Silverstone GP 13 Jul 2013

silverstone_gpAfter a scorching two weeks where temperatures often climbed in to the low 30s (80-90F), a change in the weather coincided with Focused Event’s Silverstone GP track day. Instead of hot sunshine, we were treated to the full gamut of weather conditions ranging from the sun trying to break through the clouds to thunderstorms and lightning!

This track day was unusual in that it ran from 9am to 2pm with only two groups running 20 minute sessions and all for £139 (US$ 210). This came about because Ducati had the track booked for the rest of the afternoon. What a brilliant format; two groups is MUCH better than the 4 groups that more and more track day companies seem to be opting for more now. No sooner had you come in from a session and got a drink than you were being called to line up in the pits again for your next session – now that’s how a track day should be!

Two groups meant greater speed differences between riders than in 3 or 4 group format track days. But at a long and wide circuit like Silverstone, this was never a problem. There was always stacks of space for the faster riders to overtake slower riders. Hopefully more track day companies will adopt this as a new format; one set of track day riders from 9am-2pm and a second set from 2pm to 8pm. Potentially, they could generate more income that the day/evening formats that are sometimes offered while giving riders even more track time and better value for money. Now there’s an idea!

We were greeted with a damp track for the first session but at least it wasn’t raining. Within 15 minutes that changed as the rain started. By the second session at around 10am, we were out in a thunderstorm complete with forked lightening! There was water everywhere with some of the corners under at least an inch (3cm) of standing water. Apart from getting soaked in my leathers, riding in the rain was actually a great experience as the more cautious riding meant that you had plenty of time to focus on lines.

Soon after that second session, the track was closed until the thunderstorm had passed. Marshalls and crew were then duly sent out to sweep the standing water from the corners. Because the track and ground were hot from the previous couple of week’s good weather, the track began to dry more quickly than I expected.

For the third session, we were greeted with a track that had the occasional dry/damp line while other parts of the track were still pretty wet. After all the hot weather, the rubber, oil and other muck had been lifted to the track’s surface by the rain turning some parts of it into an ice rink. As I rode around I would feel the bike suddenly shift alarmingly even when barely leant over. Quite frankly, this was deeply unsettling as it felt like the bike was about to slam down the track on its side without the slightest provocation! My laps times that session were 1/3 slower that they were in the dry. Even riders on wets were less than impressed by the track conditions and many riders from either group came in early to sit the session out in the hope that the track would dry off later. In fact, some riders chose to abandon the day altogether. Perhaps 1/5 of the original riders didn’t even bother hanging around for the remaining sessions.

By the fourth session just after midday the track had finally started to dry out, especially on the racing line. There were still damp patches around the circuit mainly off the line in corners. Having been thoroughly chastised by the conditions in the previous session, I made a point of focusing on the best line I could. In fact, for most corner approaches, I was mindful of the line I wanted and was pleasantly surprised to see that I was doing a reasonable job of sticking to it. One thing that I did notice is that I wasn’t looking far enough ahead round the corner to plan both the apex and exit points instead focusing on the braking and entry point almost to the exclusion of all else. Because Silverstone has longer straights compared to somewhere like Brands Indy, in some ways, you actually have more time to plan your corner entries.

Silverstone-offIn the final session of the day, we were riding in almost perfect conditions with virtually all of the racing line around the circuit dry. Moving off the line in corners would immediately put you into damp and slippery conditions. Luckily I managed to stay upright by ensuring that I followed the dry line as much as I could. Quite a few riders ran off the track at various different points; mostly without incident as there is plenty of runoff tarmac which allowed them to safely rejoin the circuit.

One other aspect that I tried to focus on was body positioning in corners and this time I really noticed something that I mentioned in my previous post. I definitely do not like right handed corners compared to left handed ones! I particularly noticed this going around Stowe, Copse and Luffield where I could feel myself all crossed up despite my attempts to sort myself out each lap. The contrast between those corners and the left handers like Chapel, the first part of Luffield and the left hander leading on to the National Straight was as stark as night and day. Perhaps I’ll need to find a quiet roundabout one of these days and practice going round and round it until I start to like right handers too!

The video below is for the last session of the day. I didn’t dare use the external mic for fear of shorting out it or my GoPro camera (with all that rain about), so the sound is courtesy of my new Muvi HD7 camera which is fitted to the previously unused rear righthand footrest bracket.

