Cartagena 18-21 February 2016 No Limits

DSC_7838This European track day at Cartagena with No Limits was booked back in October 2015; nearly four months ahead of time. The trip had been suggested by Gareth who had just purchased a Ducati 848 EVO in full race trim – it was a beautiful looking bike. He was joined by Alisa on her Honda VFR400 and their friend Mark on a Kawasaki ZX6R. Since Mark and I were flying out together, we would be sharing the car hire costs, thereby reducing the overall trip cost per person.

Day 1

After a good breakfast we arrived at the circuit soon after 7am, to begin unpacking the bikes from their cradles (stillages). By the time we finished there were 9 of them tightly squeezed into our garage; a garage that would become slightly infamous for all the wrong reasons as the event progressed!

DSC_58361The sun was shining and after a sensibly short briefing, the first of the two fast groups headed out on track at 10am. We were all in the Novice/Inters group and would be riding at 40 minutes past the hour. There would be 7 x 20 minute sessions; three in the morning starting at 10am followed by a lunch break between 1 and 2pm, and then four more sessions ending at 6pm.

Our group had a wide mix of abilities; some of our group had never been on a track day before and were understandably nervous. We reminded them of the need to ignore anything going on behind and to just focus on their own path around the circuit. As I lined up in the pits I saw a mix of road bikes and track bikes; one next to me was running racing slicks! I remember thinking that there was going to be a wide range of lap times in this group.

The first session comprised three sighting laps. Once they were out of the way, I was able to make reasonable progress around this twisty and tricky circuit; having been here twice before. I’d forgotten some of the lines and my braking markers were a bit out of date as I was a slightly quicker rider now than my time before. I was able to make decent progress and spent more time overtaking other riders than being overtaken. That changed in the second session when riders began to find their rhythm and mojo. I reckon that I was running mid pack by lunchtime and was happy with my progress especially since I’d spent most of the previous week laid up in bed with the worst sore throat and fever that I’ve had in quite a while.

During the first two sessions, three of our group of 6 had incidents one one sort or another. One rider lost their exhaust pipe, another went over the front of the bike into the tyre wall ending up with a broken collar bone, while the third had a low side on the tricky section between turns 2 and 3. Luckily with the exception of the broken collar bone, the other two were back on track by the end of the day again.

As I wandered around the pits between sessions, I bumped into and caught up with quite a few familiar faces including Tammy and Alan the husband and wife fast group duo, lots of faces from the 675.cc forum, and a few people that I had last met at Cartagena almost exactly two years ago. All told there were probably fifteen Daytona 675’s on track – that’s the most I’ve seen on any one track day.

By mid afternoon, I was beginning to get frustrated by the fact that in trying to go faster I was actually going slower. This resulted from rushing into the corners and braking later and longer than was necessary reducing my corner speed and increasing my overall lap times – my quickest lap was a 2:11. As a result of this I sought help from Richard, one of No Limits instructors. We had a chat before the session and I explained what I thought I was doing wrong. He listened and suggested that I follow him for a few laps to see his lines before he followed me to see how I was doing.

DSC_3835I found it easier to follow his lines – my progress round the circuit felt smoother and the corners were less rushed. In the debrief after the session, Richard indicated that I needed to use more of the track; both on corner entry and corner exit, because this has the effect of reducing the corner radius and allows for higher corner speed without having to do anything else. He also suggested that I reduce my “coasting” time between lifting off the gas and applying the brakes on the corner entries. He advocated combining this with the technique of “driving” through the corner – a technique where you use throttle to keep the bike accelerating from the apex of the corner but not too much that you run off line.

The biggest tip he gave me was to lose my “duck” feet – this is where you move your feet up the pegs so that the area between your toes and the ball of your feet is on the peg instead of your instep. He thought that this one tip would give me a feeling of more confidence and control in the corner and suggested that I practice this going forward.

In the next session, I worked on these three things before calling it a day.

Day 2

I woke up to see that it had been raining during the night, and although it wasn’t actually raining the grey overcast skys didn’t bode well for the day. We headed up to the circuit for a leisurely breakfast and to see how the morning would pan out. At 10am we heard a few bikes from the fast group head out onto the circuit – these brave souls where the ones lucky enough to have brought wet tyres with them.

