Donington Park was to be my first UK trackday for 2016. The event, organised by No Limits with no noise restrictions cost £149 (US$ 240). I had booked into the Inters group based on the fact that I have now been to this trck a few times.
Getting to Donington for 7:30 am means a 4:30am start and my drive up the M1 was much better than normal with faster flowing traffic on the motorway coupled with fewer and shorter sections of roadworks and their speed restrictions. Leaving home the weather had been damp and grey, and I arrived at Donington with the same conditions plus fog.
With No Limits, the Inters group goes out first, and so I immediately set about switching to my wet tyres after finding a free space in a garage and signing on. I’ve pretty much got wheel changes down to 20 minutes although this time I struggled to get the rear wheel fitted as the spacers and rear brake caliper holder kept getting in the way of the wheel spindle. I did finally get the job done with some help from another rider but t meant that I had to rush to get my leathers on in time for the first session.
Although it wasn’t raining the track had standing water in many places and the temperature was cold (12c) so the first three sighting laps were taken at a very gentle pace. I managed to get positioned directly behind Del, one of the No Limits instructors I have ridden with before, for those first three laps and it allowed me to try and focus on his lines as we went round the track.
Riding on wets should have given me a big advantage compared to other riders on standard road tyres or even Supercorsas but that didn’t appear to be the case because after the first three laps, quite a few riders in the group shot straight past, seemingly oblivious to the cold and wet track. In mitigation, my visor had started to mist up insde despite my efforts to open all the vents, and it really started to make seeing the track quite hard. As a result I pulled in after the fourth lap and went to find some liquid soap to polish onto the inside of the visor – this breaks the surface tension of any mist that tries to form and effectively keeps your visor clear.
By the time of the second session, the track was starting to form a dry line in places due to a combination of a strong wind and the riders circulating round the track. I decided to remain on my wet tyres based on the conditions I saw in pit lane. I never use tyre warmers riding on wets, instead relying on one or two laps to get some temperature into them. This means that my first laps are always off my usual pace but with them out of the way I was able to use the grip that they give in the wet to corner with more confidence than any other type of tyre would have given me. The rider next door to me on an Aprilia twin, with probably the loudest exhaust on the day, went flashing past me after Craners on a set of Metzeler M7RRs which just goes to show that wet tyres can’t make up for a lack of bravery or skill!
The other thing to watch out for with wet tyres is a drying track as this can destroy the tyres in just a couple of laps; depending on your riding style. As a result I adjusted my lines around the track to take in as many puddles and damp patches as possible to keep the tyres from overheating. By the end of the session, I had already decided to switch back to the Supercorsas as the track was definitely continuing to dry and the sky was becoming brighter by the hour.
My next wheel change back to dry tyres (Supercorsas) went without a hitch and without requiring any help from anyone else. However the delay caused by changing them meant that the tyres weren’t in the warmers for long enough to properly heat both the tyres and wheels. So for the start of the third session, I made a point of giving the tyres some extra time to heat up. Although the Inters group was the least busy of the three groups, I still seemed to come across packs of bikes or to be overtaken by packs of bikes too. I think the issue was caused by quite a wide discrepancy in the speed of riders within the group. Being generous I would have placed myself somewhere in the lower to mid part of the group based on the amount of overtaking I did versus the amount of times I was being overtaken. The pace of a few of the riders was definitely fast group and they would have benefitted from moving up a group, I felt.
To be honest I was struggling a bit to find a decnt rythym and line around the track. As a result, I sought some advice from Del who offered to ride with me in the fourth session. The plan was for him to follow for a lap, and then for me to follow showing me his lines until he waved me through. The combination of a much drier track and his assistance meant that I was able to get around more smoothly and quickly. In the debrief afterwards, he complimented me on my later braking while also reminding me to come into the corners more deeply (on a wider approach arc) nd to drive out of the corner from the apex using all the available track on the exit onto the next straight. You can see the video of some of that session below – apologies for the poor sound quality which was caused my a malfunctioning mic.
The sun came out during lunch and the whole place including the track started to warm up although there was still a cold bite to the wind. For the fifth session, I decided to switch on my lap timer which I hadn’t used up till then. In the previous session, I saw that other riders were still catch me quickly into the corners, so I made an effort to focus on braking later and harder using later braking markers. As I later discovered when reviewing my lap times, this probably had a detrimental effect on my lap times as I couldn’t seem to turn in a lap quicker than a 2:09 that session – a time that was around 10 seconds off where I expected/hoped to be.
In the following session, two riders in the fast group collided. Their injuries were sufficiently bad that both required taking to hospital in in ambulance each. That had the effect of closing the circuit for the rest of the day. And so we all packed up and proceeded to depart. As I would only have ridden one more session anyway, I didn’t mind the closure too much although some riders were obviously disappointed.
Overall the event had been an interesting one – the combination of early poor and later good track conditions meant that I had a chnce to ride on wets and dry tyres. To be honest I didn’t ride as well (or as quickly) as I hoped I would but was pleased with some of the positive feedback that I had got from Del. Donington itself is a great circuit and I will definitely try to get back there again before winter arrives.