Category Archives: track

Portimao 13-16 October 2016

peter wileman photographyEveryone I have ever spoken to about Portimao circuit has raved about it. And now I was finally getting the opportunity to ride there myself. I had booked a four day event with No Limits for the middle of October for £ 650 (US$ 900) including four nights in a four star hotel near the beach in Portimao.

Day 1

Having been misdirected by my sat nav (because I punched in the wrong address), I arrived at the circuit to find that Mat had unpacked and removed his bike and some most of my gear from our shared stillage/cradle. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember what his bike looked like and it took me some time to locate it and the rest of my gear in a nearby garage. He had thoughtfully left space for my own bike alongside his, and so I went to remove it from the cradle to bring it to the garage. As I released the straps which secured the bike, I noticed that my brake lever was snapped off! Luckily with only half the lever left, I was still able to operate the brake and get the bike into the garage.

I mentioned the damage at sign on and was directed to one of the haulage guys. He noted that I was using one of the newer skinnier stillages, and that this wasn’t the first time that this has happened! They offered to replace it but only after I got back. Thankfully I had a spare with me, and with the help of another rider spent the next half hour fitting it and bleeding the brakes as a result of allowing the plunger to pop out when the old lever came off.

peter wileman photographyDuring the morning’s unloading there had been a ten minute downpour which effectively soaked the circuit. However the sun was beginning to appear and coupled with a gentle breeze we all hoped that the track would be dry before the first session at 10am. I had booked into the novice/inters group which would be first session out. The other two groups were advanced inters and fast. There were approximate 40 riders in my group and 50 in the other two. Portimao is a long, big and generally wide circuit, so that number of bikes shouldn’t really present any real problems with bunching riders.

peter wileman photographyThe briefing that morning was one of the funniest that I have heard in a long while. Matt, the instructor could definitely get a job on the comedy circuit. We were all in stiches at various parts of his talk. Not withstanding this, he did cover all the safety items and reminded riders about giving space when overtaking. No Limits are a relaxed operator and I really like the no-nonsense and efficient briefings that they give. There’s nothing worse than an operator who likes the sound of him own voice and who drones on for hours during a briefing.

Our first session would comprise three sighting laps and that would be it for the next four days. The track was still damp virtually everywhere that we could see but not wet enough to warrant the effort of fitting wet tyres. I has a brand new set of Continental RaceAttacks Endurance fitted before I came out, and knew from past experience that they give good feedback and grip even on a damp circuit.

peter wileman photographyDuring the first session, I followed a group of riders out on track being led by one of the instructors. The pace was fairly gentle which was good as the track is infinitely more confusing and technical than it appears in videos on YouTube! One thing you cannot see in those videos is just how great the elevation changes are and the different cambers of the various corners; some are off camber while other have a camber that favours faster cornering. I arrived back in the pits after that session feeling both slightly exhausted and overwhelmed.

By the third session of the day, the track was mostly dry apart from one stubborn puddle on the last left hairpin. This allowed me to gradually increase my pace each session. However, there are three blind crests that require a lot of faith in order to hold the throttle open going over them and I just wasn’t willing to do so and ended up backing off on these approaches as I was still apprehensive. I therefore decided to get some help and caught up with Matt, one of the No Limits instructors who also runs Smallboy Bike Hire and he offered to ride around in the fifth session with me. I followed him for three laps; watching his lines, I realised just how much more of the width of the track he was using in places, and also how much more efficient he was in not using the space unnecessarily. Despite riding at the same pace around the track, I would always struggle to keep up through the tight right handers; two of which occur before the big blind crests. The session was really useful and it gave me more confidence to attack some of the corner more aggressively. He also kindly offered to ride with me for the final session of the day to see if I managed to make any improvement.

