Brands Hatch is the closest track to where I live, so I searched the internet for the next available track day there. EasyTrack were running one on the Indy Circuit on the 29 October 2012.
The Indy circuit at Brands is short which means you get more laps per session and the chance to repeatedly practice the same corners again and again throughout the day. In fact that makes it a pretty decent circuit for novices as a result.
EasyTrack.co.uk were running their track day with three groups, so I was also likely to get six sessions which was good. After two good experiences at Ron’s school and because this was my first track day for more than 20 years, I decided to book an instructor for the day and put myself into the novice group.
I left home at 6am with a foreboding grey sky and damp roads – this didn’t bode too well for the day ahead, I felt. An hour later I arrived at the paddock at Brands, parked the Daytona up and signed on. The first thing that struck me was how few bikes were actually there – I guess the poor weather had dissuaded many from even bothering to turn up.
After sign on, I collected the bike and drove to the noise test area. For the static noise test, you’re required to hold a certain RPM – 6,500 in the case of the Daytona while the tester puts his rod up the bike’s rear end. The static limit for the day was 105dB and I was well below that despite the fact that the arrow can didn’t have its baffle in. (As a precaution, I had brought it with me to fit if I failed the noise test without a baffle).
Andy + bike
With the test out of the way, I went over to find my instructor. I was introduced to Andy; a chap of about my age but with far more riding talent and ability than I will ever have (as I found out later). I noticed that his steed for the day was his 600cc race bike running sticky tyres that had little in the way of a wet weather tread pattern.
As we talked Andy tried to gauge my level and find out what I wanted from the day. I tried not to let on that my main concern was not to hurt myself or crash the bike on its first outing!
Our first session was at 9:40am. Brands always requires that sighting laps are done for the first session after which you return to the pits before being let out for the remainder of your session. The first of the three sighting laps was not pretty – there was standing water in parts of the track while the rest of it was also damp. These were not the track conditions I was hoping for when I made my booking! As a result, I tiptoed my way around – I think Andy was less than impressed by my performance.
I started the first session running 1:30 laps and ended the session after 10 laps running 1:20 – the speed up coming primarily from my getting used to the track layout. At our first debrief Andy pointed out that I needed to sort my body position out. He wanted me to drop whichever shoulder was on the inside of the turn, and to ensure that my inside arm was nicely bent while the outside arm was straighter. He wasn’t concerned whether I was hanging off the bike or not, but he did stress the need to move around and to try and do this on the straights well before I arrived at a corner so that I wouldn’t unsettle the bike unnecessarily.
So armed with this information, I set out for the second session with Andy following again. I took it easy for the first couple of laps in order to try and get some warmth into the tyres. By the middle of that session I was running 1:22 pretty consistently, and ended up posting a 1:18 lap on my penultimate lap of the second session.
During the debrief, Andy put me on his bike to review body positioning again. We looked at foot position – the boot on the inside of the turn should have the ball of your foot on the tip of the peg with your foot canted slightly away from the bike. The foot on the outside of the turn should be placed in line with the bike and with the peg nearly under the arch of the foot – this allows your leg to rest against the tank more naturally and allows the use of your larger leg muscles to support your weight and body position instead of relying on the muscles around your knees or using your hands and wrists for support.
In the third session, I tried putting more of Andy’s wise words into practice. After two warm up laps, I was posting 1:14 to 1:16 laps pretty consistently and managed to finish the 13 lap session with just under 1:14. That was more than a 6 second improvement in just two sessions compared to my best time in the first session. It looked as though I was making some progress – I was pleased and Andy didn’t seem quite so dispairing of my riding!
In the debrief, Andy wanted me to try and focus on following the racing line more. He pointed out that with the damp track, it was getting easier to “see” the racing line just by following the drier part of the track as I went along. He also gave some specific advice on different parts of the track; specifically the different corners and how to approach them.
Despite the extra information about racing lines, I think he felt that sorting out my body position and moving around correctly would yield the biggest gains. He wanted me to move my head lower and further over to the inside of the bike in the turn. Andy also predicted that I would be posting sub 1:10 laps before the final session of the day.
In the fourth and final session before lunch I was running 1:14 laps pretty consistently again. Unlike the other sessions, Andy was sometimes in front of me trying to “pull” me along behind him, and sometimes he was behind me watching to see what I was doing. Unfortunately the session was red flagged and stopped because some poor unfortunate sod managed to come off coming out of Clearways (the long right hander before the Brabham start/finish straight). That meant that rather than the 12-14 laps I’d have expected to ride that session, we only managed 8 laps. However despite that I did manage to post a sub 1:12 lap time which pleased me immensely. I also had great fun overtaking two other riders on the outside line at Clearways.
During the debrief, Andy explained that I needed to get on the throttle earlier and harder coming out of the turns. He reckoned that doing so on Clearways/Clarke Corner alone would yield nearly 2 seconds a lap. He thought that if I continued improving at the same rate, there was every chance that I ought to be able to get close to a 1:05 lap time. I was game to try, and looked forward to the first afternoon session at 2:20pm.
Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. By 2pm it had started drizzling. While the track had been slowly drying and improving during the morning, it now began to develop the characteristics of an ice rink again!
Because of his tyres, Andy decided to sit out this session, but advised me to have a go while taking it easy just trying to practice some of the body positioning that we had discussed earlier in the day. Having seen six other bikes crash at different parts of the track that morning (in better conditions) I wasn’t too happy about my own prospects.
On my second lap the heavens opened and I gently feathered my way around the track posting times around the 1:30 mark. My feeling of inadequacy was further enhanced by being lapped twice that session by one of the other “novice” riders, although to his credit he had been posting sub-59 second laps in the drier morning sessions.
Despite the best efforts of the weather, I felt elated. I’d had a brilliant day’s riding where I had learned loads and seen how simple changes can make a big difference to your lap times. Andy, Phil and the other EasyTrack instructors had taken me under their wing and made sure that I was properly looked after including inviting me to park up with them in their garage.
Here’s a summary of my progress that day
||Stopped due to crash
And a summary of some of the tips I picked up from Andy and Phil
- Body position is key – get used to moving around the bike
- Carry your weight in your legs not your arms – keep your arms and hands relaxed
- Position your feet on the pegs correctly
- Drop your shoulder and head to the inside of the turn – make sure your inside arm is bent
- Keep both arms bent at all times rather than having them straight and pumped
- Sit back in the seat – that way you’ll be able to position your body more easily for the corners
- Turn later into the corners – beginners like me tend to want to turn in early
- Look through the corner at where you want the bike to go – if you stare at the runoff area or gravel that’s probably where you’ll end up!
- Drive out of the corners earlier – get on the gas and accelerate towards the red line before changing gear
- Quicker laps come from smoothness and carrying more speed through the corners
- When it comes to corners, remember slow in and fast out
As a result of the day I spent with them, I can’t rate EasyTrack and their team highly enough, and I will be back for more track sessions with them next year when the weather improves.