Cornering – the key to faster lap times

pairbikesOver the winter I’ve been thinking about the changes I need to make to my riding in order to improve my lap times. After reviewing footage from my last few track days, I can see that the biggest lap time improvement would come from changing the way I ride the corner entry and exit.

A few months ago, I rode the Silverstone GP circuit with Matt who was on his Honda VFR400 race bike. Despite Matt’s racing experience, I figured that the Daytona’s 10-15 mph speed advantage down the straights would result in similar lap times. The reality was that Matt’s greater skill and experience allowed him to cancel out my speed advantage by utilizing his brakes and tyres more effectively than I could.

Anyone can ride fast down a straight because opening the throttle and holding it open are easy as a bike is most stable under acceleration. Real speed gains come from:

  • carrying more speed in the corner
  • how quickly you get on the throttle at the corner exit
  • how well you brake for the next corner

I’m going to use a video of our bikes coming onto the Wellington Straight at Silverstone’s GP circuit to try and explain the things that I need to improve in my own riding order to achieve the faster lap times that I am after.

The video is running at half speed to give you time to pick up on the different things that I want to note. I suggest opening the video in a new window (by clicking on the YouTube logo in the bottom right of the video) so that you can see the text and video side by side in two windows.

The rookie on the Daytona is the top left view while the racer on the VFR is the bottom right view.

You can pause the video at the time intervals shown below as I try and explain some of the differences in our riding styles.

Time Comment
00:08 Notice the corner apex speed difference. My Daytona is doing 75 mph vs Matt’s 79 mph
00:12 Notice how much sooner Matt gets his bike upright – this allows him to get on the throttle harder
00:14 It takes the Daytona 4 seconds to reach the VFR’s speed on the straight by which time the VFR has pulled out a lead
00:25 The Daytona’s maximum speed is 123 mph vs the VFR’s 113 mph. The Daytona now passes the VFR, arriving at the bridge 0.2s ahead of the VFR
00:27 The Daytona is now easing off the throttle. The VFR is still flat out
00:31 The Daytona is braking at 0.6g while the VFR is only just starting to brake (hard). The VFR pulls 0.8g when braking
00:36 The Daytona arrives at the left hand turn sign board (arrow on the right of the track) 0.2s ahead of the VFR
00:37 The VFR has now caught the Daytona again because the turn in points for the two bikes are approximately the same and the VFR takes a tighter line to the apex
00:39 Notice how the VFR is carrying more entry speed into the corner; 62 mph vs 57 mph
00:46 The VFR reaches the apex of the corner 0.2s ahead of the Daytona and is carrying an extra 2mph of speed at the same apex point

The two areas that the racer on the VFR makes significant gains are coming onto the Wellington straight at the start of the video, and his approach to the next corner at the end of the same straight. Let’s focus on the corner exit coming onto the Wellington Straight.

image4249

Once your braking is over going into a corner, you need to apply sufficient throttle to settle the (front) suspension – Keith Code calls this “maintenance” throttle. As you approach the apex of the corner you can start to apply more throttle as you pick the bike up. Matt is able to get on the gas earlier and harder coming onto the Wellington Straight which means that he passes the apex point at 79 mph compared to my 75 mph. It then takes me 4 seconds to catch him down the straight despite the Daytona’s higher top speed.

However, the area where I lose most time compared to Matt is in the braking zone on the approach to the next corner. Let’s break this section of the track down using the following diagram.

image3047

Racers say that you should either be on the gas or on the brakes. The biggest mistake that rookie riders (myself included) is to coast in the transition phase between accelerating and braking. I spend nearly 2 seconds coasting from accelerating to braking in the transition zone while Matt spends just 0.3 seconds in the transition zone.

The other aspect that is important to note is that Matt’s braking marker is later than mine, so while I spend two seconds decelerating from 123 mph to 95 mph, Matt is still travelling at 115 mph. This combination of a later braking point and harder braking minimises the time spent braking so that he catches and then passes me at the end of the straight.

