Silverstone GP 20 May 2013

SilverstoneGPHaving ridden Silverstone’s International circuit twice last year, I was really looking forward to riding on the GP circuit. The cost of riding the GP circuit at Silverstone is high at £199 (US $300) but then again you are getting to ride an iconic track with excellent facilities that just happens to host F1 racing in the UK.

SilverstoneGP-Pits1I arrived at the track at 7am with grey and overcast skies, but at least it was dry… if a little on the cold side. We were housed in the new “Wing” building along the International start/finish line. Compared to other tracks, the pits at the Wing are palatial with masses of space and all the facilities that you could want on hand and nearby – there’s no need to trek half a mile for the toilets! Not only that but the organisers even laid on complimentary tea and coffee which was available all day long in our pit garage.

Sign on was straight forward with fewer forms and details required compared to other circuits. The noise limit for the day was 105dB static and unlike other tracks there is no compulsory noise testing although it was available on a voluntary basis. There are noise detectors on track and if your bike is flagged up as being too noisy then that would be the end of your track day. The track operates a one strike and you’re out policy. The onus is therefore on the rider to ensure that the bike complies with their noise restrictions. Apparently one bike was refused access to the track because of its race exhaust pipe.

SilverstoneGP-Pits2The GP circuit is over 3.6 miles long, and up to 50 or so bikes are allowed per session. Luckily for us, there were only about 25 bikes in each of the three groups. This made for a really relaxed and informal atmosphere in the pits and also meant that each bike pretty much had the track to itself.

Like my other track days, I booked into the Novice group and our first session comprised three sighting laps followed by one or two further laps before the 20 minute session ended. During the first session, we encountered fine misty rain which made visibility poorer although the track seemed to offer good grip levels and actually felt dry.

The track is L-O-N-G and pretty confusing the first time that you ride it. It really feels like two tracks tacked together. There are two start-finish straights that both feel very similar and both have a right hander at the end; one requires brakes and the other does not, so the onus is on you to remember which is which otherwise you could make a painful mistake. It wasn’t until the 5th or 6th session of the day that I started to work out where I was on the track and what corner was coming up next.

The Silverstone GP circuit is smooth and fast! Most of the corners can be taken at speed while five corners are almost second gear ones with heavy braking on the entry. The video below shows the racing line as ridden by Neil, an excellent chap and one of Silverstone’s bike instructors. In the second lap, I try and emulate his lines. You can judge for yourself how well you think I did.

I decided not to bother using my data logger in the morning as I figured that I could log the four afternoon sessions instead. In the event, I managed only to log one afternoon session! Basically my GPS unit’s battery went flat after the first afternoon session despite the fact that I thought I had fully charged it before the track day. This means that the other times you see below are estimated from watching my video footage.

A word to the wise – fill up with fuel over lunch! Silverstone has fuel onsite, but it takes ages to get from the new International pits to the fuel station and back. In fact after the first afternoon session I set off for fuel and ended up missing half of the next session after driving around the perimeter road for what seemed like ages. That also meant rushing to get back onto track to the extent that I also forgot to switch the data logger and camera on.

These are my estimated times:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 4 ? Including 3 sighting laps
2 6 3:10 Estimated from video footage
3 6 3:14 Estimated from video footage
4 5 3:12.66 Only session properly logged!
5 ? ? Missed half the session due to fueling issue!
6 6 3:12 Blinding session with Neil again!

Although there were seven sessions available to us, I realised that I was pretty tired in the 6th session, and I didn’t feel like going out for the final session and pushing it and crashing. That last session following Neil (the instructor) and having him follow me was immense fun and I was happy to leave the track having survived six sessions with a huge grin on my face. Even Neil seemed to have enjoyed himself that session too!

Here’s a short except from the first session after lunch showing that you can outdrag litre bikes down the straight on a 600cc bike – some moments are at 2:30, 8:00, 10:45 and 13:00. It’s also funny that no matter how fast you think you’re going, there’s always someone who will just blast past you making you wonder how they did that – there’s an example at 9:20 too.