I returned to the pits after the penultimate session of the day to see my bike leaking coolant (glycol) from the belly pan. After removing the lower fairing, I could see that the leak originated from one of the jubilee clips that I had removed the previous week. Tightening it up and running the engine at idle for three fan on/off cycles showed me that there were no further leaks with the system fully pressurised. Phew! Glycol based coolant on your back wheel is a recipe for a nasty crash; either for you or any hapless rider that happens to be following.

peter wileman photographyIn the final session, I rode managed my first overtake on the outside of a reasonably fast rider on a Honda CBR1000 approaching the start finish straight on the scarily fast long right handed corner. In the debrief, Matt said “fair dues” for that pass and confirmed that I had made a significant 6 second improvement dropping my lap time from around 2:30 to 2:24 which I was pleased with, although the time was a long way off where I wanted to be.

Day 2

The first session of the day was both bright and slightly chilly (12C). I was aware of the risk of a crash in the first few laps due to the colder track temperatures, however that was made up by the fact that most of the group either hadn’t turned up at the circuit yet, or were waiting for the second session. This gave me a perfect opportunity to focus on my lines with worrying about other riders either ahead of me or behind me.

peter wileman photographyMatt’s advice the previous day had been to get off the bike more, especially on the right handed turns (a particular weakness of mine) in order to get the bike upright sooner and to get on the power harder. By the end of the day, I found that I was becoming more comfortable with the right handed turns; both the tight ones, and the longer faster ones. I was also starting to learn the track better which allowed me to keep the power on longer over the blind and unsighted portions of the track. At Portimao, quite a few of the trickier parts of the track are unsighted amd a large degree of knowledge and confidence is required to tackle them as you are often riding outside of your comfort zone on blind faith.

By the final session of the day, I got the opportunity to ride with Matt for some more instruction. Despite him riding at a consistent pace, there were a few sections of the track where he would still drop me as I struggled to match his pace. In the debrief afterwards, he had a go at me for not being more aggressive/confident when overtaking slower riders who were holding me up, and also for braking too early and continually coasting into corners. He suggested working on those two aspects in the remaining two days. To be honest, I think he was slightly disappointed by my riding, but that was probably highlighted by the fact that he had just been coaching some fast group riders that afternoon who would have been significantly faster than my pace.

I drove away from the track that night determined to be more aggressive in overtaking while still ensuring that I didn’t put any other rider at risk, to try braking later and harder, and to get on the gas earlier once past the apex of a corner.

Day 3

Purchased some DOT 4 brake fluid in order to bleed the brakes on the way to the circuit, but when I went to test the brake lever, it felt better than the day before. To be honest, I didn’t really notice any fade in the previous two days riding despite the slight sponginess of the lever, so I decided that I would leave the brakes alone instead of potentially making them worse by failing to bleed any remaining air out of them, or introducing even more!

peter wileman photographyFor the second session, I asked Mat who parked alongside me in the garage if he would mind filming me for that session. He was happy to because he had left his own GoPro camera at home, and was happy to get a few laps of himself riding. During that session I made a real effort to hang off the bike both on left and especially right handed turns, and I thought that I was doing well based on what I felt on track.

However after I reviewed the footage, I was surprised to see I hardly looked like I was moving around the bike at all. This just make me more determined to get off the bike more in order to keep it more upright in the turns which would allow me to get on the gas sooner in the following sessions. Over the course of the day, I found that the right handed turns were becoming less difficult, and by the end of the day I was pretty much dragging my right knee on both the slow/tight and long/fast corners everywhere on the track.

Just before lunch that, two riders in the fast collided at over 100 mph on the approach to the start-finish straight. I was in the canteen at the time, and heard the sound of screeching metal as one of the bikes launched itself into the air and proceeded to try and destroy itself as it cartwheeled down the straight. Although both riders were injured; one with minor damage, the other was taken to hospital with broken ribs and a punctured lung. He ended up in Intensive Care but thankfully was expected to make a full recovery.

