So you’re headed to a racing school to learn the sweet science of driving fast. Good. Now, let’s think about gear. Most racing schools have helmets to lend, but the other basics, like gloves and boots, are harder to come by. Plus, when the gear you’re using is your own, you’ll feel much more comfortable — the more comfortable you are the better you’ll perform. Properly broken-in racing shoes will grip the pedals and heel toe shift just the way you like them to. A nice pair of gloves will give you the grip you need. Sure, you can rent a suit from the school, but when you start to sweat all you’ll be able to think about is all the other people who have sweat in it before.
Prepare yourself for your first foray into performance driving by shopping smart. We’ve scaffolded the gear to different levels and different needs, so you can shop appropriate to the type of driving you’ll be doing. Once you settle into the seat, you’ll want to be as comfortable as possible behind the wheel; the road ahead could be a little, how should we say, bumpy.
Piloti Prototipo GT
The Best Daily Driver: The Prototipo GT — designed as 50 percent driving shoe, 50 percent street sneaker — has always been a favorite of track day regulars, autocrossers and enthusiasts. You can spend an entire day slinging an old track day beater around the pavement, then drive home and walk around town without ever having to change your shoes. The casual design goes unnoticed by most, but you may get a nod or two from fellow enthusiasts in the know. They also seem to run a half-size too small, so order accordingly.
Alpinestars 2015 Tech 1-T Shoe 2
The Most Track Focused: The Tech 1-T is designed more for pure asphalt. Although it has high-quality fireproofing, the ultralight construction and perforated sides keep the shoes light and airy. Once in the car, pedal feel is fantastic and feels borderline barefooted. Still, consider that a slick sole won’t grip much on wet-and-worn pedals. Keep the Tech 1-T in its element with warm summer days and a clean asphalt tracks, and it’ll be your feet’s new best friend.
Oakley Race Mid
The Most Versatile: The Oakley Race Mid straddles the line between purpose-built driving shoe and everyday sneaker. It was built from the ground up with racing in mind: it features a fire retardant leather and suede, and it’s even approved by the FIA to be used in Formula 1. But its style, construction and surprising level of comfort make you forget you’re wearing a pro racing boot. The high-grip soles keep feet planted on the pedals and, as a bonus, even with the multiple layers of flame-resistant suede and leather, they still breathe like a tennis shoe.
The Dapper Driver: Flogging your beater Miata at a LeMons race next weekend? You might be over-dressing with the Piloti Campiones ($500). This wing tip dress shoe with a Roll Control heel is more at home racing a vintage Ferrari in the Mille Miglia — or even at just a simple dinner party (which you drove to in your Ferrari).
G-Force G1 gloves
The Entry Level: G-Force’s G1 gloves are as simple as gloves come. The single layer of Nomex provides a basic amount of fire protection and the leather palm provides the minimum amount of grip needed. If you’re only looking to do competitive driving once in a while, this might be worth a look. The G1 is on the less expensive side of the spectrum, but gets the job done.
Alpinestars Tech 1-Z Glove
The Best All-Rounder: The Tech 1-Z is a glove you’ll keep going back to. Memory foam-backed leather patches on the palm not only absorb vibrations, but they also help grip the wheel better. As a surprise bonus, you can also work your iPhone without taking the gloves off.
Oakley FR Driving Glove
The Best Grip: Despite the Oakley FR’s double layer of Nomex fireproofing, these gloves are surprisingly light and breathable. When driving, the seams of the gloves are placed away from key pressure points for maximum comfort. In our test, though, the cuff kept bunching up around the wrists — the cuff’s internal elastic band isn’t enough to keep it in place. When working the wheel, the glove grips nicely because of silicone patches printed on the palm and fingers (similar to a wide receiver’s gloves).
Alpinestars GP Start Boot Cut
Best Starter Suit: Not all performance driving schools require a suit, but 99 percent of racing series do. If you’re not completely sure what kind of competitive series you’ll settle on, the Alpinestars GP Start is a solid place to start. It has two layers of Nomex to bring it up to the standards of most racing series, and the bootcut accommodates for boots of varying disciplines. Strapped into a low-slung bucket seat with a four-point harness for the day, the suit feels like a second skin. It doesn’t bunch up around the waist, which is good, because the last thing you need during an off-camber turn is a wedgy.