Due to the rain, I didn’t bother switching on RaceChrono for the first two sessions, so these are my times for the other three sessions:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 - - Wet track with 3 sighting laps so I didn’t bother timing this session
2 - - Heavy rain came in after 3 laps
3 3 4:01.32 Slippery as hell! Session red flagged due to accident
4 4 3:19.96 Drying but with wet patches
5 6 3:12.63 Almost perfect conditions

Had the track not closed during the morning due to waterlogging, I think we probably would have had an extra two sessions. Despite that and the rain, I still think it was a brilliant day out and I don’t begrudge the cost. I came to focus on my lines, body positioning and throttle usage, and I feel that I have started to make some progress towards those goals.

Silverstone’s GP circuit really is amazing to ride with plenty of space both on the track and in the pits and garages. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and book a track day there before the winter sets in!

Brands Indy 17 Jul 2013 – Part 2

This is a continuation of this post.

After receiving some excellent and helpful feedback from my previous post about riding at Brands Indy, I headed to Brands again with some revised goals in order to continue to try and improve my riding and reduce my lap times. These included:

  • not rushing or charging the corners by braking earlier
  • trying to use more of the available track space on corner entry and exit
  • opening the throttle sooner in a corner in order to drive through and achieve more speed down the straight
  • improving my body position when cornering to achieve a lesser lean angle for the same corner speed

Comparing the video below with that from my previous outing at Brands I can see that I didn’t really achieve any significant improvement on the first three objectives. I also doubt that I made that much improvement on the body positioning objective either but it’s hard to realistically determine this from the video. However, one good thing that you can determine from the video is how well the external mic works at picking up the amazing sound from the 675 triple engine – a pure symphony of sound!

My lap times at Brands Indy have been pretty static at around 1:07 – 1:08 for the past two track days now, which means I’ve hit some kind of plateau. Watching videos of the day, I can see that the quicker riders are quicker because they carry more speed through the corners and onto the straight which is primarily a function of getting on the throttle earlier in the corner. If I could sort this one aspect of my riding out then I think I could probably shave anywhere up to 5 seconds a lap off my times.

Here are the session times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 - - Not timed
2 18 1:07.83 Timed Chrono session for regrouping
3 14 1:07.14 Running in group 2 instead of 1
4 15 1:07.49 Back in group 1
5 17 1:07.04
6 11 1:07.44
7 9 1:09.14

There are a couple of things to note about those times. Firstly that the quickest lap time of each session except the last was around 1:07. In the last session, I was both tired and wary of coming off which meant that I definitely backed off the pace a bit. Secondly the discrepancy in the number of laps. My feeling is that the time keeping wasn’t always that accurate and that in at least two of those sessions we had fewer than our alotted 20 minutes (for whatever reason).

The lack of improvement is disappointing, so let’s see if I can figure out what went wrong.

Body position

This is something I understand intellectually but I just can’t seem to get right yet. The theory is so simple:

  1. place the ball of the inside foot on the peg
  2. slide your butt over to the inside – have one cheek over the edge of the seat
  3. bend both arms ensuring that your outside arm is straighter and resting on or close to the tank
  4. pull your head and shoulder (upper body) towards the inside of the corner so that you head is inline with you inside mirror

Why is this important? Because it should allow you to carry more speed through corners with a reduced lean angle -the less lean angle you have the more power you can put down with the back wheel.

Sounds simple, so why do I struggle to sort this out? Well it appears that I have a particular aversion to right handed corners! Now this is a bit of a problem, as almost all of the race circuits in the UK run clockwise with a higher proportion of right handed corners than left.

What I’m basically doing in a right handed corner is sliding my butt over to the inside (and probably not enough) while leaving my head and shoulders nearly central over the tank which results in a twisted back and “crossed up” posture. This manifests itself quite clearly as a pain or tension in my neck and particularly on right handed corners. I think my body position on left handed corners is actually better (based on less pain in my neck!), although I don’t have any photos to confirm this.

What’s the solution? Reducing my work load in corners so that I can focus on getting my body position correct will be the simplest approach at least until this becomes more automatic. The easist way to reduce the workload in a corner is to reduce speed – I think spending one or two sessions next time out on track riding at 60-70% of my ability will allow me to devote the extra mental capacity to practicing this more effectively.

