Brands Hatch GP 22 May 2014

brands-GPDespite recently complaining about Brands Hatch and its pricing, I none the less decided to visit and ride the GP circuit again. While the shorter Indy circuit can be a little boring, the GP circuit is faster and more interesting. No Limits were running this track day, and it featured three groups instead of the four that appears to be the norm at Brands this year.

The forecast was for a dry morning with showers after lunch. With a little luck it would be possible to get at least four dry 20 minute sessions completed before lunch. Any dry afternoon sessions would be a bonus.

After signing on, I proceeded to the mandatory noise test which is required for all bikes. The GP circuit has a static noise limit of 101dB which the Daytona passed easily despite having no baffle in its Arrow can. After visiting Silverstone twice recently, where no noise test is required, I forgot what a pain queuing up for noise testing is.

No Limits is a no nonsense track day organiser, and their briefing was short and to the point with an extended briefing for novice riders. This is a good briefing format which other circuits and track day organisers would do well to follow. Their track day format is also different in that the Inters group (which I was riding in) go out first followed by the the fast and then the novice group; most other organisers send the fast group out first.

This cause me a bit of a consternation as I was still in jeans during the briefing and I only had 10 minutes to get into my leathers before heading out for the three mandatory sighting laps! I sprinted to the van to get changed and collect my gear. The rush to get out on time meant that I had no time to switch on my data logger nor my cameras.

The first session was mostly taken up with the sighting laps, and I think we got another couple of laps after them before the session ended. I returned to the pits feeling unconfortable on the track as I couldn’t seem to find any rhythm; my riding felt a bit stop and start and I made many silly gear change mistakes including often changing down one gear too many for a couple of corners causing the back of the bike to fishtail around wildly.

In the second session, I managed to do half a lap before the session was red flagged by the most bizarre crash. Someone managed to total their bike on the long back Minter straight which leads into the Hawthorn Bend. Crashes going into corners are common, but this one occured on a long straight section of track well before the fast right hander.

As I passed the incident (which you can see above), I saw the rider lying in a foetal position at the side of the track with debris everywhere – I wished him well as I rode past. Luckily he was OK although his bike looked a complete mess. Speculation in the garages later was that the bike may have been dropping fluid and this might have been the cause of the accident.

It took a while to clear the track and cart the rider off in an ambulance. But once done, our second session was restarted afresh effectively delaying all the subsequent sessions by 20 minutes. I continued to struggle to find any decent rhythm that session and so afterwards I went down to the No Limits garage to see if I could ride with one of the instructors to get some help. In the event, I bumped into Simon, a No Limits instructor who offered to ride with me in the next session.

chainI was told to follow for a couple of laps to learn the lines and then Simon would follow to critique my riding in a debrief after the session. We managed to get two laps in before the session was red flagged because someone’s bike had thrown its chain! You can see the chain in this photo and the video below.

Following Simon was really helpful. It always amazes me how instructors ride round the circuit one handed spending 10% of their time look over the shoulder at you when you’re struggling just to keep up with them! The red flag caused us a few minutes delay in the pits while the bike and rider were recovered before we headed out again. This time Simon would follow me for the remainder of the session in which we got about another three laps in.

Talking with Simon afterwards was really interesting because although he could have faulted me on many points, he focused on two things only in order not to overwhelm me. Firstly he wanted me to concentrate on the lines through two specific corners; the lefthander at Surtees and the righthander at Sheene Curve. For Surtees he wanted me to follow the radius of the turn more instead of turning in deep, straightening the corner and then squirting straight out of it; a technique more appropriate for litre sports bikes. At Sheene Curve, he wanted me to run further over to the left on entry and carve through the corner instead of treating the corner as a 90 degree right hander (because it isn’t). He felt that improving my lines through those two corners would yield a significantly better lap.

For the session after, he wanted me to work on my body position. He confirmed what I suspected; that I am still crossed up on the bike. He noted that I generally moved my bum and legs correctly to the inside of the turn while often incorrectly positioning my head and shoulders to the outside of the turn instead of the inside where they should be. Sitting on his bike, he demonstrated that I needed to bend my arms more and move my helmet as close to my inside hand as possible; effectively forcing my torso over to the inside to position it correctly. Sorting out my body position would allow me to be more relaxed and to take corners faster with less lean angle. He did actually also compliment me on two aspects of my riding though. He was pleased that I was accelerating hard after Grahan Hill bend and changing up along the short straight and then down again for Surtees. He also was impressed that I was treating the right handed Clearways and Clarke curves as a double apex turn – this is the way he teaches students to ride that section of the track and that I was doing that without prompting.

