Silverstone GP 11 August 2016

DSC_0005This was to be my third visit to the Silverstone GP circuit this year, and to mix it up a bit, I decided to sign up on Silverstone and Suzuki’s track day which is open to bikes from any manufacturer. The track day cost £199 (US$320) which is about 15% more than other track day organiser charge but the longer sessions mean more track time which offsets the extra cost.

On arriving at the circuit, I was directed to the garages for group 3 – the fast group. Hmm, surely some mistake? In the garages, I saw several groups of race bikes, and figured that I’d sign on anyway and then try moving down to the Inters group before the sessions started. The was one of the first Silverstone run trackdays that I had done in nearly a year, and it was good to catch up with some familiar faces (staff and instructors) from previous trackdays here.

Last time I did one of these events, I got to ride with Simon Crafar of MotoVudu fame and to see a whole selection of Suzuki race bikes all the way back to the 1970’s; including Barry Sheene’s world championship winning 2 stroke. This time there were fewer Suzuki race bikes on display although Suzuki had brought along a large selection of their sports bike.

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Sign on was the usual affair, except that we were introduced to some of the day’s “star” riders including John Reynolds, Simon Crafar, Jamie Whitham, Steve Plater, Taron Mackenzie and Tommy Bridewell. Apparently they would be riding out on track with us; although I don’t recall seeing any of them on track the whole day. But that could be because they were either riding in other groups or because of their camoflage comprising large red instructor bibs.

After the briefing I had a chat with one of the instructors and switched to group two. The fast group looked pretty busy, and so I was pretty glad to have been allowed to switch groups. The group order would be group 3 (fast), group 2 (inters) and then group 1 (novice). Unlike other TDO (track day organisers), the day would be run with 6 x 30 minute sessions with two sighting laps in the first session followed by a return to the pits before resuming the session. Unusually the fast group were not required to noise test but everyone was cautioned to run with baffles if possible or face the possibility of being ejected if they triggered the drive by noise sensors. Noise really is becoming a serious issue on track days and loud exhausts are getting harder and harder to use.

The weather had been overcast on the drive to the circuit but had switched to light rain before the first session. Many of the fast group riders completed their sighting laps, and then returned to the pits to sit out the rest of the session. I didn’t see anyone running wets as the forecast was for a general improvement in the weather by lunchtime – so most were just experimenting with the levels of grip.

For the first session, I decided not to switch to wets because although the track was mostly wet in places, I was holding out for better weather later. With some trepidation, I joined the queue of bikes in the pits waiting to depart for the two sighting laps. Thankfully the instructor’s pace was pretty slow, and so it was easy to get around most of the corners without brakes or leaning the bike too much. As before I was amazed at just how grip and confidence the Continental RaceAttacks were giving in the corners; not once did I get a hint of any squirming or slip from them mid corner, even after most of the heat from the warmers had left the tyre.

With the sighting laps over, I stayed out for another lap before heading back into the pits as I didn’t really want to tempt fate and crash the bike before the promised good weather arrived. Many of the other riders in the group did the same although a few of the braver souls stayed out for the full session.

The second session was much like the first. Although the rain continued to fall gently, a dry line was beginning to form at different parts of the circuit. As before, I remained pretty circumspect in both braking and cornering but was still amazed at how much grip and feedback I was getting from the Continentals. To be fair though, I had taken one click of compression damping off the front and rear suspension, and this could have been part of the improvement that I felt.

By the time the third session was due, the track was mostly dry due to the strong wind with a few damp patches off the racing line. The improved track conditions allowed me to focus on riding as hard as I dared without worrying about the grip levels. Remembering the advice I’d received from Del a couple of track days back, I determined to focus on my lines and corner entries. Overall the session went well although I was really noticing how difficult I found it to get a good line through the Maggots/Beckitts complex. Elsewhere on the track I felt that I was doing better and spent quite a lot of the session overtaking other riders – although a few riders were flying past me too.

