Snetterton 300 24 Aug 2013

SnettI had a relative that lived near Snetterton, and as a result I’ve tended avoided this circuit because I always remembered how painful the drive to visit was. Two hours on some God awful roads with ridiculously low speed limits that really needed an extra lane for all the traffic they carry.

Focused Events sent a reminder last week about a 3 group track day at Snetterton on Saturday for £89 (US$ 133) and with the weather forecast to be good I booked the day along with Andy, a former EasyTrack instructor I met last year. He offered to take a look at my riding and help me try to make some improvements.

Although the forecast leading up to the day had been good, I left home in fine drizzle which became heavy rain by the time I arrived at the track. Thank God I’d had the foresight to pack some decent waterproofs, and to apply some RainX to my visor before setting off!

Snetterton has fewer garages then other circuits and as a result riders tend to arrive early to get better access to the garages and reserve their space inside. I was slightly surprised to find parked vans parked two and three deep in places outside the garages even arriving at 7:15am! While sign on and noise testing was pretty straight forward, the 8:30 briefing seemed to go on for ages. Having done a few track days now, I noticed myself switching off during the briefing as I don’t really hear anything new. However, I did note that we were reminded about safe passing and giving riders a wide berth; diving down the inside of a rider already committed to their turn was expressly prohibited. Good.

Normally I would ride in the novice group but because I wanted to ride with Andy, I’d put myself into the Inters group as he was riding and coaching some friends in that group. The first session of the day comprised three sighting laps… in the rain. Luckily the laps were slow, but even so, I found some of the corners pretty hairy in the wet. Thankfully the session ended after those laps, and we weren’t due out again for another hour. We all hoped that the rain would stop that the track would dry, but unfortunately that wasn’t to be. Those lucky enough to be running wets ventured out for the second session while I sat it out in the garages chatting with other riders occasionally checking the weather forecast on our phones.

Andy offered to ride with me and give me some pointers during the third session of the morning. Because his bike was shod with Diablo Super Corsas, he borrowed a friend’s CB500 that had wets fitted. The plan was that I would follow him for a couple of laps, and then he would follow me and then we would chat afterwards. The plan fell apart almost immediately as I got hopelessly left behind him within the first few corners. I could feel myself locked rigid on the bike, and I was making the bike’s job of getting around the circuit even harder than it needed to be. Although I normally enjoy riding with Andy, I can safely say that I didn’t enjoy a single instant of that session fearing that the bike and I would go skittering off the track at the slightest provocation.

During the debrief Andy’s main comments were that I needed to loosen up and relax a lot more on the bike instead of fighting it. He also indentified a major issue with my body position. He pointed out that although I was pulling my head to the inside of the bike now, I left my butt behind on the seat and my inside leg close to the bike instead of out from the bike. I was therefore still “crossed up” but in the opposite way to before. Using his bike on its stands, he both demonstrated my mistake and the correct position. This basically required me to slide my butt off the seat more so that my outside thigh was across the seat with my knee resting against the outside of the tank. He emphasised how sorting out my body position would allow me to get the bike around the corners more safely by allowing me to keep it more upright – a really essential skill for the current rainy conditions.

By the fourth session of the day, we still had persistent drizzle falling and the track was still soaked. Throughout the morning the recovery van had been sent out to collect bikes that had gone off the track, so although I set off that session nervous about the prospect of cornering and braking in the wet I was also determined to try and follow Andy’s advice. Andy was coaching someone else but I must have been doing something right because he gave be a huge thumbs up one lap into the session as he screamed past me on the short straight after Hamilton. I really made a concerted effort to hang off the bike that session and although I wasn’t always successful, I did notice that when I did succeed corners felt easier and safer to get through.

snetterton-circuitBy the first afternoon session, the rain has eased off and the track began to develop dry-ish patches. I was really hopeful that all the bikes screaming round the circuit would begin to create a nice dry line to ride on, and that did seem to happen. By the middle of that session I was really starting to enjoy myself – Snetterton is both a fast and technical track with some really difficult corners like Montreal, Nelson and Murrays. Coram is also the longest corner that I have ever ridden which tightens nastily up at the end just when you need to brake and flick left while you’re still cranked over to the right! The Bentley (back) and start/finish straights are both really long with the latter reminding me of the Hangar straight at Silverstone especially since it also has a fast right hander at the end.

After the fifth session, I came back into the pits with a big smile on my face; my first really enjoyable session of the day! Andy has been out on track with me and back in the pits he confirmed that I looked like a different rider compared to how I started out the day. In fact after the sixth session, he even commented that he passed me without realising it was me he was passing (until later) because I looked so relaxed going around the circuit!

With the weather being so bad, I didn’t bother filming or timing any of the four morning sessions but I did time the three afternoon ones. I abandoned the final session of the day as the rain started in earnest midway through the session and that was after the session had been cut short by a red flag incident too. These are the times for those final three sessions:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 – 4 - - Didn’t time these sessions
5 6 2:53.52 Drying track youtube
6 5 2:43.24 Mostly dry track youtube
7 3 2:47.52 Red flagged then abandoned due to rain youtube

Although Snetterton is a bit of a pain to get to, the track offers a more challenging and rewarding riding experience than some of the other tracks I have ridden. This combined with the lower price to ride here compared to other circuits makes for a compelling argument to return again soon.

Despite the rain’s best efforts I still had a really enjoyable day meeting new people, catching up with old friends; all of whom I’ve met through track days. Although my lap times are still (very) slow, I also feel that I have made a huge stride forward in my riding which I hope to consolidate at my next outing at Silverstone in ten days time.