As the morning progressed, the track started to dry out due to the strong wind, and things were looking good for riding after lunch. In the first session after lunch, I continued to try to put Richard’s advice into practice and particularly my foot position on the pegs. I was rewarded with a 4 second improvement compared to my best time here two years ago. Although it feels slightly unnatural to have your feet positioned with your toes on the pegs, it does seem to give you more control of the bike plus you won’t have a scare when your boot grinds the track as you lean into a corner.

DSC_2875In the next session, I started to work on reducing my coasting time into the corners. This involved a combination of lifting off the gas later as I approached the turn and braking slightly earlier than I did before. The next effect of this is to compress the time spent coasting. It also delivers more control into the turn and a faster corner speed allowing you to drive through the turn more. This was borne out by the fact that I was pretty much able to keep pace with Gareth on his Ducati 848 for a few laps before I tagged along behind Alisa to film her for a few laps. Like the previous session, I had an absolute ball that session, and was rewarded with another 2 second improvement in my lap times.

For the next session, I collared Richard again and asked him if he would review the changes in my riding style to see whether the changes were in the right direction. With him following, I made a point of remembering my feet position, my revised braking markers and to sweep wider on the approaches to the corners in order to be able to carry more corner speed. At one point Richard came past to show me how much more track was available on the outside approach to some of the turns. Once he had made his point, he dropped back again and followed for the rest of the session until it was red flagged.

That session I was rewarded with a further 3 second improvement which equates to a combined 9 second improvement over those three sessions compared to my previous personal best time. I was stunned with the improvement especially as it felt easier to get around the track at that pace! Even Richard seemed pleased, saying that the change to my corner entry was like night and day compared to the previous day. He also gave me some extra pointers on keeping the outside knee in a turn pressed against the tank and reminded me to keep sweeping wider into the turns in order to be able to carry more corner speed by reducing the corner radius.

Back in the garage, I was puzzled by the fact that Mark and his ZXR6 were missing. It turns out that his was the accident that caused the red flag. Unlike his lowside the previous day this one appeared to be much more serious. I followed the ambulance to the hospital and spent several hours waiting until I was able to see him. It turns out that he broke his collar bone, six ribs, and had a collapsed and punctured lung. The following day he remembered that he had taken avoiding action to prevent himself rear ending me into turn 3 and that he probably landed on the raised kerb as he fell. He said that the injuries felt like he had been hit by a truck. Accidents like this make you realise the kinds of forces you are dealing with as you hurtle around a race track, even in relatively slow corners like that one.

Day 3

I was late arriving at the circuit in the morning because I wanted to visit Mark in hospital and see how he was doing. He looked a lot better and more comfortable than he did the night before and we had a good chat before I headed off. On arriving at the track, I decided to swap my rear tyre for a new Pirelli Supercorsa SC2 to match the Supercorsa SC1 that I had on the front. For the first two days, I had been using a Supercorsa SC1 front with a Rosso Corsa rear. The levels of grip from the front Supercorsa were astounding. As you steered into corners, they just “dug” in and stuck to the track like glue – I’ve never experienced anything like it before. They really are an amazing tyre! I was running 32psi (hot) on the front using tyre warmers, and 28psi (hot) on the Rosso Corsa rear and 27psi (hot) for the Supercorsa SC2 rear after I fitted that.

The tyre change meant that I missed the first session of the day but that wasn’t really a problem as I had another six sessions available for the rest of the day. Putting Richard’s advice (from the previous day) into practice, I managed to achieve my faster lap time of the entire trip – a 2:03 lap in my first session that day. I know this is slow by most inters/fast group standards but that time represented an 11 second improvment over my previous visit to this circuit and I was really pleased with my progress.

DSC_5626For the rest of the day I was regularly posting 2:05 to 2:08 lap times. The levels of riding abilities in the group meant that you often came across groups of bikes bunched up which would take time to get through. By the same token, I was regularly being overtaken by some of the quicker riders in our group; some of whom were running times in the low 1:50’s – quite why they weren’t riding in the faster group I’m not sure?!?