Silverstone GP is an awesome track. It is fast and very rewarding but it does take time to learn it. Unlike other tracks that predominantly have right handed corners, this one has a nice mix of lefts and rights; some fast and some slow. Would I go and ride there again? Definitely!

Brands Hatch GP 9 May 2013

brands-GPHaving ridden the Brands Indy circuit a few times, I was curious to see whether the GP circuit really was as good to ride as people say. Checking the weather forecast last week, I saw that good weather was expected for the 9th, so I went ahead and booked myself into the novice group.

The track day was organised by No Limits which was good as they seem to be a pretty decent bunch of enthusiastic bikers. It cost £169 (US$260) which seemed expensive considering that they were running 4 groups; fast, fast/inter, inter and novices. Since the Brands GP circuit isn’t available that often I figured that the pros for riding this circuit at least once outweighed the cons.

I assumed that four groups would mean 4 x 15min sessions per hour, however it later transpired that each session would last for 20 minutes and so each group got 5 sessions during the day. Personally I think that this is better than 6 x 15 minute sessions for the day – especially on longer circuits like this one where the warm up laps really cut into your track time.

Brands-full-pitsI rode to the circuit arriving at 7:15am. The pits was already packed with vans, trailers and bikes and I couldn’t find a single empty garage! So I plumped for a reasonably empty looking one that had a few other occupants.

brands-garageBy 9am there were nine bikes in the double garage and three of them were Daytona 675’s! In fact, there was a great comraderie throughout the day and I met some really nice people and had some interesting discussions.

After finding a garage, I proceeded to sign on. Signing on normally takes 10-15 minutes however the queues at the desk were massive and I had to wait quite a while before getting to the sign on desk. With that out of the way, I rode the bike over to the noise test. Again, there was a stack of bikes waiting for testing but chatting with another rider waiting alongside me helped pass the time. The noise limit for the GP circuit is 102dB, so many of the racers were adding baffles and packing them with wire wool where necessary! 6,500RPM produced a mere 97dB from my Daytona’s Arrow exhaust even with the baffle removed.

Since every group was full, the briefing was held in the open air on the terrace near the food stall rather than in a briefing room. I doubt that there was a room big enough to house all the riders anyway! With that out of the way, we headed back to the pits to get out bikes ready. In my case, that involved removing the mirrors and number plate and reducing my tyre pressures. Although it was sunny, the air temperature was still a little on the cold side (around 12c, I think) so I chose to run 31psi in my front tyre and 30psi in the rear. Both tyres are the excellent all rounders; Michelin Pilot Power 2CTs. I find that these tyres are great in the wet and dry, and while maybe not the stickiest hoops around, they are consistently good especially on a midrange machine like the Daytona 675. For someone of my ability, I think that they are a really good tyre choice.

The first session on track was a little strange because the first half of the circuit is really familiar having ridden the Indy circuit a few times, but the back section of the GP circuit was all new. So although I felt comfortable initially, I soon found myself struggling over the unfamiliar sections of track. In fact I nearly had a spectacular off at the Sheen curves as a result of completely messing up my entry line on the blind approach to the right hander. A massive grab of the brakes saved the day and luckily no-one piled into the back of me!

After that session, I decided to seek out one of the No Limits instructors to ask if they could show me the racing lines. Matt kindly offered to help and said that he would meet me at the top of the pit lane when our group next went out. We agreed that he would show me the lines for 3 to 4 laps at a slow pace and that I would then lead to see how much I had remembered.

Riding with Matt was brilliant. Following the correct racing line makes the process of getting around the track both faster and much easier. The correct lines seem to lengthen the straights and shorten the corners. Matt judged the pace perfectly, and he gave hand signal showing exactly where to turn in for the corners. While I had been luke warm about the track after the first session in contrast I thoroughly enjoyed the second session. In fact that session with Matt turned the day into a brilliant one by giving me enough information to derive maximum benefit for the rest of the day. There’s a short clip below showing Matt’s racing lines for the GP circuit along with my attempt to emulate them afterwards so you can judge how well you think I did for yourself.

