A day on a closed racetrack provides an unbeatable opportunity to learn new skills and experience the thrills of speed in a controlled environment.
Exploring the capabilities of a car without fear of oncoming traffic or speed cameras, and a personal driving coach sitting alongside, is one of the most challenging yet invigorating things you can do.
It’s proof that speed doesn’t always kill, that a car can be a source of joy as well as of transport, and that everyone’s driving skills can be sharpened by a touch of top-drawer tuition. A track day can supplant the traditional Sunday drive, and such an experience can be just the start if you really crave a driving challenge.
At the top end, there are speedy tag-along tours for competitive events including the Targa Tasmania tarmac rally, African off-road adventures for four-wheel drives, and trips to the Arctic Circle to learn about sliding and drifting on ice.
Learn the basics
The starting point is a base-level course that should be compulsory for every new driver, covering the essentials of good driving and how to make the most of the safety technology in your car
Others driving days amp up the speed and adrenalin in stages, and some home in on the attributes of a particular brand. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are three manufacturers which run regular drive days, albeit offered initially to their own customers.
At any of the above events you might even find a champion racing driver – such as Bathurst 1000 winner Luke Youlden – sitting alongside you, since many well-known drivers do track-day coaching between races.
Bring your own metal
Some drive days allow you to supply the moving metal, enabling the most intimate driving experience with your very own pride and joy. The downside is that you won’t be covered for any mishaps by standard car insurance, and worn tyres and brakes aren’t cheap to replace.
Which should you be looking to do in 2020? That depends a lot on what you drive, or what you dream of parking in the driveway.
Most companies have entry-level courses that don’t require ownership for entry, although that changes if you get into the top-end activities with companies like Mercedes-AMG and Lamborghini.
The first premium brand to get into driver training was BMW, back in 1977, and today it runs courses across Australia and at all levels.
The kick-off for the BMW Driving Experience is a half-day ‘Compact’ course that runs for about four hours. It begins with sitting properly in a car, runs through a variety of driving exercises, and the highlight is a passenger lap in an M3 with one of the skilled instructors. Cars for the course cover the whole BMW family, from Mini through to the rorty M2 and X3 SUV.
Ramping things up eventually takes you to the high-performance Advance 1 event, where all the cars have an M badge and there are only 18 participants. The track laps take drivers right to the edge, teaching them how to go super-quickly, but still doing it safely.
At Audi there are three tiers to the track day experience, and the very top end can include a five-day R8 Spyder driving tour in Europe with the head of the brand’s training team in Australia, former Top Gear Australia presenter Steve Pizzati.
The basic Audi Dynamic Driving Course uses S and RS cars and the objective is to develop a driver’s skills and sharpen their reflexes, with emphasis on time at the wheel.
Audi’s thundering V10-powered R8 coupe is the focus for the Sport Pro course, which takes everything up to the maximum, but Audi also has tailored tours for an Ice Driving experience and there is also a course exclusively for women.
Mercedes-Benz takes a two-tiered approach to track days, starting with entry-level events for owners and enthusiasts. Overseas travellers can also dip into the experience without buying a car, and the possibilities run from a cross-country tour to ice driving and racetrack training.
In Australia, owners have access to the AMG Driving Academy and its line-up of thundering Mercedes-AMG models up to the wickedly quick AMG GT, but tuition can range from teaching probationary drivers to understand the basics of car control through to race-focused speed fiends who want to polish their technique and trim their lap times.
Lift the pace
Porsche, too, runs track day events in Australia and its objective is to expose people to its sports car range and help owners achieve their driving ambitions. At the top end, there are one-on-one race-focused days with the very fastest of the 911 models.
And then there is Lamborghini, which runs its Esperienza events as both bucket list experiences and coaching days for owners, offering cars up to the outrageous V12-powered Aventador supercar.
Lamborghini can even take a track day dreamer all the way to the very top by offering access to the Super Trofeo race program that puts amateur drivers behind the wheel of a Lamborghini for full-scale race meetings at some of the world’s most iconic circuits.