During the day I spent quite a bit of time “duking” it out with Gareth on his Ducati 848 EVO. Gareth was riding really well and looked so composed as he swung round the right handed corners of the circuit. In the same way that I don’t find right handers particularly easy, Gareth doesn’t particularly like left handers (which I do like). So there were a few left handed corners where I could gap him until we hit a right hander or straight when he would either catch me or gap me if I was chasing.

The afternoon sessions were even more fun than the morning ones, and we retired at the end of the day, exhausted and content. Overall this third day had been brilliant fun.

Day 4

We awoke to a cool but dry fourth day. There was no rain forecast and it looked as though we were in for a good day’s riding. Of the nine bikes in our garage; the infamous “Garage 9″, five had been involved in some kind of incident. Two of which resulted in broken collar bones! I think our garage had the highest proportion of incidents compared to any of the others on the trip. It also made the rest of us who hadn’t yet had an incident a little more circumspect in our riding!

DSC_2774I spent a few of the sessions either chasing Gareth on his 848, or trying to keep him from getting past by trying to ride faster than him. In the second session he had the back step out under power, and only just have managed to avoid it getting out of hand. That experience knocked his confidence slightly and I think he was unwilling to match or exceed my pace much after that. For my own part I never managed to get within 2 seconds of my quickest time the day before either. However I did begin to developed an appreciation of just how amazing the Daytona 675 is especially when shod with Pirelli Supercorsa’s; a tyre that is effectively a “cut” slick. The bike travelled round corners like it was on rails, and frequently got round corners at speeds that seemed barely believable (to me) … until a faster rider rode round the outside making me look like I was stationary!

Apart from trying new tyres, the other change to my bike was a new slipper clutch that I fitted a few weeks earlier. I can safely say that after my new suspension, this is one of the best investments that I have made. I was now able to change down with relative abandon on the corner entry in the knowledge that the slipper clutch would both stop the back wheel locking up and prevent the engine overrevving. The slipper clutch still provides plenty of engine braking while giving you one less thing to worry about on corner entry; at a time when lots of different things start happening pretty quickly and close together. If you ride on track a lot and don’t yet have a slipper clutch, then get one, I’d say.

DSC_5880

For my final session of the day, I made a concerted effort to focus on the right handed corners, trying to sort out my crossed up body position. As a result of that effort, I was soon rewarded with regular knee downs on three of the right hand corners pretty consistently each lap. The net effect of this is that it has allowed me to become more confident in right handed turns; although I still don’t like them as much as left handed ones. My favourite corners at Cartagena are still the rising left hander at turn 9 followed by the left handed drop into turn 10. My extra left hand corner confidence allows me to drive through those two corners and is one point on the track where I can quickly pull a 10 metre gap on Gareth seemingly effortlessly. Of course he repays the favour on the following right hander!

Summary

This was my third visit to the Cartagena circuit and I was worried that I might be bored riding at this circuit again but it turns out that this was probably my most enjoyable trip so far despite the misfortunes that occurred to friends on track. With its slipper clutch, upgraded suspension and sticky tyres, my bike is more sorted out now than it has ever been before and it really showed on track. The bike gives so much confidence on the brakes, through the corners and when driving out of the turns. In the right hands, the Daytona 675 really is a track weapon.

The event was run really well by No Limits – they really are a relaxed bunch and having instructors on hand to help out when you feel you need it is really useful. The hotel was good and only about 12 minutes from the track – that coupled with the 10am session starts meant that the mornings were more relaxed than they are when your hotel is 20-40 minutes away.

Prior to this trip I felt like I had hit another plateau in my riding. However on the third and fourth day, something really clicked, and my lap times started to tumble as I sorted out my body position, reduced my coasting time on corner entry, developed more corner speed and picked the bike upright in order to be able to drive out of the turns more quickly. My previous best time at Cartagena was 2:14 two years ago. This time my lap time dropped to 2:03. Given another day, I think I could easily get that time down below the 2 minute mark just by improving my riding style in the right handed turns which is still an area of weakness.

Would I return to Cartagena in the future? Yes, as this circuit will really improve your corner abilities and it is perfectly suited to medium capacity bikes like the 675.

There is a gallery here where you can view more photos from this trip.