Brands Hatch Indy 26 Jun 2013

Brands-eveThis was my first evening track day session and I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect. This was also my first event that was run by Focused Events. I have heard mixed things about them but decided to approach the evening with an open mind.

Sign on and noise testing was from 4 – 4:45pm. The briefing was at 5pm and that sessions started at 5:30pm and would run to 8pm. There were only two groups; novice/inter and inter/fast. Each group got a 15 minute first session with three sightling laps plus whatever time was left over, followed by 3 x 20 minute sessions. That meant 1 hour and 15 minutes on track for £65 (US$90) which works out at great value for money, I think.

8K9U5824I met up with John again at the track, and unlike last time it looked as though we were going to be blessed with a glorious summer’s evening. This would be our third track day together and although John tends to ride in faster groups than me, it’s great having a friendly face to shoot the breeze with between sessions; even though we don’t often ride together. John doesn’t give a lot away but I suspect that he’s one of those gifted riders who hides his talents under his bushel. You see him here motoring around Druids.

As I was wandering along the pit garages I also spotted Phil who used to instruct for EasyTrack. We talked, I asked questions, and he offered to ride the final session with me to give me some tips. What’s really great about track days is that you do start to recognise different faces and that on the whole most people are really friendly, approachable and willing to help out. More on Phil’s feedback later.

After a slightly disappointing previous session at Brands I was hoping for some tangible improvement. This included the following:

  • taking a better line into corners
  • braking later for corners and/or trying not to coast into corners quite so much
  • getting on the gas earlier through the corner and winding the throttle open more
  • hanging off the bike more to reduce the lean angle in corners

The first session was quite slow paced for the sighting laps, and I didn’t bother running a data logger for that session as a result. In fact I barely made it out on track in time as I got the sessions mixed up and was chilling out when I should have been getting ready to get out on track!

In the second session, I wanted to try and shave a few seconds off my previous lap times by trying to focus on the things that I mentioned above. In the event I managed to reduce my time by over 3 seconds. But this this came at a cost. In trying to go faster, I felt that I was really starting to rush the corners and that my riding felt much less controlled and more untidy than previous track days at Brands.

I even managed to grind my toe guard going round Druids which caused me to stand the bike up mid corner, so that I ended up running off the track onto the gravel and grass. Somehow (and luckily) I managed to avoid being hit by anyone else and keep the bike upright. I quickly rejoined the session with the only symptom off my “off” being a massively elevated heart rate! You can see some of the mayhem in the short video below.

This video is quite instructive (for me) as it highlights:

  • poor line for Paddock Hill (first corner after the start/finish straight) – should be much further over to the left
  • not driving out of Paddock early enough – should be on the gas on the downhill section
  • lazy braking for Druids (turn 2) at 1:28 with a late and slow turn in
  • not getting on the gas early enough at Graham Hill (turn 3) at 1:40
  • being off the throttle instead of having a neutral or slightly cracked open throttle through Surtees into Clearways (turns 4 and 5) at 1:50
  • catching my boot mid corner, standing the bike up and running off track at 2:33! All a symptom of too much (unecessary) lean angle

And yet despite all that I still managed to post my quickest time round Brands at 1:05.13 – not only that but I managed three 1:05 and four 1:07 laps out of 14 laps that session. Looking at the video from the day, I can see that almost 2 seconds of the improvement in lap time has come from driving out of Clearways/Clarke earlier and more agressively.

Here are the session times:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 - - Not timed… barely made it out on track in time!
2 14 1:05.13 Off towards the end of the session
3 9 1.06.06 Started late to due last lap crash in previous group
4 10 1:06.49 Not sure why this session was so short

In the final session of the evening, Phil kindly agreed to ride with me to try and help me sort out some basic errors. Before we went on track, he emphasised the need to exaggerate the hanging off style especially with respect to my head and inside shoulder. Initially he followed me and then I followed him… as best I could. I kept getting mugged by other riders and trying to stay with Phil became a game of diminishing returns. I suspect that he didn’t expect me to be quite as slow as I was! See the footage below.

