Cartagena (Hottrax) October 2013

Cart-IMG_20131028_093532Cartagena was my first track day with Hottrax and my first abroad. The weekend before I flew out, I dropped my bike and kit off in Swindon. This was going to be loaded onto the lorry that would be taking 30+ bikes in cradles to Spain. Along with the bike, I packed my leathers, helmets, boots, a limited number of tools, spares and a chair onto the cradle; doing this allowed me to fly with just 10Kg in one piece of hand luggage on the flight.

The cost of this four day event was just under £500 (US$800). This price is pretty amazing when you think that it includes four days on track, transport of your bike and kit from the UK to Spain and back, and 4 nights in a 4* hotel just 25 minutes from the track. You just need to allow for your flights (£150 / US$240 return), car hire (£120 / US$ 190), fuel for the bike (4 x 20L per day = £110 / US$180) and drinks/meals at £40 / US$65 per day. Overall I reckon the entire trip cost me just under £1000 (US$1600).

The other great thing about this trip was the fact that two of the four days (Fri 25 Oct – Mon 28 Oct) would be running over a weekend. This mean that I only lost 3 days from work as I travelled out with Monarch into Alicante on Thursday and flew back on the Monday night. On arriving in Spain, I drove to the hotel in San Pedro to check-in before heading out to the Cartagena circuit to take a look.

DCIM100GOPROThe bikes would not unloaded until 6am the next day (Friday) so I just had a mooch around the circuit with my buddy. If I’m being honest, I was slightly disappointed by my first impressions of the circuit and surrounding area. This is not the prettiest part of Spain, and the track has a slightly “poor relation” feel to it (compared to some of the tracks I’ve ridden in the UK). Read on to find out whether I changed my mind about the circuit by the time I left four days later.

Day 1 : Friday 25 October

On Friday we got to the track before 8am and began to unpack the bikes from their cradles. I moved my bike and all my kit into one of the 20 available garages where it would stay for the next four days. The garages are locked at night and nothing went missing over the four days that we were there.

The track briefing was scheduled at 9am with the first track session starting at 10am. On this Hottrax event, there were 70 or so riders split into three groups with approximately 20 riders in each. This meant that there would be plenty of room out on track.

cartagena circuitCartagena is quite a technical circuit with 14 corners (depending on what you count as a corner) and multiple elevation changes. It’s the kind of track you might get if Donington circuit was to have a love child with the Brands Indy circuit!

In the first session, we had three instructor led sighting laps followed by a free for all for the remainder of the session. Because I was riding a Daytona 675, which is probably the perfect bike for this track, I was really looking forward to getting on circuit. However by the time I came back into the pits at the end of the session seriously annoyed and depressed – I absolutely hated the track! Why? Because it really is technical and my start-stop riding style was not the right way to get around it. I spoke with some other riders who had been before and they confirmed what I had just experienced. Their advice was to spend the first couple of days just learning the circuit (what corner’s where etc), and then to start finding some decent lines.

By the fourth session of the day in the mid afternoon, I had pretty much learnt the circuit and what corner followed the straight or corner that I was currently on. The ability to learn and memorise a track makes a phenomenal difference to getting around it comfortably. At the beginning of this year when I started track day riding I would be pretty much clueless most of the day on a new circuit, but now that I have a fair few track days under my belt I find that I can learn a new circuit pretty quickly.

In that session I followed Mick a fast group rider who had offered to show me the lines around the circuit. If I’m being honest, he was often riding at a faster pace than I could manage and was far ahead enough that I couldn’t really follow his lines accurately. The one thing it did confirm for me is that it is possible to get around the track more smoothly and quickly than I was currently managing.

At the end of the first day, I was a little happier than I had been at the start and realising that I still had three days to go, I wasn’t too bothered by my apparent lack of progress.

Day 2 : Saturday 26 October

The first session of the day was tough again. This circuit is really tricky and you have to be fully alert and committed. You also need to be thinking a corner ahead of the current corner that you’re on as there are only two sections where you get a break from the intensity; on the long back section sweeping right hander and the start-finish straight.

I came back into the pits with a burning rubber smell and smoke coming from up from the radiator and fairing. Despite stripping off the lower fairing, I couldn’t see any obvious of leaks or hoses being burnt, so I assumed that some of the rubber from the track must have flicked up and burnt on the exhaust header pipes. Anyway the problem didn’t occur again for any of the subsequent sessions.

Replacing the fairing made me late for the second session but I managed to tag along with a brilliant fast group rider who was showing his wife the lines and braking points all around the track, but at my pace! After a couple of laps following them, I finally began to understand the correct lines and really started to enjoy that session. What’s really interesting about Cartagena is that it really is a fast flowing track, and until you understand that you cannot hope to make good progress around it nor can you really enjoy yourself either.