Forcing myself to slow down and ignore what else is going on track will require some discipline but I think that this is the only way I’m really going to start to make some progress. Otherwise I’m in danger of doing more track days and repeating the same mistakes endlessly.

Poor lines

Keith Code describes the racing line in a corner as that line that allows you to use the throttle most effectively. There is no one line that suits all riders for any particular corner.

I know that I need to focus on trying to find and take the best lines I can into and around the corners. Generally before a track day, I’ll do some research by watching fast group riders at the same circuit on YouTube. I try and imprint those lines in my head. However, it often happens that when I get out on track that information seems to magically disappear and I end up riding in the middle of the track again.

I’ve ridden Brands Hatch Indy several times now, and you’d have thought that the proper lines should be imprinted in my head – they’ve been shown to me on more than one occasion. But as you can see from the video, that just isn’t the case! So what’s going on? In one word speed! The faster I go on track, the more I revert to type and try to remain towards the center of the track through a combination of a lack of discipline and a strong sense of self preservation.

Moving from the middle of the track to the outside edge on corner entry feels scary – a fear that is compounded the faster you go. When I was shown the racing lines by one of the No Limits instructors at Brands Hatch GP, he made a point of going slowly for 3-4 laps so that I could really focus more of my mental capacity on learning those lines without any fear kicking in. That trick really helped me to understand what he was trying to show me and made it easier to go faster and more safely around the track for the rest of the day. I did notice myself diverging from those lines as the day wore on due to a combination of my increased speed increased and lack of attention – that speed difference was only a matter of 5-8 seconds a lap over a 2 minute lap.

Slowing down for a couple of sessions at my next track looks like a promising solution to reinforcing those lines. The lower speed will hopefully allow me to concentrate on the lines for corner entry and exit, and deal with my body position at the same time.

Using the Throttle

Using lots of throttle on the straight is easy… even I can do it! Knowing how much throttle and when to apply it in a corner is much harder. Most instructors advocate getting on the throttle as soon as you can in a corner. After braking hard for the corner, the throttle is then cracked to settle the suspension so that the weight distribution between the front and rear tyres is biased to the rear.

I seem to have (at least) two major problems with throttle usage:

  1. not using it early enough in the turn
  2. and not using enough of it as I drive out of the turn

Generally I find that the faster I approach a corner the later I get on the throttle. You’d think that this simple fact would cause me to reduce my turn entry speed so that I could overcome the two problems identified above. It is this instinct for self preservation which also prevents my opening the throttle more quickly and fully as I’m coming out of the turn.

If you watch the above video, and then compare it to a previous video from Brands, then you’ll see that I did try to approach the corners in a more controlled manner. My feeling though is that what I took for more control was in fact laziness and complacency. Let me explain…

In trying to slow down for the corner entry, I tried to brake earlier for the corners. However on reviewing some of the video, I can see that I often coasted into the corners (after braking) at only a slightly slower pace than the previous track day! It isn’t good enough to brake earlier if you then negate that by not applying the brakes hard enough so that you arrive at the corner at the lower speed you wanted in order to then drive on through the corner.

The solution? Brake early and brake hard while the bike is upright. Come off the brakes and crack the throttle to settle the suspension. Assuming that I’m then cornering at a speed that isn’t triggering all my survival instincts I should be able to roll on the throttle earlier and harder to drive out of the corners.

I’m at Silverstone GP next week and I plan to try again with these same objectives outlined at the start of this post. I have video footage following one of Silverstone’s instructors which I will study before the track day. Armed with that knowledge I intend to ride the first two sessions at around 70-80% of my ability so that I can hopefully make better progress.

On one level, this day was frustrating, but on another level it was amazing fun. You know you’re having a good time when you get back into the garage after a session with a huge grin on your face… and trust me when I tell you that this happened quite a lot!

Brands Indy 17 Jul 2013

DCIM100GOPROThis track day at Brands Indy was organised by Focused Events and was unusual in two aspects; firstly this was a “Chrono” track day which meant that all the bikes were fitted with timing transponders, and secondly the track time would run from 9am through to 8pm. The cost of the day was £145 (US$ 220) which seemed a bargain despite the fact that there were four groups.

