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.


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