Donington GP 20 Aug 2013

IMG_20130820_092705I’d been looking forward to riding at Donington all year so when I saw that No Limits had a 3 group day for £155 (US$ 230) during a week where good weather was forecast I jumped at the opportunity. Donington is about as far away as I want to go without staying close by in a B&B or hotel the night before. Getting there for 7:30am means a 4:30am start and loading the van the night before by torchlight – not something I want to do too often.

The track day was organised by No Limits who I rate pretty highly as they have a more relaxed attitude and seem focused on maximum track time and rider enjoyment. Even so I was slightly surprised that no mention was made about close passing at the novice group briefing. The result… some really dodgy passing manouevres by faster riders throughout the day that was totally unnecessary; including riders diving for the inside of corners forcing other riders to stand their bikes up – something that doesn’t really have any place outside of racing. A few riders mentioned this to the organisers and a tannoy announcement over lunch indicated that black flags would be out for persistent offenders. In the event, the afternoon sessions did seem to run more smoothly with a higher standard of riding and consideration shown – so that was a good result.

convergeAs this photo sequence shows, it was a miracle that the faster Ducati rider on the right didn’t hit the middle Yamaha rider. The closing speeds of those two riders was pretty fast and the middle riders was drifting to the outside of the track. I was getting ready to work out which way to dive to avoid the carnage I assumed was about to be unleashed ahead of me.

The other notable thing about the day was the number of yellow and red flags that came out including a red flag in the very first session of the day when a Kawaski in the fast group was unlucky enough to blow its engine on the start/finish straight spraying the track and following riders with oil and coolant (see the clean up operation in the photo at the top of this post).

Screenshot - 220813 - 20:20:00The rider in this photo had his backend step out exiting the Melbourne Hairpin possibly due to a combination of cold tyres and too much throttle. The bike pirouetted a few times on its footpeg while the rider seemed able to walk away relatively unscathed by the experience.

You can see both these events in the video below. The crash occurs at 2:15 and the hairy overtake is at 3:50 – my feeling is that the riders were lucky not to have collided.

So what’s Donington like? Well, I think that this is a track that has it all. Fast sweeping turns from Redgate all the way to a tight technical section that includes the Esses and Melbourne loop. Without a doubt, this is one of the best tracks that I have ridden around so far. There are nice long straight sections between many of the corners which gives you plenty of time to get set up for the next corner and the GP circuit is almost a perfect length too, at nearly 2.5 miles long. Quick riders lap in the 1:40’s while the untalented riders like myself take another 30 seconds or more to get around.

Riding at Donington really helped crystalise a few things for me about my riding style. Firstly, I realised that in the slow corners like the Melbourne Hairpin, my braking and entry was on par with the faster riders in our group. Where they gained ground on me was on the corner exits; getting on the power earlier and harder. Similarly in the faster corners like the Craner Curves the quicker riders would enter at a higher speed, maintain a higher speed and exit the corner some 10-20 mph faster than me. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that to improve my lap times I’ll need to improve my transit times through fast corners as there is much less improvement to be had in the tight and slow corners.

As before I continued to try working on three things; my lines around the circuit, braking and corner entry and finally body position. Reviewing my video of the day, I can see that my lines in the slower corners were better than those for the faster corners; probably because the higher speeds are still making me want to dive for the inside of the corner too early. The instructor I rode with actually complemented me on my lines through the slow corners but was less complimentary about my progress through the faster corners – no surprises there then!

In terms of braking, I really made a concerted effort to brake earlier and harder and to release the brakes as I began my turn into the corner. I didn’t always get this right but I do feel that I am starting to make progress here and that I finally understand what to do in terms of continuing to work on this aspect of my riding.

My body positioning still leaves a lot to be desired. However during the last two sessions of the day whenever I noticed that when I wasn’t hanging off the bike enough I could re-adjust my position mid corner and hang off more (by dropping my inside shoulder and head). As soon as I did this, the bike would stand up more while still holding the same line around the corner – what a revelation! This simple realisation is probably going to be one of the main drivers in getting me to continue to work on improving my body position.

These are my times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 6 2:21.98 Riding with an instructor youtube
3 6 2:23.45
4 4 2:19.40 Shorter session due to earlier red flags
5 7 2:15.09 Excursion onto the grass at over 80mph! youtube
6 7 2:19.26
7 7 2:17.10 youtube

Donington-excursionThe day was noticeable for a couple of other reasons. Firstly I managed to come off the track again with a high speed excursion across the grass at 80mph! Somehow (and I suspect more by luck than judgement), the bike stayed upright and I managed to bring it to a halt before crossing over the track again. The red line on this diagram indicates where I came off. I had been following an R1 that was quicker on the straights but slower through the corners. After Starkey’s Bridge I was lining up to pass on the outside, forgetting that the track peeled away to the left again before the next right at McCleans. By the time I realised what was going on I was bounding across the grass. A classic beginners error probably caused by fixating on the rider ahead rather than looking round the rider at the track instead. You can see this from 12:30 in the video below taken during session 5.

crighton-cr700p-bikeThe other notable event of the day was the presence of the Crighton CR700P on track. This bike sounds like a cross between a two stroke and four stroke. It weighs 135Kg and makes nearly 200HP! It also pulled the most amazing power wheelies down the start/finish straight. Never have I felt such a feeling of desire watching a bike before… if I ever win the lottery, I’m going to order a CR700P with some of the proceeds!

Overall my day at Donington was brilliant. The track is really sublime, and I’d have no hesitation about going back apart from having to deal with a really early morning start of course.