Despite my efforts that day, I just could not improve on a 2:23 time; having hit yet another plateau in my riding. Part of this was due to the fact that the higher speeds down the start-finish straight were making the corner entry into turn 1 at the end more difficult. This corner has an unsighted left hand edge as you peel in the for the first right turn (at turn 2) and it constantly threw me causing me back off too much. The other corner that I struggled with was the long fast right hander onto the start-finish straight. To attack this corner requires balls of steel. I know that it’s possible to take it much faster than I was able to based on the fact that I occasionally got passed on the outside of the corner but I just didn’t trust myselt to take it any faster than I was already doing. It is possible to make up quite a bit of time if you can attack that final corner and it was something that I would continue to work on for the rest of the trip.

Day 4

Like the previous day, the first session of the day was notable for the lack of riders. I think quite a few were nursing hangovers from the previous evening’s partying. Quite by accident, I found myself at the start of the group lined up in the pits. As we pulled off, I expected to be overtaken pretty quickly, however no one passed me for two laps. The lack of traffic in front of me allowed me to focus on my lines without getting baulked by slower riders. The session was great fun especially as I managed to tag some of the faster riders that did eventually overtake me. This would normally happen on the start-finish straight where my Daytona would give away a 40-70 horsepower deficit. The faster bikes would easily manage 160+ mph down that straight while I was only able to manage 130+ mph.

peter wileman photographyAlthough the first session felt fast, I remained at a 2:23 laptime. After the session, I was chatting with one of the faster group riders about hitting a plateau when he suggested braking earlier for turn 1 and trying to carry more speed into turns 2 and 3. I determined to give this a go in the next session. As before I made a point of lining up in the pits ahead of the other bikes in the group and again I remained at the head of the group for the first two laps fully utilising the clear track ahead of me. I make a point of braking slightly earlier for turn 1 and forcing myself to release the front brake even when I wanted to keep it applied. In addition I drove the bike on the power towards turn three (the tight right right hander), and then slowed down more in order to pull the bike right to straightline the left hander at turn four. I also endeavoured to drive the bike down the hill in the final right hander before the start-finish straight. Something must have worked because I got back to the pits to find that I has just shaved 3 seconds off my previous best time to deliver a 2:20! I was really pleased with such a dramatic improvment in just one session from trying three new things!

I never managed to improve on that time for the rest of the day; mostly because tiredness after nearly four days on track was starting to take its toll. In fact I abandoned the final three sessions of the day because I felt that I was becoming increasingly at risk of having an accident due to wandering attention.

Summary

peter wileman photographyPortimao circuit is like a rollercoaster ride with huge elevation changes, short tight and long fast corners, and many blind sections of track. It is probably the most demanding and exciting track that I have ever ridden at and is now a firm favourite. The track facilities are on par with Silverstone in the UK but with even better marshalling and use of flags. The track is slightly bumpy in places but was never so bad that you don’t want to ride there. In terms of pace the fastest riders were lapping in the low 1:50’s, and the advanced inters were lapping at 2:00 to 2:05’s. The pace in our novice/inters group varied from around 2:40 to 2:12’s.

In the whole four days there were very few red flags and the atmosphere among the riders was really good. This wass probably one of the most relaxed track days that I have been on, and it was a testament to No Limits ethos of a light touch and a focus on track time. With the sunshine holding for all four days and temperatures in the low 20’s centigrade during the day, it is hard to imagine that this event could have been bettered.

I am already planning my return to this circuit for the same time next year and I cannot wait to get back and have a go at reducing my lap time to somewhere below a 2:14. Maybe with some practice at other UK circuits in 2017 before I return, this is an achieveable ambition.

If you’ve been wondering whether to visit Portimao, do so – you won’t be disappointed.

You can see a gallery of photos from the trip here

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.

DSC_0004

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.

Silverstone GP 21 June 2016

DSC_0010_CAnother track day at Silverstone GP, and only a month after my last visit – I guess that I must really like this circuit! Unlike my last visit, this ‘Chrono’ event was organised by Focused Events and cost £169 (US$ 270) for 7 sessions with three groups.

