I’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.
As 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).
The 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:
|1||-||-||Didn’t time this session|
|2||6||2:21.98||Riding with an instructor|
|4||4||2:19.40||Shorter session due to earlier red flags|
|5||7||2:15.09||Excursion onto the grass at over 80mph!|
The 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.
The 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.