2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe: Buttonwillow Track Day
October 10, 2014
Getting up before sunrise is never easy, but when you have the keys to a bright orange sports car and a track day ahead of you, it really softens the blow. After a massive continental breakfast (Mmmmm muffins) I arrived at Buttonwillow Raceway in our long-term 2015 Jaguar F-Type R Coupe for an early drivers meeting.
For what was essentially my first open track day, I was placed in the "Solo Green" group. In addition to the evergreen advice like "keep all four wheels on the track" this novice group had a few basic rules about passing. Passing was only allowed on five specific (straight) sections of the track, you could only pass when given the signal, and if you see a driver in your rearview mirror, that means they're faster than you, so you should probably let them pass.
In the pits, the Jag was a superstar. Other drivers stopped to ask questions and take photos, and they were all surprised to hear I was actually going to put it on track. This didn't help to settle my nerves. If you read the previous update, you'll know I was a bit nervous about the front left tire and its uneven wear and the fact that this thing costs more than my insurance policy would pay out. The last thing I wanted was hold up traffic in a brand new, bright orange, 550-horsepower supercar. Well, that or go off in a blaze of orange-tinged glory.
Further adding to my confidence-killing-conundrum, the onboard computer wouldn't give me tire pressure numbers so I checked the old-fashioned way, with a gauge. How quaint. All four tires were at the 36 psi setting prescribed by the door jamb, manual and computer, so I strapped on my helmet and staged for the first run of the day.
I started off by taking right handers with caution. Straight sections were where I could unleash all 550 horsepower. Most of the cars in the solo group had less than half the power, so all the passing I was doing didn't come as much of a surprise, but the Jag's straight-line speed was still seriously impressive.
I spent the day in Dynamic mode, with traction and stability control on, which allowed the F-Type a small amount of slip from the rear tires before it cut power. Basically, it lets you have a little bit of fun without coming out of a corner facing the wrong direction.
My morning session was mostly getting to know the track and the car. Thanks to various black flag penalties incurred by other drivers and engine troubles throughout the pits, the second session was less crowded so I hoped to push the car a bit harder.
Instead, during the first lap of the second session, a tire pressure warning came on. The left rear tire was too low. I pitted immediately and checked the tire: 40 psi. After a warm-up lap, I figured right where the pressure should be. Combine this with the earlier inability of the tire pressure monitors to give me any reading at all, and I decided to trust the digital gauge instead of the onboard computer.
I re-checked all four tires (40, 39, 41, 40) and went back out. After another full lap, I made it back to the front straight away, where the Jag hit around 120 mph. A series of bright yellow warning lights lit up on the dash, "Tire Pressure too Low for High Speed!" My translation? Go faster. The tires needed heat for this kind of high-speed driving and one way to heat them up was to drive the car quicker. I cleared the warnings and on the next pass along the front straight, the Jag cleared 125 mph without incident. It had worked.
After the second session, there was a two hour break before my next run group. I decided to let the tires cool completely before checking them again.
After lunch, I put a few gallons of fuel in the Jag and dug deeper in to the menus. Finally, on a sub-menu buried deep in the Jag's computer, I found an option titled, "Handbook Pressures."
Here, the recommendation for "Low Speed" driving is 36 psi and the "Normal" driving recommendation is 41 psi. I guess the folks at Jaguar consider 125 miles per hour to be a "normal" speed. While I don't disagree, this information shouldn't be hidden away like it's the Arc of the Covenant. There's no mention of the pressure in the manual, on the door, or in the standard readout for tire pressures. I pumped up all four tires to the "Normal" setting of 41 psi and went out with a bit more confidence.
It might've been due to increased pressure in the tires, confidence in the car, or familiarity with the track, but by the third session I was finally having fun. The herd thinned from 25 drivers in the first session to less than a dozen after lunch, and this meant several uninterrupted laps to truly experience the Jag's capabilities.
On the front straight the F-Type R easily cracked 130 miles per hour. And even at those high speeds, the 380mm-fronts and 376mm-rear brakes stopped the Jag in dramatic fashion. This increased confidence and speed led to some minor brake fade, but nothing too serious. Other than my initial problems with the tire pressure monitors, the Jag performed brilliantly, without having any cooling problems or needing any oil.
After such an enthusiastic third session, I was physically exhausted. I was running on little sleep, lots of coffee, and way too many granola bars. My friend Nick had a catastrophic engine failure during his final session, which I took as a sign. We pushed his car on to the trailer, packed up our gear and called it a day.
Waking up early was definitely worth it, but now I had to drive home. Hopefully a steady caffeine regiment would keep doing the trick.
Travis Langness, Associate Editor @ 8,917 miles
Action photos courtesy of CaliPhotography.com