In the days leading up to this track day, the weather forecast had been pretty poor and so I was pleasantly surprised to be driving to the circuit in dry and warm conditions. I arrived in the paddock just before 7am to find many of the garages already well occupied. I located one for myself and a friend who would be joining me later with his Ducati Panigale 1299S. I didn’t expect to have much of a chance of keeping up with him on track because 1) he’s a faster rider than me and 2) has a 75+ horsepower advantage too! We were also joined by a friend of his riding a Ducati 848 EVO who turned out to be faster than both of us.

We were all booked into the Inters group but could be changing groups after the third session due to the use of transponders to re-order the groups by speed (lap times). This is the ‘Chrono’ aspect of a Focused Events trackday – the first two sessions are timed and those times are used to re-order the groups after lunch.

The first session comprised three sighting laps after which we returned to the pits. Instead of being allowed back out for the remaining 8 minutes of the session, we were directed back to our garages. This is a major change from No Limits who only require two sighting laps before being allowed to continue on track for the remainder of the first session.

On my previous track day, I has been running Pirelli Supercorsas; with an SC1 on the front and an SC2 on the rear. However some other 675.cc members (instructors and racers) recommended the Continental RaceAttacks as a serious alternative. Since this are about 30% cheaper than the Supercorsas and come in an Endurance (think of it as an SC2.5) they are better value for money too as they should survive more heat cycles and mileage before needing changing. As before I was running tyre warmers and ran 31 psi hot on the front and 28 psi hot on the rear (both pressures are measured when the tyres are fully heated using the warmers).

In the second session, we both left the pits together and although I departed in front, I felt that it was only a matter of time before the 1299 would come charging past me. Sure enough, about halfway round that first lap, I saw a red missile streak past me, however I quickly repaid the favour by passing into the next corner. I then got caught up behind two other riders and the Ducati tore away again. After that trying to keep up was a lost cause although I tried anyway. At the end of the session, we both arrived back in the pits sweating buckets and raving about the track conditions as they were pretty much perfect.

In the third session, we realised that we would have to maintain a reasonable pace to avoid being dropped from the inters back to the novice group after lunch. With that in mind, I did my best to try and keep up with the Ducati but wasn’t able to do so (yet again!). However the sight of it in the distance was enough to keep me focused on riding as quickly as I could. It must have worked because I consistently managed a 2:47 for the second session, and a 2:48 for the third (which you can see below).

After the lunch break, we went to find the rider’s lists with the new groupings. I couldn’t find myself in group 1 (novice) and therefore assumed I’d survived in group 2 (inters). But then I couldn’t see my name on that list either! I finally spotted my name in the group 3 (fast) list although I was quite dubious as to whether that was correct. It turned out that the timings were completely screwed up because some really fast group riders had been moved to the novice group and slow riders to the fast group. I didn’t want to move groups and so went to find the organisers. When I got there I saw another 50 riders complaining about the new groupings and the fact that something pretty fundamental had gone wrong. As a result, Barry from Focused Events, announced that riders could stay in their original groups if they wished. The net effect of this was that many riders moved from group 1 and group 3 into our group which had the effect of making it much busier compared to the other groups. Unfortuantely, this isn’t the first time that I have experienced a mistake with the Chrono system not that it really mattered as I got to stay in group 2 anyway.

One feature of this track day was how tired I became towards the end of each session. On more than one occasion I was on the point of returning to the pits in order to avoid making a mistake due to tiredness or lack of concentration when the chequered flag magically appeared to signal the end of the session.

During the first and second session, I had been a little tentative on the new Continental RaceAttacks. However as the day wore on, I was astounded at the levels of grip that they offered. The Endurance compound gave astonishing levels of grip at both the front end and the rear. I really think that they are as good as the Pirelli Supercorsas that I had been using previously and I would have no hesitation recommending them.