Fitted to the top of the fork leg

Fitted to the top of the fork leg

The idea behind the Chrono day is that everyone gets sorted into the group most appropriate for their riding speed. The first session of the day involved three sighting laps followed by some free laps in whatever time remained of the session. The second morning session was timed and those times were used to regroup the riders for the sessions after lunch. Unfortunately, my transponder failed to work (or someone failed to note its times), and I found myself missing from any of the group lists after lunch!

I went to see Barry, one of the Focused Events organisers, and he put me into group 2 (inters). I suggested that I would be better off in group 1 (novice) but he said the group was full and I’d be alright in group 2 anyway. I completed one session in group 2 but found the pace intimidating as I was constantly worried about getting carved up or rear ended by someone as the whole field seemed to be passing me on a regular basis! Luckily someone else in our garage wanted to move from group 1 to 2, so we just swapped our group stickers on the front of the bike! I felt much happier in group 1 with the other novices as I tend to run about mid field in terms of lap times.

I suspect that the Chrono concept is a bit of a marketing gimic as the majority of riders will put themselves into the correct groups when they book up anyway. What it is good at doing is moving “wanna be” fast riders from the quicker to slower groups, and fast (novice track day) riders into the inters and faster groups. The Chrono timer only appear to be used for one session in the morning (see my notes below the lap times), although they do send out your lap times by email later – mine are attached below. It’s worth noting that won’t give out laps times to riders on the day as timing is generally prohibited.

Time of Day Lap Lap Tm Speed
Transponder 1xx
10:16:33 1 01:23.9 54.122
10:20:44 2 04:10.7 18.123
10:21:56 3 01:12.3 62.821
10:23:08 4 01:11.7 63.381
11:54:45 5 31:37.1 0.826
11:56:02 6 01:17.5 58.634
11:57:16 7 01:13.5 61.782
11:58:30 8 01:14.3 61.171
11:59:44 9 01:13.4 61.908
12:00:55 10 01:11.5 63.573
12:02:11 11 01:16.2 59.602
12:03:21 12 01:09.2 65.693
12:04:29 13 01:08.6 66.26
12:05:38 14 01:08.7 66.123
12:06:49 15 01:11.6 63.432
12:07:59 16 01:09.1 65.709
12:09:10 17 01:11.3 63.754
12:10:22 18 01:11.9 63.219
12:11:32 19 01:10.8 64.199
12:12:43 20 01:10.9 64.064
12:13:51 21 01:07.8 66.988
12:15:00 22 01:08.6 66.188

There are a few interesting things to note about this “Chrono” timer information:

  1. Although the laps run from 1 – 22, the time seems to span multiple sessions
  2. The time of day seems to bear no relation to any of the times I was actually out on track as my first three sessions started at 9am, 10:48 and 13:30
  3. I know I’m slow but the times reported at lap 2 and lap 5 are ridiculous!
  4. The lap times reported here for laps 6 to 22 correspond almost identically to the lap times reported by RaceChrono from session 2 except the transponder times are to the nearest 1/10th of second whereas RaceChrono reports them to the nearest 1/100th of a second

Overall I think the concept behind Chrono days is good but that its execution needs some refinement. If you have no data logger then it’s great but in my opinion you’re better off running your own logger and relying on that instead.

tommyhill-brands

Tommy Hill – poetry in motion

Tommy Hill was the guest instructor for the day, and it was an absolute pleasure being overtaken by him and watching his smooth flowing lines around the track. Off track he seemed really personable and approachable – I’m sure that those riders lucky enough to have had a session’s instruction with him will have derived quite a bit of benefit and pleasure from the experience. In the photo, I’m being passed by Tommy (immediately in front of me) at turn 3 (Graham Hill). He then proceeded to lay down a solid black line of rubber on the exit from the corner. If I had even 10% of his ability I’d be happy!

The most striking thing about the day was the temperature. It was a real scorcher with temperatures that must have been in the mid 30’s centigrade (at least). We were advised to ride with a degree of caution as the unusually high temperatures were likely make the track feel greasy. In the event that turned out to be the case with a few offs during the day including one where the bike turned into a fireball after crashing at Paddock Hill (turn 1); presumably at quite a high speed.

Bike with abandoned leathers and boots

Bike with abandoned leathers and boots

Here’s a tip for (really) hot track days… if you ride to the circuit; bring a pair of shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops so that you can get out of your leathers between sessions. Wearing leathers all day even in the shade is not fun! Many riders could be seen sporting a wide array of underwear in the garages during the day as they shed their leathers with abandon, although I did happen to notice that the female riders didn’t!