My poor race track skills come from years of road riding where you roll off the throttle and use engine braking before applying the brakes on the approach to a corner. This style of riding has no place on the race track! Gains are made by choosing a later braking marker and reducing the transition (or coasting time) between accelerating down the straight and braking for the corner.

image5600

The lower part of the diagram shows the rookie rider while the upper part shows the more experienced (and confident) rider. It shows what kind of riding style change is required to improve a lap time. Note that the turn in point and the turn in speed should remain similar no matter where your braking marker is.

The first significant improvement that I can make, without even changing my braking marker, is to reduce my transition time from 2 seconds to 1 second or less. This means using the brakes as soon as I come off the throttle instead of using engine braking before applying the (front) brakes. The brake lever should be squeezed smoothly to load the front before being squeezed harder to rapidly slow the bike down. All (or almost all) of your braking should be done while the bike is upright in order to avoid having the front end wash out on you.

So instead of transitioning like this:

Off throttle -> change down -> apply brakes

the correct procedure is this:

Off throttle -> apply brakes -> change down

During the braking phase the throttle is “blipped” for each gear downshift. Downshifting should be done in the braking zone and not the transition zone.

The second significant improvement that I can make is to brake later by choosing a later braking marker. Focusing on a faster transition (between acceleration and braking) should automatically move my braking marker closer to the corner anyway. The important thing to remember is moving your braking marker closer to your turn in point means that you have to brake harder to compensate for the less time that you now have in the braking zone. Matt was braking at 0.8g compared to my 0.6g; however if he had been slowing down from a higher speed then his braking deceleration would probably have been even greater than 0.8g that is shown in the video. This also illustrates just how little braking force I am using compared to Matt and it is another area where I can make more of an improvement.

On an intellectual level I understand what needs to be done to achieve a better lap time, however putting that knowledge into practice is much harder than it appears. What’s that saying about “not being able to teach an old dog new tricks”!

I’ve been told that the best way to make this kind of riding style change is to choose one or two corners only and focus on trying your changes gradually throughout the day rather than trying to do it for every corner and all in one go as this quickly becomes overwhelming.

I’ll report back on any improvement that I am able to make on this particular section of track next time I ride it.

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3 thoughts on “Cornering – the key to faster lap times”

  1. great blog.. and good post.. looking at this from a different perspective

    ‘STRAIGHTS’ – The key to Faster Lap times

    Straights are where time is won or lost… (safely)
    lets define a straight as anywhere you can use full throttle or full brakes
    ( don’t ignore the short straights ;) )

    Corners are simply for getting from one straight to the next
    What if you could make the straights longer and corners shorter ? would you win time ?
    As you say : Anyone can ride fast down a straight because opening the throttle and holding it open is easy as a bike is most stable under acceleration. Isn’t this where real speed/time gains are made ?

    Your speed in the corner is limited by grip.. on the straight it is not
    As you say braking later you win time.. is that making the straight longer and corner shorter ?

    carrying more speed in the corner – this can ruin your line and meaning your leant over for longer – increasing the time it takes to get on the fat part of the tyre and FULL throttle on the exit.. so speed through the corner is a balance between speed/turn/getting it upright
    ‘fat part of the tyre’ = when you can use FULL Throttle or FULL Brake .. fat part of the tyre is not to be confused with the bike being upright … it includes part lean left/right .. the time when you can do pretty much what you want with the throttle is to be considered ‘Fat part of the Tyre’ .. don’t be tempted to roll on too early and ruin your line that allows you to get upright ASAP and onto full throttle. In the corner your speed was slightly lower.. what stopped you picking the bike up quicker and getting the throttle wide open ? Would this take advantage of you extra cc’s .. you would have smoked the vfr down the straight