As they day wore on, my lap times started to slow down through a combination of tiredness and getting caught behind slower riders in the group. So by the final session, I decided to concentrate on my lines and not worry about trying to get a fast lap time. During the day, I had met up with another member from the 675.cc forum and I offered to show him my lines as he said that he kept getting lost on the circuit.

I mentioned that I was going to reduce my pace and work on my lines; and I made a point of riding more slowly down the straights to give him a chance to catch me if he needed it. There was no way that I was going to spend any time looking behind me to see where he was! I shouldn’t have worried because he passed me after a lap and a half and I had to work really hard to keep him in view. We caught up by on the forum later and he thanked me for my effort commenting that my lines were better in a few corners. He also added that he only outbraked me when passing because “… you were smoother if I’m honest”. What’s really interesting about that session, however, is that I felt I was riding at a pretty sedate pace compared to earlier sessions especially since I was not caning the bike down the straights; yet I was only 3 seconds slower that my fastest lap earlier in the day! It just shows how paying attention to lines and maintaining corner speed really is the key to a faster lap.

There were only a few red flags and serious incidents; apart from some prize knob diving for the apex and threatening to t-bone me when I was fully committed to the corner coming onto the Wellington Straight. In taking evasive action, I was forced off the track across that grass but was thankfully able to keep the bike upright. I never found the rider but I would have given him a piece of my mind if I had managed to. You can the near miss below and although it doesn’t look that close, it was close enough!

All in all, this was a brilliant track day. Perfect weather, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Really looking forward to returning again soon.

Silverstone GP 25 May 2016

DSC_0012_4Another track day at Silverstone on the GP circuit organised by No Limits. Having been on this circuit a few times before, I normally ride in the Inters group however it was fully booked and so I booked a place in the Novice group because it still had some spaces available. I hoped to be able to move up a group during the day although there is no guarantee that this would happen. This track day with No Limits cost £169 (US$270) but had the advantage that instruction is available for free.

Being the end of May I had hoped that the weather would be sunny and warm. No such chance though because the weather was cold and overcast on the drive to the circuit at 6am. We were allocated the old (National) pits for the day and I was amazed at just how many cars and vans were already in the paddock area at 7am – it looked like the day was going to be a busy one! Having set up in one of the garages, I went off to sign in where I asked about the possibility of moving up a group but was told to ask again nearer lunch time as all the groups were currently full.

The order of the groups out on track was Inters, Novice and then Fast – the fast group going last because noise testing is now mandatory at Silverstone for the fast group; presumably on the basis that many of the bikes are race spec machines with loud exhausts. Silverstone also operates drive by noise monitoring and if caught exceeding the noise, you will be black flagged. Whether you get banned or not depends on individual circumstances including whether you had a baffle in at the time or not. If not, then that could be the end of the day for you.

Fine rain had started before the first session started but the track still looked dry. However as bikes came in after just three sighting laps, you could see that their tyres were shiny from the wet. As we went out for our sighting laps, the rain started to get a little heavier and I wondered if I should have switched from my Pirelli Supercorsa’s to the full wets which I also had with me. In fact the pace of the sighting laps was slow enough that there was no problem cornering while keeping the bike fairly upright. The sighting lap pace had been so slow that we just managed one more lap after the sighting lap before being called in again.

DSC_0011_4Back in the pits, I wondered about switching to wets, but figured that the first session on a wet-ish track has actually been OK, and since the rain looked like it might be abating, I decided to remain on the Supercorsas. In the second session, I found that there was much more grip available that I thought, even though my visor was getting spattered with water. I was able to manage a pace that allowed me to overtake most of the group before joining a five bikes that were running at the same pace and seemingly at the head of the group. During that session, my track sticker for the novice group flew off the front of the bike which gave me an excuse to go and speak to the organisers again.