Despite the hot weather, I rate the day as brilliant. Plenty of track time with some interesting characters in the garages. I caught up with a couple of familiar faces from previous track days and it was great to shoot the breeze with them again.

After my last outing at Brands, I came with some specific areas to work on based on the feedback that I had received. Did I make progress? Well, because this post is so long, I’ll add the video, times and my assessment in this second post.

Better sound with GoPro Hero 2 plus external mic

GoProThe best place to get decent forward facing video is by mounting the GoPro camera on the front fairing. The best place to hear your exhaust note is to mount the camera around the tail piece near the end of the exhaust pipe.

Mounting the camera on the front fairing means that the sound you hear on your video is typically induction noise rather than exhaust note. On my Daytona 675, my camera is mounted very close to the air intake, and so the internal camera mic picks up the induction sound to the exclusion of any exhaust sound. Now that’s a real shame because the 675 triple engine makes the most glorious sound through its Arrow can especially without a baffle. This exhaust typically registers a static 97-98dB @6500rpm on trackdays… even without the baffle!

Even when mounting the camera on the tail piece and relying on the internal GoPro mic, I’ve found that the exhaust note on video is still not that great, and nowhere near as good as the sounds you get when riding the bike around the track. Listen below to see what I mean.

GoPro-Hero2The solution is to add an external mic to the GoPro. The Hero 2 has an external mic port on the lower left hand side as you look at the back of the camera. Unfortunately, the waterproof case has no hole in it to allow you to connect the mic to the camera through the case.

You have two choices; either buy the skeleton case or drill a hole in the waterproof case. Because the skeleton case has the sides almost totally open it is not really a sensible option for the track. If you did use it you’re likely to get a lot of dust or water in the sockets on the side of the camera.

Hole is centered but doesn't look it due to the camera angle

Hole is centered correctly but doesn’t look it due to the camera angle

Drilling the waterproof housing or case will destroy its integrity but since I’m not likely to be taking the camera underwater this is something I can live with. The trick is to put the camera into the housing and identify and mark where on the case you need to drill your hole for the 3.5mm microphone jack plug. It’s vital that you do this accurately otherwise you will have to make the hole bigger than the jack plug. I needed to use an 8mm drill bit for the hole.

AudioTechnica-ATR-3350The microphone that I purchased is the Audio Technica ATR-3350 ATR Series Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier for £28 (typically available in the US for US$30-40). After much some research, I chose this mic because it uses an internal battery to power the mic and because the microphone is omnidirectional. It comes with a 6m cable which is more than enough to route between the camera at the front of the bike and the mic at the back (near the exhaust pipe).

The mic is fitted above the number plate hanger close to but below the mouth of the exhaust pipe. I’ve placed it here to try and keep it out of the wet in case it’s raining. The cable is then routed with the indicator loom up under the tailpiece into the area under the seat. This is where the mic switch and battery pack sits – out of the rain and harms way. It also means that I only need to pop the seat to switch the mic on or off. The wiring loom is finally routed along the left hand side of the bike into the fairing. From here it is taped to the exterior of the fairing before finally arriving at the GoPro camera.

The sound difference between the internal GoPro mic and the external one is massive! If you listen to the video below, you can hear how much better the bike sounds when the external mic is used.

The only issue I have yet to resolve is how to waterproof the GoPro case where the 3.5mm microphone jack plugs into the camera through the case. Since it’s summer at the moment, I won’t worry too much, although I think I’ll eventually use some silicon bath sealant to make a grommet-like bead of sealant around the plug which should keep any water out (I hope!).

I reckon that this is a very worthwhile mod if you have a decent sounding engine and exhaust pipe!

Update Summer 2014

MicTailpieceAfter a track day in the rain where the mic was destroyed after it became saturated with water, I decided to relocate it to under the tail piece.

The new location is much better because it’s still close to the end of the exhaust so the mic picks up the sound nicely, but it’s also completely protected from the elements.

One thing I’m still not sure about is battery life. I generally change the battery after every second (or third) trackday as there is no visual indicator on the mic to help you see how much battery is left. I also switch the mic off between sessions to try and conserve battery life.

Check out the video below to see how the mic sounds in its new location.