    how quickly you get on the throttle at the corner exit .. its not who is first on the throttle… its who is first on FULL throttle who will win time down the whole of the next straight … . going by our definition of a straight (anywhere you can use full throttle or full brakes) have you just made the straight longer by getting on the fat part of the tyre and on FULL throttle earlier ?
    how well you brake for the next corner – can you make the straights longer and corners shorter ? Reducing the transistion zone to nothing … Pick a braking marker… when you reach this point.. come off the throttle and straight onto FULL brakes and change down … BRAKE HARD EVERYTIME otherwise it’ll be impossible to pick consistance braking markers… you say brake harder as you move your braking marker nearer the corner… brake as hard as possible everytime and it’ll be easier to either move the braking marker closer (or release the brake sooner on entry for increased speed round the corner)
    reduce the transistion time = you can brake later… but always brake hard then reduce pressure towards the corner … (i’m not talking about trail braking) … braking softy and then hard your more likely to over brake as your going faster as you head for the apex and you get overloaded by the feeling of going in too fast.. so over brake and enter too slowly (and end up rolling on too early..maybe getting greedy with throttle to make up for slow entry and then ruining your line.. spending too long on the side of the tyre..delaying getting upright and wide open throttle)
    you can use FULL brakes at slight lean angles just like you can use full throttle at slight lean angles.. is this a way to steal a few meters and make the straight longer ? braking at a slight angle towards the corner, can you brake later ? would this bring your braking marker closer to the apex. Would this reduce the the distance between coming off the brakes and the apex ? (would this be stealing a few more meters and making the straight longer and corner shorter)

    Maintenance throttle – modern suspension (and tyres) are much better than they used to be (when did Keiths Code first write totw ..the 70’s)… is this still valid on the sports bikes of today with modern suspension and tyres ?
    If you didn’t apply maintenance throttle ,would the bike have turn slightly tighter ? would this mean you could have moved you turn in point deeper into the corner ? Stoud the bike up sooner on exit ? Got on full throttle sooner ?
    Adding throttle before the apex … could you have gone in faster (but off the throttle and brakes) ? if your adding throttle before the apex you could off gone in faster .. did you over brake ?

    Racers say that you should either be on the gas or on the brakes.
    don’t dismiss engine braking.. at the right time
    Engine braking … its happens on its own you don’t need to think about it… would engine braking allow you to divert your attention from braking to other things ? like front feel for grip ? apexs/exits/ roll on/ rate of turn ?
    The key to engine braking is that it is only effective at high rpm…
    approach the corner… brake at your marker.. brake hard… continue to break at a slight lean angle towards the corner… as soon as you start braking Your changing down.. so when you release the brakes the engine is still at high rpm … release the brakes and turn in…
    (No point pushing in corners until you get the straights right.. trail braking is risky) ..use engine braking to the apex.. if you need to roll on… Then next time around release the brake slightly earlier … let the bike turn as effectively as possible and steer the bike upright as quickly as possible..( i think we are all lazy steering the bike upright)
    as your engine is at fair rpm then the engine should response instantly when you rollon on quickly to wide open throttle
    as you say pick one corner at a time and work on it each lap.. then move on to the next corner

    blipping- With slipper clutches is blipping still required ? Sounds great when you do it.. matching engine speed is smoother… but is blipping just one more thing to think about that possibly isn’t required if you have a slipper clutch. without blipping would you hace more attention that could be focused on hard braking And front end grip.

    I’d ignore corner speed until you get braking and exit right. Very little to be gained in a corner.. 4mph in your video.. for a very short period of time when compared to the straight. (unless its a fast corner.. turn 6 cartagena?)

    Its all about the straights.

    1. Wow, that really is an excellent and detailed analysis!

      I still think my title is valid because what you do exiting and approaching/entering the corner is effectively what determines how “long” the straight is, and how well you can utilize it.

      I’m not an experienced (or good) enough rider to really understand all the subtleties and nuances that makes the difference between really fast and less fast riders, however the article is my attempt to explain and understand a significant area of my riding that is really hampering the faster lap times I’m after. I can only explain things in terms that I understand and which will hopefully help me find a way to deal with them with practice.

      Thanks for your feedback – much appreciated!

      1. Your title and plan are 100% valid.

        The only item in my plan that differs from your plan is using full brakes at the braking marker. Applying the same pressure everytime. (Not that i always do this.. but it is part of my plan)

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