My fastest lap in the first session was a 2:14 which improved to 2:08 by the final (and fifth) session of the day. Unlike my other Brands track days where you hardly ever come across a pack of bikes, I did seem to keep encountering large groups of riders quite often; some of whom were slower than me. As a result, in my third session of the day, I posted lap times nearly 15s slower than my fastest laps as I got stuck behind these riders.

Overtaking them often proved to be difficult because they would be slow in corners and fast on the straights, or they would take a late entrance into corners and then cut across your path as they dived for the apex. As with all things, common sense is the better part of valour, and I figured that it would be better to bide my time until a decent and clear overtaking opportunity presented itself rather than take out or get taken out by somebody. Invariably this meant waiting for anywhere up to half a lap before I could overtake safely. If I was a faster rider, I guess I would have been able to pass more easily. One particular rider nearly drove me mad for two laps as I waited for a safe moment to pass; in the event I think the session ended before I even had an opportunity to pass.

Here’s a summary of my progress that day

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 5 2:14.27
2 6 2:09.51 Following Matt round the track
3 5 2:13.57
4 7 2:16.68 Lots of hold ups!
5 9 2:08.12 Sublime session – really fun!

I love the Indy circuit at Brands Hatch because it’s tricky and you can practice the same corners again and again each session as it only takes a minute to get around. The GP circuit takes things to another level. It is absolutely fantastic with a fast long straight and three fast sweeping right handhanders on the back section. If you get the chance to ride GP circuit, do it. You won’t regret it!

Bedford Aerodrome 20 Apr 2013

Bedford-south-westAfter the most appalling winter and a three month long illness, it was great to be at Bedford Aerodrome on a bright sunny morning for my first day of riding on track this year. The track day was organised by No Limits and was run on the South West circuit.

As this circuit doesn’t usually feature in the bike track day calendar, I wasn’t sure that it was going to be such a great venue or circuit. However, the £69 (US$106) price was too tempting to pass up. As I was still recovering from an illness, I intended to do one session to see how I felt, and if that was too much, I would quit. If I felt OK, I would continue until I started to get tired.

Apart from being quite hard to find by road, the circuit turned out to be the same high standard that you expect from MSV. The facilities are good but the pit area is small, and all vans and vehicles have to be moved to a car park a short distance from the pit lane after the bikes are unloaded in the morning. Meals and briefings also took place in the main reception building a short bus ride away – although you could walk there in less than 5 minutes if you wanted.

The circuit itself is great. The surface is really good and there is plenty of run off area everywhere. As you can see from the circuit diagram, it features a few chicanes and a lovely long back straight. The other great feature is that you can wear out the left hand side of your tyres as this is a circuit that runs anti-clockwise unlike many of the other UK circuits.

IMG_20130423_114700A friend delivered my bike to the track in his van and we unloaded it into one of the garages. The good weather forecast combined with the low track price meant that there was a good turnout. I estimate that there were up to 120 bikes divided into three groups; fast, intermediate and novice.

This was my first day with No Limits, and I was impressed by their professionalism and relaxed attitude. That probably sounds like a contradiction but they were strict on the things that mattered and relaxed about the things that weren’t important. One nice feature of No Limit’s is that you can ask any of the instructor’s for help and guidance, both on and off track. Not only is this extra service free but it is high quality and the instructors actually genuinely seem interested in helping you improve.

IMG_20130423_114643As this was my first outing for 2013, my intention was just to get used to being on a bike again and to have some fun without taxing myself too much. I was booked into the Novice group and found the pace about right. There were some pretty quick riders in our group and I felt that I was running in the lower half of the group in terms of lap times. That was fine with me – just being outdoors in the sunshine, on a bike after nearly 10 weeks in bed was a fantastic feeling!

Although I suspected that I would have to retire early because of tiredness, I managed to do six sessions in all; only skipping the final one as I was starting to get tired. My lap times ranged from 2:53 to 2:49 – so although I wasn’t particularly fast I was at least reasonably consistent.

Overall, I think that the South West circuit at Bedford is pretty good. Sure, it’s flat being based at a disused airfield, but the track has a decent combination of slow chicanes, fast corners and a great and fast back straight to keep you amused.

I would also choose a No Limits track day again – I liked the staff and I like the way they organised the day. What a cracking start to the 2013 season!