Silverstone GP 5 May 2015

1PP_3663This was to be my first track day where I was actually looking forward to wet weather. Why? Because I recently got a set of wheels complete with discs and Racetec K2 Rain tyres and I really wanted to try them out. Luckily the good ol’ English weather wasn’t going to disappoint because the forescast was for rain in the morning with drying conditions for the afternoon.

The day, costing £ 179 (US$ 290) with three groups, was organised by Silverstone themselves on the full GP circuit. I booked into the Inters group as I have been to this circuit many times and know it pretty well. Unlike other track day organisers, Silverstone have switched their track day format from 7 x 25 minute sessions to 6 x 30 minute sessions, and have now added a lunch break too.

wetsOn arriving at the circuit I was greeted by low cloud and light intermittant rain but the apron where we parked didn’t seem as wet as I would have liked. I had already fitted rain tyres in anticipation of a wet start and was now wondering if I made the right decision. Since my first session wasn’t until 9:30am, I decided to wait and see what the weather did before making a final tyre decision.

The sign on and briefing were the standard fare with specific references being made about noise (105dB drive by) and being mindful of the rider in front when overtaking. During the briefing, the weather had worsened and there was now standing water all over the track – I was actually quite excited about being able to try out my rain tyres!

1GG_3561A few other riders in the group were also using rain tyres, but the bulk of them were running the usual performance sport tyres; including many on Pirelli Super Corsas – not a tyre noted for its cold or wet weather performance! None of the riders that I spoke to on those tyres looked forward to the first session in the rain. Luckily for them though it would comprise three sighting laps which would keep the pace slow, followed by a return to the pits before the riders headed out again for the remainder of the 30 minute session.

Because rain tyres are such a soft compound, I had been advised not to use tyre warmers with them and to run 33 psi in the front and 32 psi in the rear. As we lined up in pit lane the rain was still gently falling and I was smiling inside my helmet. I had heard so many amazing things about these tyres and I could not wait to try them out. I had been cautioned to allow them to heat up which they should do quickly before getting too carried away on them.

During the sighting laps, I got the sense that the tyres were quite different from a road tyre, even one as good as the Michelin Pilot Road 3. The rain tyres felt rock solid driving through puddles and never twitched once in the corners. The levels of grip were unbelievable. As the sighting laps progressed I began to understand just how different and amazing these tyres are because I was able to brake hard, accelerate hard and lean in the corners. Once the sighting laps were out of the way and we returned to the track from the pits, I gave the tyres a further lap to warm up and then I started to carve my way through the group.

1GG_0289Where riders were being really circumspect cornering, I was able to barrel into the corner, lean the bike over and drive through the corner without a twitch. Someone described riding on wets almost as being akin to riding in the dry. I wouldn’t go quite that far except to say that I felt that I could probably get my knee down in the hairpins without any fear of the bike skittering off the track. By the end of the session, I reckon that I passed a huge number of riders in the group – a feat that I will probably never repeat again.

On returning to the garage, I could see many unhappy faces. I knew exactly how they felt because I had had exactly the same grim feeling at Donington just a few weeks earlier. A rider near me on a BMW S1000RR had even skipped the first session to avoid riding in the rain. While they were praying for a dry track, I was looking forward to more rain! I was totally blown away by the rain tyres and the liberties that they allow you to take. One rider came over amazed at how quickly I was able to go. He said that he could hear the 675’s engine crackling on the overrun on the corner entry as I caught him before I disappeared again after quickly passing him.

Unfortunately (?!), the rain had stopped between the first and second sessions resulting in dry patches developing all over the circuit, helped in part by the strong winds. I had been warned that rain tyres can be destroyed in the dry so back on the track I made a point of aiming for all the puddles to keep the tyres from overheating. This was a strange thing to do especially when most of the other riders were making a beeline for the dry sections of track.

It was quite funny running into the left hander leading into Luffield (after the Wellington Straight) and purposely riding through the puddles while leant over while the other riders stayed on the dry line! As the session progressed, I could feel the pace of riders increasing along with their confidence as the track continued to dry. It was obvious that the good weather was going to stay and in order to preserve my wets for another day, I decided to pull in early and switch back to my Pirelli Rosso Corsas for the subsequent sessions.

As the other riders returned to the pits, I was about half way through changing my wheels; the back was done and I was just starting on the front. Everyone seemed much happier with the prospect of a dry track for the rest of the day and the general mood in the garage was much more upbeat. I was really happy to have been able to try out the wet tyres and was equally happy about having four more dry sessions for the rest of the day. Even the BMW rider who sat out the first session was smiling.

1GG_0863

For the third session, I was back on my Superport tyres and was having to adjust my riding style accordingly. There were still damp patches all over the track although it was fairly easy to adjust your line through the corners to avoid them, mainly due to the fact that the Silverstone track is so wide. The pace in the group was quickening up and although I overtook a few riders, I was being overtaken a lot too. My data logger confirmed that I was 11 seconds slower than my previous best time on this circuit which explains why I was being passed so often.

1GG_4685During lunch, I caught up with Joe, one of Silverstone’s instructors and someone that I have ridden around with a few times at this circuit. He offered to follow me and see if he could give me some pointers for areas to work on after the session. I caught up with him coming onto the Hanger Straight and he followed my until Abbey at which point he came past and signalled for me to follow. I did my best to use his lines but struggled to match the radius of his turns in the tighter corners like the hairpin.

1GG_1899I followed him for one lap before he signalled me to pass him presumably so that he could see how well I was doing trying to emulate his lines. Rather than following me, however, it transpires that he had to take a shortcut back to the pits because he had very nearly run out of fuel as the bike began hicupping on him. We caught up in the pits afterwards and he was amazed at the change in my riding style. Although I still need to get off the bike more, he was impressed that I was actually using the brake now! … commenting that he could actually see the nose diving and rear wheel lifting off the ground on some of the corner entries.

With two sessions still to go, tiredness was starting to rear its ugly head. A combination of illness and back pain for the past four weeks meant that I wasn’t able to work on my fitness and it was starting to show. Another characteristic of the dry sessions was that more riders were coming off the track. While there has been no fallers in either of the wet first and second sessions, there was at least one in each of the dry sessions; two of which were also red flagged.

After lunch the wind had really picked up gusting to somewhere around 20kt at times. Coming from the South West, it had the effect of blowing you offline down the Wellington Straight, made accelerating after Copse really hard into the headwind and pushed the bike offline in many of the other corners. The wind was string enough to really put you off as you rode around and probably contributed to a few of the accidents that day.

silverstone_gp

In the penultimate session, I tried to work on getting the bike more upright on the corner exit by squaring the corners off. This I did mainly on the right hander at Club and the left hander after Village leading on to the Wellington Straight. Reviewing my data logger afterwards showed a slower lap time although this could have been more due to tiredness than poor technique in those two corners.

1GG_1184For the final session, I decided to just work on cornering and body position and rode around just focusing on those two areas. I later caught up with Richard riding an Aprilia RSVR4 Factory who had been following me for a while before he shot past in that final session and we both agreed that in spite the weather, it had been a brilliant day’s riding.

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - 3 sighting laps
2 - -
3 - - GPS failed
4 7 2:57.26 youtube
5 5 3:00.33 red flagged youtube
6 4 3:02.83 red flagged

I’ll be back on the Silerstone International circuit in a month’s time and will be really looking forward to it.