In talking with Simon, it was obvious that here was someone with a tremendous amount of track experience who could quickly analyse a rider’s strengths and weaknesses and give bite sized chunks of information to work on. His was really was a spectacularly impressive, simple and thorough debrief. In the next session I determined to work on those two problem corners he identified and to focus more on body position in the other corners where my lines were better. I was just starting to get into it when the session ended; seemingly not long after it had started! The reason being that this session was being cut short to make up for time lost earlier in the day.

Over the lunch hour between 1 and 2pm, I nestled down in my camping chair for a rest and ended up dozing a little. I’d had a busy week, and the early start that morning contributed to a general feeling of tiredness. If I’m honest, lethargy had set in and I didn’t really feel like riding that next session after lunch although I figured that I ought to make the most of the decent weather while it lasted. While I focused on body position this time as per Simon’s advice I still found that I wasn’t travelling that smoothly round the track – the lack of rhythym had come back to haunt me again and after 15 minutes of the session with spots of rain beginning to fall, I decided that I’d had enough and headed back to the pits early before I ended up crashing. I figured a short rest and I would be good to go for the final two sessions of the day. However the weather had other plans… because just after arriving back in the garage, the heavens opened and the track was deluged with torrential rain.

With only two sessions remaining and lightening and thunder likely for the remainder of the afternoon, I decided to abandon the day and head home. If I’d been feeling less tired, I would probably have done at least part of one of those sessions in the rain to see how the Michelin Power Pilot 3’s I was running fared in the wet conditions.

My times for the day were as follows:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 7 2:02.57
3 6 2:01.18 Riding with Simon youtube
4 2 2:09.36 Short session due to earlier incident
5 6 2:06.93 Stopped early
6 – 7 Abandoned due to torrential rain

The last time I was on this circuit, I managed to post a time of 2:08, so my new fastest time that day of 2:01 (although still slow) is quite a significant improvement. Brands GP is a fantastic track – it has a little of everything; some decent straights, tricky corners and downright amazing corners like Paddock Hill at turn 1. If I’m being totally honest I now prefer faster and more open circuits like Silverstone where you have more time to relax and think between the corners but you probably learn more on these tricker circuits!

A three group track day on the Brands GP circuit is always a special treat and No Limits run their track days really well, so apart from the weather spoiling the end of the day, it ended up being a pretty successful and fun day.

Recalibrating your Triumph speedo with TuneECU

TuneECU-MapEditAfter changing the final drive gearing on my Daytona 675, I wanted to recalibrate the speedometer as the sprocket changes caused it to overread by 10%. This is achieved by simply changing parameters in the bike’s ECU (Electronic Control Unit aka the “brain” or engine management system). You might also need to change engine parameters after changing the exhaust system as the new one will probably require a different fuel map.

Changing the engine map stored in the ECU sounds scary but if you’re careful and follow the basic instructions, then the process is actually quite straight forward. Normally this sort of thing can only be done by a dealer with specialist tools. However a clever individual has created a piece of software called TuneECU which allows you re-map the ECU for various makes and models of bike. Not only is this software perfect for modders, but it’s available for free too! To see if it works for your bike, visit the TuneECU website.

Please read the TuneECU manual in full before attempting to modify your engine map. You use any information from this post entirely at your own risk! I do not accept any responsibility for any damage you cause to your motorcycle or engine. You have been warned!

The only requirements for using TuneECU are Windows XP or Windows 7 and an ODB-USB cable. I personally use TuneECU with Windows XP running under VirtualBox on my Linux laptop. This trick also appears to work for Mac users too. Apart from installing and running the TuneECU software, the only other thing you’ll need is an ODB II to USB cable. This should be a VAG (Volksvagen/Audi Group) compatible cable – mine came from Amazon marketplace and cost less than £10 (US$16).

