It’s natural to be nervous about a big occasion, but as the time got closer to competing in my first track day with Tampered Motorsport, nerves started to get a hold of me. I’ve had my 1990 Nissan 300ZX for eight months, but the week before the event, the car was in at the mechanic getting some items finished off before the big day.
After getting the car back a few days before the event, it was discovered that the mechanic had somehow managed to break a wheel stud on the left front driver’s side wheel. The mechanic actually knew that this had happened, but approved the work and knew that I was doing a track day. I won’t mention this company, but it’s safe to say that I’ll never go back there.
The issue was rectified before the event, but left me with some doubts and the nerves built. What if the stud breaks off again and I lose a wheel at 170km/h? The mechanic also fitted some RDA slotted and dimpled brake rotors, Hawk HT-10 racing brake pads and also added DOT 4 racing brake fluid. It all sounded great on paper, but had the mechanic made further stuff ups? It’s also worth mentioning that before the track day I’d done some modifications of my own, including removal of the rear seats and rear sound deadening, installation of a fire extinguisher in the passenger foot-well and sourcing a full sized spare wheel and tyre. Before going to the track, I removed all unnecessary loose items from the car, for safety reasons and to save weight. I also bought a decent helmet and racing gloves from Revolution Racegear.
In the past, I’ve done some driving on race tracks, but never in one of my own road cars. Tampered Motorsport appealed to me as it’s not very expensive and you’re pretty much guaranteed to get 5×15 minute sessions on track, or roughly 75 minutes of track time. Prior to the event, I entered and paid online, however a CAMS or AASA licence can’t be used at this event. There’s a Racer’s Licence instead that was obtained at the track, valid for just the day of the event.
So with some understandable nerves, the big day arrived. After stopping at a service station and making sure that all tyre pressures were at 30psi, I arrived at Sandown at 8am on 8th June. Upon arrival, I noticed a diverse range of machinery in the carpark, including Hyundai Excel race cars, Datsun 240Z’s, Nissan GTR’s, modified Falcons and Commodores and a number of BMW’s, both old and new. Thankfully, the weather turned out well with dry and sunny conditions. After signing in, receiving a wrist band, transmitter and filling out the required forms, the next step was to attend the drivers briefing at 8.45. There was an emphasis on building up to speed, driving to your ability and obeying all the flags. Drivers were divided into five groups, Group A down to Group E. Being new to these events, I was placed in Group B, whereas Group E was reserved for mostly track only cars with more experienced drivers.
My first session was at 9.15. I started out taking it easy to learn the 3.15 kilometre anti-clockwise track again, after last driving here in the Aussie Driver Search in September 2017. I managed to pick up some pace after a few laps. I could get the 300ZX up to roughly 175km/h on the main straight using fourth gear before braking hard into Turn 1, at the 200 metre board. I heel and toe shifted back into third gear to match gearbox and engine speeds for a smoother downshift. Then, I hit the apex at Turn 1, trying to maximise the whole use of the track on the exit. I left it in this gear for the tight right and left of Turns 2 and 3. Before the 90 degree left hander at Turn 4, I shifted back to second to get the fastest run up the long back straight and made use of the ripple strip on exit.
It was then a matter of accelerating up through the gears, going through the fast Turn 5 flat out and getting up to about 170km/h in fourth gear before reaching the notoriously fast Turn 6. I’ve seen and heard of many cars over the years ending up in the wall here so was cautious early in the first session. I was relatively hard on the brakes before the fast left hander, dropping to 120km/h and leaving the Nissan in fourth gear for the fast Turns 6, 7 and 8. I found that getting some weight on the nose helped to stabilise the car through the fast corners, however there was some noticeable body roll, with the car still being on standard shocks and springs.
It was then a challenge getting the car stopped going into the sharp left hander at Turn 9. I found that shifting back to second gear before the apex helped here, and then maximising the track width on exit. I got back up to third gear to take the right handed Turn 10 kink and then it was hard on the brakes and back to second for the slow right handed Turn 11. Turn 12 then comes up fast and once through this corner it’s time to build up speed for the main straight, maintaining full throttle for the very slight bend in the road known as Turn 13 and finally across the start/finish line.
The first two sessions resulted in hovering around a 1 minute 45 second lap time. I was on track with a lot of Hyundai Excel race cars and was surprised by their speed, particularly through the corners, but remembered that they are fully stripped out race cars that weigh roughly 1000kg, much lighter than my 1500kg Nissan. I found that I could complete about seven laps for these sessions, however was getting significant brake fade, particularly after the heavy braking into Turn 1, after about four to five laps. My nerves at least had settled, now knowing what the car and I were capable of.
I was fortunate enough to have my brother Adam and friends Greg and Brendon checking the car between sessions. We checked mainly tyre pressures, fluid levels and addressed any loose engine wires. The tyre pressures had all come up to 32 psi and had stabilised. For the brake issues, Adam suggested doing one fast lap and one slow lap to help cool the brakes and also tapping the brakes on the straight before reaching the corner for reassurance. A master cylinder brace was also suggested and is something that I’ll try for future events. It was also noted that the racing pads still didn’t appear to be bedded in properly so I was hopeful that future sessions would help.
For session three, the braking techniques worked better and I had more pedal feel for the session. My increased confidence in the car led to some better times, around the 1 minute 40 mark. The engine and gearbox felt really strong; the 300ZX lacked power compared to some of the other competitors but wasn’t overheating or misfiring. The power steering also felt wonderful with no issues. I found that I had good straight line speed against the Excel’s, but they made significant ground on me through the bends.
I decided to make session four my last and really wanted to get into under a 1 minute 40. I was much more consistent in this session and managed to achieve some 1 minute 39’s, with a best time of 1 minute 38.9, that came at the end of the session. The brake fade had returned slightly though, but I was happy with the achievement. I could’ve done one last session, but the car and driver were starting to feel it after 28 laps! Considering that the 300ZX is still largely a road car and almost 30 years old, it did a great job with no major issues.
Before the next track day, I’m aiming to install the master cylinder brace, remove some more weight from the car and get some braided brake lines. Down the track with more time and money, I’m hoping to fit a roll cage, decent racing seat, adjustable coil-overs, lightweight wheels and decent semi-slick tyres.
Thanks to the boys for their help and everyone from Tampered Motorsport for putting together a great day and I’m hoping to attend future events. Also thanks to Brendon for taking these great photos from the day.