Silverstone GP 29 September 2014

warmtyresThis three group track day costing £159 (US$ 255) and organised by Focus Events on Silverstone’s GP circuit was to be the last bike track day here in 2014. I was joined by Matt, the master mechanic from Oval Motorcycle Centre and an ex-racer on his Honda VFR400. The plan was that he would try to help me by following me for a few sessions and giving me feedback which I could hopefully put into practice.

Although the forecast in the preceeding days had threatened some rain showers, we arrived at the circuit to find it completely dry. After unpacking the van, setting up the bikes, signing on and collecting a race transponder we headed over to the briefing. This consisted of the usual spiel about flags, overtaking and an explanation of how this “Chrono” day would run. Basically the first session would comprise three sighting laps for each of the three groups, followed by two normal (and timed) sessions before lunch. At lunch time, the lap times from the transponders would be used to re-group the riders in order to reduce the speed differential within the groups.

Unusually for Silverstone, a great deal of emphasis was made of noise levels at the end of the briefing. There is no mandatory noise testing but Silverstone operates a “one strike and you’re out” policy if you are caught by the mobile noise detectors. Matt was worried about his exhaust, although I thought it sounded no louder than many of the Ducati’s you hear thundering around the track. So to avoid being kicked off the circuit, he decided to go for a voluntary noise test… which he promptly failed… with a reading of 109dB! Luckily someone was able to supply generic baffles for £40 a pair which Matt then fitted. On re-test, he just passed with a reading close to 105dB; the static test limit for the circuit. However, in all the to-ing and fro-ing Matt had managed to miss the sighting laps.

pairbikesIn my previous Chrono day on the same circuit, I got bumped down from the Inters to the Novice group. The prospect of that happening again and the fact that I was going to be followed by Matt meant that I was determined to give a good account of myself in the first timed session. I knew my Daytona 675 was going to be a lot faster down the straights than Matt’s VFR400, but that he would also catch up with me again in the corners because of his skill and race experience. With that thought in mind, I determined to go for it from the start.

RossoCorsaRearThe week before I had just switched from a set of Michelin Power Pilot 3s to a set of Pirelli Rosso Corsa tyres. As we were both using tyre warmers my tyres felt really sticky as we headed out onto the track. My progess that session was a revelation. The new Pirelli tyres felt amazing, giving so much more confidence in corners than my Michelin Power Pilot 3 which I had been running all year.

By the second half of the session, I felt as though I was beginng to carve my way through the field, which is not something that I normally do in the Inters group! As the session came to an end on the in lap, I looked behind me expecting to see Matt on my tail, but he wasn’t there. I immediately thought that he must have either broken down or crashed. Thankfully he was parked up safely in the garage when I got back although didn’t look too happy. I asked him how long he was with me for, and he said something about how he’d try to keep up but that I’d “disappered off into the distance” leaving him for dust. I actually posted my fastest time ever on the circuit with a 2:52 – a full 5 seconds faster than my quickest time here a month earlier!

I think we both suddenly realised that there was a chance that Matt might get bumped down a group while I remained in the Inters group. Oh, the irony! Anyway, it turns out that Matt had inadvertantly overgeared his bike with the result that it wouldn’t pull in top gear down the straights. This massively limited his top speed so that he was never in a position to catch me during the lap. Changing his rear sprocket for one with three more teeth would fix the problem he reckoned. That and the fact that this was pretty much the first time Matt had been on track for nearly 6 years combined with no experience on Silverstone’s GP circuit meant that he had been at a significant disadvantage that first session.

For the next session, we agreed that I would go as fast as I could everywhere except on the three long straights (Wellington, Hanger and the old National) for the first couple of laps in order to give him a chance to learn the circuit. The lap times for that session varied between 2:57 and 3:00 (excluding the out and in laps). This time he had no trouble staying with me although I would pull away down the long straights with my higher top speed of 134mph compared to his 120mph but that didn’t matter too much as he would quickly catch me though the next corner anyway.

After those two timed sessions, we stopped for lunch and waited for the new group lists… slightly anxiously. We both breathed a sigh of relief when we saw that we had both managed to remain in the Inters group. Actually if I’m being honest, I think Matt was more relieved than I was as his friends would never let him live down being bumped into the Novice group! Luckily that didn’t happen and we had four afternoon sessions of riding to look forward to under almost perfect weather conditions.

As my fastest time the previous session had been 5 seconds slower than the first timed session of the day, Matt suggested that I try braking later at the end of the longer straights to carry more corner speed through the corner in the first session after lunch. I tried this but really didn’t enjoy that session at all because my riding felt ragged and I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t always in total control of the bike. In trying to brake later and enter the corner at a higher speed, I suspect that I was actually going around the corners more slowly than before as a result of some last minute panic braking with the corner looming. In fact this suspicion was backed up by the fact that my average lap time for those 5 laps was 3:05 which was a lot slower than the previous two sessions.

For the next (and fifth) session, I decided to ride on my own and slow things down again to try and find my own rhythm. Although my lap times weren’t really any faster than before, I felt much more relaxed on the bike and more in control. I was getting my knee down in more of the corners and thoroughly enjoying myself.

In the sixth session, I continued to enjoy myself and although I couldn’t see my lap times during the session, I knew that I had ridden both consistently and reasonably well. A fact that was confirmed when I pulled into the garage to review my times because I’d managed to post four 2:57 laps out of the six laps that session.

One thing that did puzzle me slightly was why the garage was starting to look so empty with apparantly one session still to go. It turns out that delays due to two red flag incidents earlier in the day meant that we’d just had our last session. We did feel slightly cheated! Although we were later consoled by that fact that we did manage to get 25 complete laps during the day in addition to the first three sighting laps, which was significantly more track time than I received on the last Focused Events track day at Silverstone!

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 3 - 3 sighting laps
2 5 2:52.49 Under pressure! youtube
3 5 2:57.92 youtube
4 5 3:00.61
5 4 3:00.24
6 6 2:57.07 Consistent youtube

Matt did his own thing in the afternoon and was really pleased to have posted a 2:46 lap time by the end of the day. He was getting thrashed down the straights by bigger bikes which he’d then overtake again in the corners. I think he enjoyed the day almost as much as I did, although I can’t help thinking he wished he’d been able to bring his race spec Kawasaki ZX-7R instead of the VFR400. You can see some of his final session below.

One thing that I couldn’t figure out was how I’d managed to post two quicker laps of 2:52 – 2:53 but never managed to get anywhere near those times again for the rest of the day. I suspect that this was entirely down to my riding rather than any external factors like the track or my tyres but I’m still at a loss to explain the massive discrepancy in my lap times for the day.

As track days go, this was one of my favourite of the year and was a perfect end to a summer of track riding in the UK. I really feel that I’m beginning to sort my body position out more and am started to feel more relaxed on the bike. I still have plenty of work to do on my braking into corners and getting back on the gas on corner exits. Hopefully that’s something I’ll be able to work on over four days in Spain at the Monteblanco circuit in a month’s time.

Update: As promised, I’ve posted a comparison review of the Michelin Power Pilot 3 vs the Pirelli Rosso Corsa.


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