Installing TuneECU

I’m not going to go into the specific details of how to install TuneECU or the cable’s drivers on Windows as there are plenty of instructions including these on the TuneECU site. If you have the cable, then this is an overview of what you need to do before you can use start to use TuneECU:

  • Either install the cable drivers that came with your cable, or download and install the correct drivers from FTDI Chip website
  • Make sure your Windows computer is disconnected from the internet BEFORE you plug the cable in for the first time, so that Windows cannot try and locate drivers for you. You MUST use the ones that either came with your cable or which you downloaded in the step above – don’t allow Microsoft to install its default drivers! During the install, when prompted select the folder containing the driver and install those files
  • Once the FDTI driver is installed, you can safely allow your computer to re-connect to the internet
  • Now download and install TuneECU. I suggest installing it in its own folder on your C: drive. On my setup I have a folder c:\TuneECU – this folder contains the TuneECU.exe application and one DLL
  • Create another folder on your C drive which you will use to store your bike ECU maps. You can either download (read) these from your bike’s ECU or download alternate maps from the internet

TuneECU and Engine Maps

TuneECU allows you to read the map from your bike, to make changes to a map (loaded in memory) and to save maps to disk for later re-use. You can download more maps for different exhaust/exup combinations from Tom Hamburg’s website.

The ECU map doesn’t just containing the engine air/fuel ratios at different throttle positions and RPM. It also contains details of any of the other parameters that you might want to modify such as whether to enable or disable the EXUP or SAI valves for example. This is why changing even one simple parameter requires you to download the complete map back into the bike’s ECU, despite the fact that no fuelling information was changed.

It is always advisable to read your bike’s current map and save it to your computer BEFORE you do anything else. This way you’ll be able to revert to this map if you make a mess of your settings and find that a new map downloaded from the internet doesn’t work as well as your previous one.

Locate your ODB-II Connector

ODBConnectorThe ODB-II connector on most Triumph motorcycles is a loose lead that is located under the seat towards the back of the tank. It usually has a plastic boot/cover on it and can be secured on a male connector/holder. Pull the connector free and connect your ODB-II lead when required to do so.

Reading the bike’s ECU map

When you first launch TuneECU, disable the Auto-Connect option on the Options menu. These are the steps that you then need to take to read the map from your bike:

  • Either pull out the headlamp and tail light fuses, and (if possible) connect a second 12V (car) battery in parallel with the existing bike battery. The ECU is very sensitive to a voltage drop and may abort a read or download operation mid operation otherwise. If you have a fully charged and healthy battery and pull those two fuses before you start, you should be OK even without a second battery connected
  • Turn the bike’s ignition on but do not start the bike
  • Select the Connect option from the ECU menu in TuneECU. Wait until the flahing lights at the bottom of the TuneECU window go from red to green – this indicates that TuneECU has connected to the ECU correctly
  • Select the Read Map option from the ECU menu. This will read the bike’s map into TuneECU’s memory. Be advised that this operation can take around 10 minutes or more. Make sure your computer doesn’t go to sleep during this operation
  • Once the map has been read, use the Save Map File option on the File menu to save the .hex map file to your computer. Congratulations! You now have a backup of your bike’s ECU map saved to disk
  • If you do edit this map, make sure you save the modified version under a different filename from your original one!

Installing a New or Modified Engine Map

Installing a new map into the bike’s ECU is simple.

  • Launch TuneECU and open one of your (.hex) Map files stored on your computer
  • Connect TuneECU to the bike (using the same steps as above if you’re not already connected, making sure the bike’s headlamp and tail light fuses are disconnected to preserve the battery)
  • Select the Download option from the ECU menu. This will download and install the current map opened in TuneECU to your bike’s ECU. The download operation takes about 2 minutes
  • Select the Disconnect option from the ECU menu to close the connection to the bike ECU
  • Turn the bike’s ignition off and then replace the headlamp and tail light fuses
  • That’s it!
    Unless the new map you downloaded changed any of the bike’s fuelling information in which case you will need to take the following steps to reset the ECU adaptation:
    • Connect TuneECU to your bike (using the same steps as above) this time with the headlamp an tail light fuses connected (otherwise the bike won’t start when need later!)
    • Switch to the Tests pane (near the top right of the window) in TuneECU
    • Select the Reset Adpation option from the ECU menu and wait about 30 seconds for the operation to complete
    • Start the bike engine (with TuneECU still connected) but DO NOT TOUCH the throttle!
    • Allow the bike to idle until the fan kicks in and then continue to idle until the TPS indicator at the bottom of the screen goes green or 15 minutes has elapsed. If the indicator doesn’t go green after 15 minutes, don’t worry, just continue with the following steps below anyway
    • Disconnect TuneECU using the Disconnect option on the ECU menu
    • Switch off the bike and disconnect the cable

Recalibrating your Speedometer

TuneECU allows you to recalibrate your speedo by adding or subtracting a percentage amount to the speedo parameter. If your speedo overreads by 10% then you would need to adjust the speedo reading by -10% (minus). If your speedo underreads by 5% then you would enter +5% as the speedo adjustment parameter value.