After the session we had a quick debrief. Although I thought I was hanging off the bike like a monkey, he confirmed that I wasn’t trying nearly hard enough! He also lamented my lazy “road-riding” style in corners. Interestingly he suggested earlier braking points for the corners and then using the throttle to drive on out of the corners. Although he was kind enough not to say so, I could imagine him thinking, “what the hell have you been doing on track since we rode with you last year!”. His parting words were “hope to be at Silverstone with you on the 23rd” – I hope I’ve made some improvement before we meet again!

I may be clutching at straws but I’m banking on the fact that with more practice (on and off track) that soon something will click and some of these faults will begin to disappear as my confidence and riding style improve.

Overall the evening was brilliant. The track conditions were perfect and the two group format worked really well. Despite some of the negative things I’d heard about Focused Events, they ran a pretty tight ship and things ran really nicely and smoothly. I’ll definitely be back for more evening sessions!

UPDATE

Andy an instructor and great guy that I met last year on an EasyTrack track day at Brands looked over the footage and had the following comments to make:

  • you struggle to hold a line into and through a corner as you are often totally off the throttle which makes the bike feel hard to turn and like it wants to run wider – you need to tip in on a neutral throttle and progressively roll the throttle on as you go through the corner and onto the next straight… This should also let you turn the bike quicker which is another of your aims!
  • look at how much room you often have on corner exit – typically you are exiting the corner mid track so you can safely increase speeds through many corners and just use more of the available track
  • getting on the gas smoothly and earlier will give you nice safe gains in lap times from carrying more speed ALL the way down the straights
  • your revs often seem low in the corner too – I try and corner in a gear where my revs are at least 2/3 of maximum – this gives you a much more responsive throttle both when closed and when you want to accelerate again – you seem to take a while to pick up strong acceleration from many corners even after you have gone back on the throttle and this is costing you speed all the way down the straight
  • get used to braking hard and selecting the right gear early – as you get more
    used to this you can then adjust your braking points to progressively take you
    nearer to the corner
  • if your boots are touching down then your feet are in the wrong position
  • when you come up to a slower rider try not to settle in behind them into the corner, leave a gap so you can use your better speed to simply accelerate past them with drive from further back. If you get right up to them and adjust to their speed then it just becomes a throttle/horsepower drag out of the corner – many slower riders are on big bikes and can accelerate quite quickly so you end up stuck for a few corners not just one

Brands Indy 13 Jun 2013

brands-aerialAfter a disappointing outing at Brands GP ten days earlier, I was looking forward to a better improvement in my riding this time round. Whether or not that turned out to be the case, you’ll have to judge for yourself.

The track day was organised by MSV in conjunction with Ride magazine with only road legal bikes being allowed round the track. Ride wanted a “reclaim our trackdays” theme to the day where in the not too distant past everyone rode to a track day, rode round the track and then rode home again afterwards. No vans, race or track bikes or tyre warmers were allowed. Nowadays, at least 50% of the bikes on a track day seem to be sporting tyre warmers and are transported to and from the track in a van. I was initally sceptical about the motivation for the day, but on reflection I think that it turned out rather well with a more relaxed feel to the whole proceedings.

A friend and I booked this track day the afternoon before on the expectation of a dry day. When we arrived we were slightly disappointed becaused it was grey with ominous looking dark clouds. By the start of the first session, there was a fine drizzle falling which meant that even if the weather improved the first couple of sessions at least would be on a wet greasy track. MSV were running three groups per hour; one fast/inters group and two novice groups. We were both booked into the first of the two novice groups.

With a few track days under my belt now, I tend to daydream a little during the pre-session briefings. However one thing I did note was the head instructor advising everyone to take it easy for the first few laps each session until their tyres had warmed up especially in view of the damp track surface. His talk ended with the prophetic words, “into the first corner, into the second corner, into hospital!”. They were going to come back and haunt one poor unfortunate individual in the fast group who came off at Paddock Hill, the first corner just after leaving the pits following the group’s first three sighting laps. He had to be stretchered off the track in an ambulance. A short while later the air ambulance arrived to take him to hospital. I’m not sure of the outcome but I wish him well.