In the fourth and fifth sessions of the day, I seemed to be riding on my own. Some of the original novice group riders had moved themselves up to the inters group which meant that there were probably only 12-15 novice group riders on track. My lap times for the last four sessions of the day that I timed were between 2:20 and 2:22. In the first of those timed sessions, I managed 7 laps, improving my lap time each lap by 2 seconds which isn’t bad going.

Day 3 : Sunday 27 October

Realising that I still needed help with my lines, I spent an hour before breakfast watching Woolsey Coulter leading a student around Cartagena on YouTube. I made a point of memorising his lines, turn in points and apexes. The first session of the day I was rewarded with a 1.5 second improvement in my lap time! By the third session of the day, I’d managed to shave another 2 seconds of that time, lapping at 2:17 – that was very nearly 4 seconds just from watching one video!

Start of the Endurance race

Start of the Endurance race

The afternoon was taken up with a two hour endurance race. Being a worse than useless rider and not knowing anyone silly enough to have me in their team, I was forced to sit out the race. In the event it was pretty exciting to watch; especially the rider changes in the pit lane where the (shared) transponder had to be swapped from one bike to the next rider’s bike.

There was one all girl team made up of novice and inters riders. I spoke with one of the novice riders after the event and she mentioned that although she had been worried about the faster riders cutting her up, that hadn’t really happened much and she thoroughly enjoyed the race and taking part. If I ever get good enough to race, I think endurance racing is what I would most like to do.

There was one red flag incident during the race where one of the fast group riders came off on the left hander at turn 2. He ended up breaking a thumb and cracking one rib. His was the only serious injury the whole four days, although someone else did manage to get run over after falling but luckily escaped with just some bruises on their leg.

After the race, there was a one and a half hour open pitlane session for any riders who didn’t take part in the race. That meant that I and about five other riders pretty much had the track to ourselves. I rode for 40 minutes with one short break in the middle. By the end of that session, I was starting to get really tired and make mistakes. In fact I nearly came off the track twice because of a lapse in concentration. Luckily I managed to get back to the pits before I did myself or the bike any damage!

Day 4 : Monday 28 October

Spent another half hour studying Woolsey Coulters lines again before breakfast as I was determined to make a further improvement in my riding and lap times. I had hoped to get closer to a two minute lap, although in the event didn’t manage it, only achieving a further 3 second improvement to get my fastest lap time of 2:14 for two of the three sessions that I did that morning.

In the second session, one of the Hottrax instructors followed me for a couple of laps and then I followed him. His lines were essentially the same as Woolsey’s with the exception of the chicane after turn 2. You can see his line in the video below.

At lunch time I had to pack up as I had an evening flight to catch. In fact I wasn’t the only one. By the time I left the circuit at 3pm, nearly a third of the cradles had been loaded up with their bikes. If I come again, I’ll probably book my return flight the following day in order to be able to ride the last afternoon sessions too.

Lap Times & Videos

Here are my lap times for days two to four as I didn’t bother videoing or timing the first day.

Day Session Laps Fastest Video
Sat 26 3 7 2:20.83
4 7 2:22.37
5 7 2:21.2
6 7 2:20.93 youtube
Sun 27 1 7 2:19.19 youtube
2 5 2:17.28
3 7 2:21.01 youtube
Mon 28 1 7 2:14.04
2 7 2:14.21 youtube
3 7 2:15.64

Conclusion

For anyone wondering if it’s worth the hassle and cost of riding in Spain, my answer would be an emphatic ‘Yes’! Of course if it had rained for 4 days I might not be so enthusiastic. But we were blessed with four days of hot sunshine and temperatures in the high 20’s centigrade. I managed to really work on my body position by concentrating on that and my lines over the four days, and I’ve posted a gallery with photos from the track day.

Cartagena is an awesome track. I know that I hated in on day one, but by day four I really began to appreciate it. It is fast (maybe not when I ride it!), demanding and flows from corner to corner beautifully. The surface is super grippy (and abrasive) and it will chew up race tyres. I was running a set of Michelin Power Pilot 3’s which performed flawlessly and lasted the four days with plenty of rubber to spare.

Hottrax’s package includes 4 nights at the Hotel Traina in San Pedro del Pinatar. The hotel is good with a pool on the roof and a great breakfast offering which is well worth the 6 euro cost. Overally I think the whole event was well organised and represents good value for money. It was fun to spend time with a like minded group of people all out to have the same fun on track.

Will I do another one? Yes, definitely… management permitting!