Adjusting the speedo reading is normally required when you change the gearing on your bike. I changed the gearing on my Daytona by going down one tooth on the front and up two teeth on the rear in order to get quicker drive out of the corners. You can read more about this in my post on gearing changes.

TuneECU-speedo-adjustOpen TuneECU and make sure it has the current map for your bike loaded. Click on the Speed Adjust (%) parameter near the bottom left of the Map Edit tab. A set of up/down arrows will appear – you use this to set your speedo adjustment value.

Once you’ve made your change, save your modified Map (.hex) file back to your computer (preferrably under a new file name). Then follow the instructions (given above) to download the modified map into your bike’s ECU. Provided you didn’t change any of the fueling parameters, then your won’t need to reset the TPS adaptation. Your speedo will now be corrected by the amount that you specify.

Note that adjusting the speedo also adjusts the odometer (mileage recorder). The two are linked and there is nothing you can do about this. When adjusting your speedo, bear in mind that the speedo typically overreads by about 6% from the factory so that the manufacturer won’t be sued by you when you get a speeding ticket! You might want to bear this in mind and factor it in when calculating your adjustment percentage.

When I made my sprocket changes, I reduced the top speed of the bike by 10%, so that is the amount that I adjusted the parameter by. After downloading the map back into the bike’s ECU, the speedo was correctly re-calibrated without the need for a SpeedoHealer.

Silverstone Int’l 2 May 2014

Arriving at Silvestone at 7:30am under a cold overcast grey sky, the weather couldn’t have been more different from my last outing here two weeks previously. With Andy’s help, I had made good progress riding a little faster on this circuit. This time I would be riding on my own trying to put some of the pointers that Andy gave me into practice and I was curious to see just how much more progress on my own.

The track day comprised three groups; novice (group 1), inters (group 2) and fast/advanced (group 3). The fast group contained many racers as BEMSEE would be racing on the same International circuit the following weekend. I signed on, to be greeted by Neil and Joe, two of Silverstone’s friendly instructors who have both helped me in the past with instruction and tips. I think they were a little surprised to see me back again so soon!

D675-tyre-warmersSince borrowing a set of tyre warmers last time out, I was sold on the concept of using them and brought my own set of Diamond ones and paddock stands. After unloading my bike and gear and getting everything set up, I headed over to the briefing. Luckily this one was a shorter and more to the point one than the previous one two weeks earlier!

Being in the middle group, we were out after the fast boys. The track still had a few damp patches on it and looked cold. I had a feeling that my warm tyres would lose most of their heat after the three sighting laps and the short return to the pit lane prior to heading out for the remainder of the session again. While the sighting laps proceeded without incident, the mayhem really started when we returned to the track for the rest of the session. On the first lap back on track, someone overtook me on the grass going into the Vale! I’m surprised that they thought I wouldn’t stay to the right of the track on the corner entry before flicking left for the chicane.

The first session was carnage. Three offs and a red flag terminated the session; the result of some spectacularly bad riding. Talking with Joe afterwards, he figured that this was the first time that some riders had been on track this year and their excitement was getting the better of them. He hoped for calmer riding after lunch when people had a few sessions under their belt and stodgy food to slow them down.

KR1-250A 250 two stroke was parked next to me in the garage. Its owner had only just fitted its newly rebuilt engine the night before. You don’t often see two strokes on track days, and this one was lovely despite the fact that it has been created from a selection of different models and makes of bike! I offered to follow and film him for as long as I could keep up with him. On track, I found keeping up with him harder than I thought because although it was relatively easy to catch him on the straights, he literally flew through the corners!