During the first session, I took it fairly easy and tried to concentrate on my lines and smooth use of the throttle. It turns out that riding on a damp track was a useful exercise as focusing on this two aspects alone meant that I was only 2-3 seconds off my fastest time on the same track when dry! The video below shows part of the second session that morning with a light drizzle still falling. Watch the back stepping out on Paddock Hill at 0:28s through slightly enthusiastic use of the throttle!

Also take a look at the section at 0:45s when I’m overtaken by another Daytona 675. Despite being overtaken, we both arrive at the apex of Graham Hill bend at approximately the same speed and time. Although this rider has been forced to take a worse line through the corner, it’s really interesting how much drive he gets out of the corner despite being leant over more than me. If you listen to the video carefully, you can hear that he gets on the gas around 2 seconds earlier than I do. Just love the rasping sound of the 675 triple!

Being late on the throttle is one aspect of my riding that I will really work on next time on track. I reckon that this alone would yield a total 4-6 second improvement around Brands Indy circuit especially when you factor in the fact that a 1-2 second improvement is available to me at the exits of Graham Hill, Clearways/Clarke, Paddock Hill and Druids.

The third session of the morning was cut short due to two crashes in the fast group before our session was due. It seemed to take ages to clear the bikes and riders from the circuit. As a result, both John and I decided to sit the session out. There’s quite a lot to be said for riding in the novice groups; the riders are more cautious and less aggressive which generally equates to fewer red flagged sessions and more track time.

With no apparent improvement in the weather forecast, John decided to abandon the day, and went back to the office. Having seen that I had more grip than I expected and that my wet track lap times were close to my dry track ones, I decided to continue. After lunch, the weather steadily improved and the track began to dry nicely. The remaining three sessions that afternoon were on a dry track. Below is a video of part of the last session of the day.

The video highlghts three aspects of my riding that I still need to work on:

  • getting on the gas earlier coming out of turns
  • being less lazy about positioning the bike on the correct lines on the approaches to corners
  • improving my body positioning so that I can carry more speed through the corners

So what were my times for the day?

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 - - Wet track with 3 sighting laps so I didn’t bother timing this session
2 13 1:10.54 Still wet and greasy
3 - - Skipped session
4 13 1:11:90 Reduced my pace due to the number of crashes seen that morning!
5 9 1:08:57 Session started late due to previous session’s crash
6 14 1:08.81
7 14 1:08:49

The previous outing (at Brands GP) I was looking to make some specific improvements. If I’m being honest I’m not sure that I actually did achieve everything that I wanted. One thing that did please me however is that my wet track riding times are now much closer to my dry times than they were before. Six months ago my wet lap times around Brands Hatch Indy were 6 seconds slower than the 2-3 seconds that they are now.

Next time out, I’m really going to have to make a concerted effort to drive out of corners earlier and more aggressively, and to not be so lazy about following a better line around the circuit. I’m not really sure when I’ll next ride around Brands Indy as the rest of the available track days this year are all 4 group formats. That either means 7 x 15 minute sessions or 5 x 20 minute sessions; neither of which is ideal considering the cost. Perhaps I’ll have to try some alternate tracks for a change?

Brands Hatch GP 3 Jun 2013

brands-GPI was really looking forward to returning to Brands to ride the GP circuit again because I’d enjoyed it so much the last time out.

After such a good time at Silverstone, I had been debating whether to move myself up from the Novice to Intermediate group. I was running in the top half of the Novice group but there were riders in that group that were still significantly faster than I was. As a result, I decided to book into the Novice group for Brands. That was a wise decision as it turns out but more on that later.

This trackday was organised by MSV and the weather was forecast to be sunny and warm for the whole day. In the event, the weather forecast was spot on and we got to ride in perfect conditions! MSV run great race tracks with good facilities but their actual track organisation is not up to the same level as that of companies like No Limits who just seem more rider focused.