Screenshot_2016-08-15-21-07-28Before the fourth session (and the first one after lunch), I went to find one of the floating instructors to see if I could get a tow round the complex that I was struggling with. I bumped into one of Silverstone’s instructors helmet-ed up and sitting on a bike in pit lane. I asked if he could let me follow him for a lap to see his lines, and while he initially seemed a little reluctant, he did finally agreed to help me for a couple of laps in the next session. I grabbed my gear and bike and joined him in the pit lane. He took a pretty sedate pace to start with for the first lap (which was actually a sighting lap again) before we returned to the pits, after that he upped the pace and I did my best to both keep up and follow his lines. (You can see the session in the video below).

After the session, he came over to find me in the pits without his helmet on. He was older than me with a huge white bushy moustach and I didn’t recognise him as one of the usual instructors. He picked me up on two issues. Firstly he felt that I was coming off the throttle much earlier than my application of brakes and that the two should happen together. In fact he demonstrated the fact when he came shooting past at Stowe corner – something he achieved by braking later which I was coasting into the corner. The second point he made was to try and use even more of the track especially on the corner entry and exit, and to ensure that I hit the apexes correctly instead of missing them by a metre or so which he felt I did too often. Overall though he was complimentary saying that there was nothing that was really a problem provided I could keep working on those two points.

He was very friendly and while we got chatting, he mentioned that he also instructed at Ron Haslam’s race school, and that I might know of his son who was quicker still. I said sorry but I didn’t recognise him although the penny dropped as soon as he mentioned his name. It turns out that I has just spent a session riding with Cal Cruthlow’s dad! We then proceeded to talk about MotoGP, the Honda LCR team and related stuff. Happy days.

Screenshot_2016-08-15-21-22-48In the two remaining sessions, I felt that I was riding at the same speed as before, but it turns out that I was running 5-8 seconds a lap slower than my quickest session. This was due both to traffic that I encountered and my increased tiredness which was sapping my willingness and ability to overtake. In the final session, I had decided to try focusing on my lines by riding at 90% of my normal pace. Reducing my pace certainly made it easier to focus on trying to use more of the track and is a useful trick when practicing your lines.

One of the biggest changes in my riding this year has been a switch in technique on corner entry. Previously, at the end of the straight, I would try and get all braking out of the way before turning in and committing to the corner. Invariably, this resulted in a slower corner speed than I intended and I would often find myself re-introducing the throttle before I hit the apex of the corner to make up for the speed that I had lost. This would then cause me not to be able to use full throttle out of the corner as this would push me off line to the point where I could run out of track.

My new approach to cornering is to try to come off the throttle and brake simultaneously on the corner entry, and to continue slowing down to the apex of the corner before reapplying the throttle from the apex onwards. If you listen to the engine in the video above you’ll hear that I’m not often successful but I’m definitely doing this better than I was last year. This is something that you need to build up to because trail braking into the corners will put you at a greater risk of “pushing the front” and having an unintended crash if the front tyre is overloaded. One of the keys with later braking is to force yourself to release the front brake earlier and retain as much corner speed as you can. This is why it is so important to make as much use as possible of all the available track on corner entry and exit.

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - 2 sighting laps in rain
2 - - Damp
3 6 2:54.22 Drying track
4 6 2:46.50 youtube
5 4 2:55.21
6 5 2:52.92

There were a few notable things about this track day. The first is how few red flags there seemed to be. In our group only one of the sessions was stopped due to an incident after which the session was then restarted pretty quickly. The second was the variation in pace between the faster and slower riders in the group which seemed more marked than on other track days. Actually the difference in pace this wasn’t actually a problem in practice. The final aspect of this day that was different was the longer track sessions. On a long 3.6 mile track like Silverstone, the longer sessions give you at least an extra lap per session with the added bonus of a longer break between sessions which was good for both resting and getting stuff done between sessions.

Riding the same circuit several times this year has allowed me to practice the same corners and consolidate the gradual improvements that I have been making in my riding. After the disappointment of a damp track at the start of the day, the day improved dramatically and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. This definitely will not be my last track day at Silverstone this year.