Unfortunately his bike only managed three laps before his engine seized going into Stowe at the end of the long Hanger straight. You can see those laps and the effects of the engine seizing in the above video. Despite the rear wheel locking up, he managed to save it and avoid a tumble. He also seemed pretty cheerful when he returned to the pits considering what had just happened.

Although Joe had offered to ride with me for a bit in the second session, with one thing and another we didn’t manage to hook up until the third session. Following him that session, I managed to reduce my lap time from my best the previous fortnight by a full second again and that was in a session with lots of other traffic on track. In the debrief that followed, Joe indicated that I needed to try and improve my consistency following my lines from lap to lap and to get really try to get on the gas earlier in the corner exit. One benefit of a Daytona 675 with an Arrow pipe is that anyone following you can hear as soon as the throttle is opened up hard so Joe was easily able to tell when I was (or wasn’t) opening the throttle. He suggested going out in the next session on my own and concentrating on those two areas.

The next session didn’t particularly feel any faster than the others. However I did notice that I was overtaking quite a few more riders than I had in the previous sessions. On returning to the pits, I found that I had just shaved another 2.5 seconds off my previous best time!

That session is shown above – it was the last before lunch and my best session of the day as it turned out.

After lunch, Joe found me on the track and tagged along for a bit, before leading me around again. At one point on track he came past on the Hanger straight giving me a big thumbs up. Chatting afterwards, he said that my exit out of the tight right hander on to Hanger Straight was light years better than before – he could hear me opening the throttle earlier and harder than in the previous sessions. In fact, he jokingly remarked that he actually had to open the throttle fully on his GSXR750 to catch me, which was the first time that day! I didn’t manage to better my time from the previous session but was still pleased with the progress I had made.

silverstone-intlThe other aspect of my riding that Joe mentioned was body position when I complained about finding it really hard to match the radius of his turns at speed. He reminded me of the need to loosen up above the waist and drop my inside shoulder towards the corner far more than I was currently doing. The more weight I shifted to the inside of the turn and the lower that weight, the tighter a turn I should be able to make for less lean angle. Looking at my tyres, Joe reminded me that there was more lean to be had from them and that this coupled with a more open throttle mid turn would allow for higher speeds through the faster turns like Stowe, Club and Abbey. One final thing he picked me up on was having my feet too far forward in the footpegs; something that came back to bite me the very next session!

Over lunch, I’d been chatting with two riders riding Suzuki SV650s. One was riding in the fast group lapping at 1:16!! The other, Del, was hoping to start racing this year, and as I had passed him earlier in the day on track, I offered to follow and film him as best I could for the sixth session. We managed to get one lap in before it was red flagged. After a few minutes delay back in the pits, we were allowed out on track again. Despite the fact that the SV only makes 70bhp compared to the Daytona’s 112bhp following Del proved to be a lot harder than I thought. He was really quick on the gas coming out of the corners as you can see in the video below.

During that session, I managed to catch my toe when cranked over to the right going through the Village right/left complex. That silly body positioning mistake coupled with my general tiredness made me decide to stop for the day before I had an accident during the next and final session of the day. I had been riding harder (and faster) than ever before on this circuit and the pace had taken more out of me than I previously realised. I was happy to head home with myself and the bike in one piece.

My times for the day were as follows:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 6 1:32.86 youtube
3 9 1:31.86 Riding with Joe
4 13 1:29.38 youtube
5 10 1:31.6 Riding with Joe again
6 8 1:31.07 youtube

The quick witted among you may have noticed the discrepancy between the times reported in the table above and those shown in the video overlays. This happens because RaceChrono is using the mid-corner at Stowe as the start-finish line, while the video overlay is using the first line on the start-finish straight after Club alongside the new Wing complex.

This track day was a lot busier than my previous visit in the Inters group. It also had some pretty fast riders; some of whom were so excited to be on track (probably for the first time this year) that it looked as though they’d forgotten to bring their brains with them. This probably explained some of the offs and red flags. Thankfully no one got hurt.

Silverstone is really starting to feel like a second home to me. Hooking up with Neil and Joe again was great fun – the instructors at Silverstone really are a great bunch of guys. I’m especially grateful to Joe who helped me so much throughout the day. As I drove home in the van the evening, I reflected on how much fun I’d had and how much I’d learnt. I’m back again in four weeks time on Silverstone’s GP circuit and I can’t wait!