Silverstone Int’l 2 June 2015

silverstone-intlThis bike trackday was organised by Silverstone on the Interational Circuit and cost £139 (US$ 220) with three groups. Unusually, the National Circuit was also being simultaneously used for a car trackday although being such a big circuit, I wasn’t really aware of the presence of the cars at any time during the day. This must be part of a new drive to generate more revenue per day for the circuit by the owners.

I arrived at 7:15am with gentle rain falling and a dark overcast sky. The forecast indicated that the weather would clear from about 2pm, so with luck we could expect some dry sessions in the afternoon. Now that I have a set of wet tyres (fitted to spare wheels), rainy track days no longer bother me and I set about changing over to the wets after installing the bike and my kit in the garage. One advantage of all the recent bad weather is that I’m getting quicker at changing the wheels over as a result of all the practice I’ve had recently! It now takes me less than 20 minutes to switch wheels and change the suspension setup.

Although Silverstone’s tracks days are generally less busy than ones organised by the likes of Focused Events or No Limits, I surprised at how few bikes had actually turned up on the day. I was riding in the Inters group that had just 17 riders. The fast group had 21 riders while the novice group had over 30 riders. On a sunny day you can expect to see 40-50 riders per group. Talking with the organisers, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many riders now book up only 3-4 days before events once they know what the weather is likely to be doing. If the forecast is bad, they just don’t bother booking at all. This practice is obviously causing financial headaches for track day organisers, and they are going to need to find ways to persuade riders to book and commit earlier (perhaps with financial incentives), otherwise they are going to go out of business.

wetsHaving a set of wet tyres this year means that I don’t really care too much about the weather any more. Although I much prefer riding in the dry, the liberties that you can take on wet tyres means that the track day is still fun despite the falling rain and standing water. The only issues I face in bad weather is dealing with spray from other riders and soggy feet in my supposedly waterproof boots. Actually, the most difficult riding conditions are those where the track is drying but where there is still water and damp patches; especially in the corners. Because it’s so easy to ruin a set of wet tyres in just two laps on a drying track if they overheat, you need to switch back to your “dry” tyres and take your chances with varying grip levels in the corners.

With the briefing out of the way, the first session comprised two sighting laps followed by a return to the pits before heading out onto the track again for the remainder of the session. The sighting lap pace was pretty slow; probably due to the fact that all the instructors and about half the field were running various forms of semi-slick supersport tyres (like the Pirelli Diablo). As the session progressed, the riders quickly split into two groups; those on wets and those who were not. I allowed myself a slight smile as I rose around the outside of one of the instructors through the long right hander at Stowe as there was nothing he could do about it as he was determined to remain upright to avoid skittering off the track.

The wet weather continued for the first three sessions of the morning and the promise of a brightening sky failed to deliver a drying track that most of us were hoping for. Actually apart from my waterlogged feet and difficulty seeing, I didn’t really have any problems riding in the wet and wasn’t particularly bothered if it continued to rain for the remainder of the day.

However it was not to be because after lunch, as forcast, the rain stopped and the track started to dry; aided significantly by a strong wind. While not quite as bad as the wind I was subjected to last time on the GP circuit, it was sill strong enough to push you offline through Stowe and Club. Despite the drying track, there was still a good deal of standing water all over the place and I was able to use the many puddles to keep the wet tyres cool as I rode around. About halfway through the session, though, I could see that the good weather was here to stay and I returned to the pits to change back to my Pirelli Rosso Corsas.

During the day I got chatting with several riders including four fast group riders that I either knew or had met on previous days that were also riding Daytona 675’s. They are all active members on the 675.cc forum and it was good to put names and faces to their internet personas. Having been to Silverstone so mny times, I also know many of their instructors reasonably well, and spent some time chatting with Neil who had ridden with me for a while in the first session and who also ended up spending the whole of the final session with me, trying to help me get around the circuit more quickly than I would have done on my own.

Following an instructor is always educational and especially useful for learning lines and seeing their braking points; something that is simple to do when they are on a road bike with a working rear brake light! I always enjoy riding with Neil as he really engages with you and actively works to try and deliver improvements in your riding. As I rode around, I was also struck by the fact that he seemed to spend nearly as much time looking backwards at me as he did looking at the track ahead. I am always amazed at how much corner speed better riders can carry and Neil spent a lot of time dabbing his brakes after each corner to allow me to catch up with him again.

We had a good chat after that final session, and we both concurred that it had been great fun. When I complained that it seemed to be taking me ages to learn to ride more quickly, he reminded me that we spent a lot of the session overtaking other riders and that we were making reasonably rapid progress around the track. He also pointed out the fact that I had come on a long way since the last time we had ridden together more than a year ago.

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - 3 sighting laps
2 8 1:46.97 Wet
3 10 1:40.22 Wet youtube
4 10 1:42.11 Drying/damp
5 10 1:28.73 Dry youtube
6 11 1:27.45 Dry youtube

With the falling rain at the start of the day, I hadn’t really expected great things from the trackday. However I actually enjoyed riding in the wet – it was easier and more fun than I expected. The fact that we also got two faster dry sessions was just the “icing on the cake” for me.

Silverstone’s shorter International circuit is a great short circuit because you can get 10-12 laps per 20 minute session so you get plenty of chance to practice the same corners again and again. Provided you not just repeating the same mistakes, this really gives you an opportunity to improve; especially if you have a better and faster rider to follow.

As I left the circuit and headed home down the M40, I reflected on yet another brilliant trackday at Silverstone.