you know where to allocate your resources in the best possible manner. With both venues growing in popularity it is more important now than ever to have a clear picture of what they offer and how to benefit from each. Let’s go.
Benefits of Track Days
Track days are not a competition, though many enthusiasts like to think they are. Meant as a tool to expand your driving abilities the purpose isn’t to see red mist and run your car into the ground just for a crack at the top 5. In fact, if you go in with this mentality you’re going to miss almost everything there is to gain out of a track day. The real purpose of this arena is to learn your machine while cutting consistent laps. Generally speaking, once you are familiar with a track your lap times shouldn’t fluctuate any more than half a second throughout the day. If your times are all over the place it’s a sign you’re not as good as you think and a top spot on the timesheet is the last thing your mind should be focused on. Work on hitting your marks and getting comfortable with other vehicles on track. HPDE events are all about learning track etiquette while pushing your limits. Leave the ego at home and you’ll improve much more quickly.
The True Goal in Time Attack
Time Attack, on the other hand, is a competition: the goal is to win. Abusing your car is a prerequisite and it should be noted that many of the top level cars are not built to run for any substantial duration of time. From a coaching perspective, I don’t advise people to start off here—it simply doesn’t teach you how to manage your pace or give you enough seat time which can stunt your growth as a beginner or even intermediate driver. It is, however, useful for those who can produce consistent lap times as it will push you to take calculated risks while forcing you to think about where you are leaving time on the table. You get very few laps to put a fast one together which teaches you how to handle pressure. This can help immensely as you move into wheel-to-wheel racing as it [Time Attack] is basically a giant exercise in how to qualify. Perhaps this is the most valuable lesson to be learned from this time trial form of racing.
Vehicle Setup Differences?
From a setup standpoint, the way you build a time attack car is radically different than something that will only see HPDE. The later is all about figuring out how to create something fast and durable while the former is all about that one lap. Usually, aerodynamics play a heavy role in TA cars which is important to note as it can drive up the costs in a hurry. Tires in many series like the World Time Attack Challenge are restricted to a predetermined compound and size which means there won’t be much in the way of learning how to tune for anything different. If tinkering with your car to your liking is what you’re into then HPDE is probably a better way to go. You can’t just buy what you want since it may not be class legal. A bit of a drag if you just want to go fast like Ricky Bobby. Acquiring raw knowledge on setups is a huge advantage should you eventually decide to pursue Time Attack racing.
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Transitions into “Real” Racing
Almost everyone I have coached who competes in TA or HPDE has some desire to go into wheel-to-wheel racing at some point. This is a natural progression that emerges from these two disciplines, so its important to understand what to draw from both of them. While clocking off the perfect lap is certainly difficult it is the lowest average of laps that ends up winning in the world of wheel-to-wheel. HPDE events lend more towards a driver’s ability to stay focused for 20-30 minutes which is very much in line with the mental focus of sprint style racing. Endurance racing can be thought of as 3-5 track day stints thrown together where Time Attack is more an exercise in qualifying as mentioned previously. Being the fastest person for one lap means very little if you can’t do it over and over again, so use HPDE events to practice staying focused in blocks while you use Time Attack to perfect your ability to qualify. Combining these two—and visiting them frequently—will accelerate your learning curve exponentially.
HPDE and Time Attack share almost nothing in common aside from taking place at the race track. Autocross is actually more similar to Time Attack in terms of format, minus the speed. Both deserve your attention as a driver, tuner, and enthusiast with each offering something unique that the other doesn’t. Become a student of both are you will be unstoppable on the race track. In part 3, we will cover the final chapter—wheel to wheel racing. Until then, hit the race track and stay fast. Thanks for reading.