BrandsPitAt the briefing we were advised that the first session of the day would consist of three sighting laps followed by a return to the pits before going out for the remainder of the session. What actually happened is that after the three sighting laps we returned to the pits and sat around for what seemed like ages for some unknown reason. No one crashed so there really was no good explanation for the seven minute holdup! When we finally got out on track we managed to squeeze one more full lap in before the first session ended.

I happened to be talking with an ex-racer in the Fast group and exactly the same thing has happened to them. He was hopping mad and went off to find someone to complain to. Why the big fuss? Well, when you only have five 20 minute sessions costing you £1.70 a minute, you don’t want to be sat in the pit lane for any length of time unnecessarily when you could be out riding. This is where companies like No Limits are so good because they’re just as keen as us to maximise track time.

As with all my track days, I was looking forward to having some fun and improving my riding technique. Hopefully any improvement would translate into better lap times. My last time out at Brands on the GP circuit, I had managed to get my lap time down to 2:08 and I had every expectation of shaving another few seconds off that time by the end of the day. As a point of reference, the quick guys in the fast group are lapping in the low 1:40’s while racers will be lapping anywhere from 1:37 to 1:40 so you can see how far I still have to go.

Despite the frustration of the first session, I decided to do something constructive by focusing on my lines round the track. Because we were running in a long line at an easy pace that session, it made it easy to concentrate on using the best lines possible. By the second session, I was running at 2:12 – 2:14 on average with a fastest lap of 2:10. Looking at the video below of that second session it’s possible to see that on the whole my lines were reasonably OK as I tried to run wide into the turns and turn late for the next apex.

One of the benefits of having a few track days under your belt is that you understand how much faster you can go down the straight (by pinning the throttle wide open) and how much later you can brake for the corners. The downside to this new found confidence is that I was beginning to “charge” the turns by running too hot into the turn (for my skill level). This had several negative effects. Firstly, my lines started going to pot as I focused on getting down the straight as fast as I could instead of focusing on setting myself up for the corner properly. Secondly, the higher speed meant that I need to turn more quickly, and I was not really doing this properly. The net effect of this is that I was probably going more slowly through the corners when charging the turns than when I wasn’t.

In this next video from the third session shot from the back of the bike keep a look out for the cones. The yellow ones are the turn in markers for the corners. The red ones denote the apex of the corner. You can see how often I (incorrectly) turn well past the yellow cone – this is a symptom of running quicker into the corner but not turning the bike quickly enough. As a result of that basic mistake, I then end up missing the red apex cone.

The interesting thing is that although I was faster on the straights than the last time I rode the GP circuit back in early May my quickest lap time of the day was still 2:08 so despite doing some things better, I was also doing other things worse which had the effect of cancelling out any improvements I made.

Here are my progress for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 5 2:15.06 Too many sighting laps and too much delay
2 9 2:10.41
3 8 2:08.13
4 8 2:08.61
5 9 2:10.93

In this last video of the final session, you can see how I can often pull away from other riders on the straights and also how those same riders easily catch and pass me on the corners.

Overall I really enjoyed my day out at Brands. The GP circuit is still AWESOME! I met some really nice people in my garage and had many interesting conversations during the day. The riding was great fun although that was tempered slightly by my frustration over the silly mistakes that I was making and which were being exaggerated by my riding style (or lack thereof!).

On the plus side, I now have some concrete things to work on. These include:

  • slowing down on the straights to allow a better “flow” through the corners
  • faster turn rate at the corners achieved using a slightly more aggressive counter steer
  • trying to carry more speed through the corners

The Novice group is still the right place for me, and I intend to keep riding in it until I’m pretty much running at the head of the group for several sessions. At the moment, I think I’m still some way off that.

On my next track day, I hope to be riding with an ex-racer friend with a view to getting him to help me eliminate some of the silly mistakes that I’m currently making. I really think that by slowing down a little to give myself more time, I will develop a better riding style and hopefully achieve the faster lap times that I’m after. We’ll see.