While wandering over to their pits, I bumped into Del, one of No Limits instructors who offered to ride with me in the next session. He didn’t seem to keen to ride with me in the novice group on safety grounds, so offered to speak with one of the organisers. The result was that I got moved up a group. Having ridden with him recently, he remembered most of my faults, and reminded me to try and make full use of the track, and to try and maintain as much corner speed as I could. We agreed that I would follow for two laps after which I would lead and he would come past again if there was something specific he wanted to point out. You can see this session below – the beginning is worth watching to see Del’s lines and one handed riding around corners at a speed that I couldn’t hope to match while clinging on the bike with two hands!

Watching the video back, I can see that although I am improving, I’m still not making full use of the available track and I’m probably still slowing too much for some of the corners – I often found myself halfway round corners (Luffield and Stowe) thinking that I could have gone faster instead of washing so much speed off on the corner entry. Catching up with Del later, he confirmed much the same. He suggested continuing to practice in the new few sessions and then to catch up towards the end of the day to see how I was getting on.

Although the day remained overcast and cold, the levels of grip from the track was good. In the following sessions, I made a point of trying to use more of the track but never managed to get close to the 2:49 time that I managed in the session with Del. Following an instructor forces you to concentrate on the lines and to maintain a higher corner speed that I would normally try. Without that guidance, I slowly found myself lapsing back into some old habits ending some 7-9 seconds off my earlier pace. In my faster sessions, I was able to keep pace with many of the bikes on track including the 1000’s, but as my pace dropped I found myself being overtaken more and more.

After re-fueling the bike for the final session, I thumbed that starter button to give the engine time to warm up before hitting the track. The engine turned over fine but would not fire while both the oil light and EML (engine management light) remained on. After several failed attempts to start the engine, my day was definitely over. Later talking with a mechanic that worked on Daytonas, he suggested that the CPS (crank position sensor / pulse generator) may have failed. This is a pretty common failure and manifests itself in either rough running or a bike that won’t start. The bike had been running beautifully all day, so it looked I was experiencing the later symptom.

I caught up with Del to explain the situation and to thank him for his help and advice on track, before proceeding to load the van with my gear and bike. Although I was annoyed about the engine, I was grateful to have been able to ride most of the day, to have had some fantastic instruction and to have had a really enjoyable day overall. I love riding at Silverstone especially on the GP circuit, although the downside of doing so only becomes apparent when you ride a small and twisty track again and feel that you have to learn to tackle slow corners again.

Sometimes the day before a track day, as I’m gathering my gear and loading the van, I wonder why I bother getting up at 5am to get to the track for 7am as it can seem like a lot of effort. It’s only when I head home again after a great day on track that I realise why it is worth the effort. Track riding really is a lot more rewarding than riding on the road!

Donington 12 April 2016

Donington_Race_TrackDonington 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.

wetsRiding 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.

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.

Triumph Daytona 675 – the perfect track bike?

daytona-rearWhen Triumph released the Daytona 675 in 2006 to the public it took the world by storm. Here was a small British manufacturer taking on the Japanese in one of the most fiercely contested market segments; the midweight 600 class and smashing the competition into oblivion. This really was Triumph’s finest hour, demonstrating a practical application of Britain’s first class engineering heritage to the world.

Just as Supermarine combined a phenomenal engine package in the Merlin engine with a ground breaking airframe to produce the superlative Spitfire before World War II, Triumph achieved their own victory by designing a phenomenal 675 triple engine married to a staggeringly composed and responsive chassis.

d675The Daytona 675 exceeds the sum of its parts however because it has another quality that is often lacking in Japanese motorcycles. That quality is character. It’s not easy to define, but you’ll recognise it as soon as you ride a Daytona 675. You’ll appreciate the phenomenal torque delivered by its three cylinder engine across the rev range, the howl from the exhaust as you surge towards the redline, and the complete composure of its chassis regardless of road or track conditions. Nothing, in the midweight class, could compete with the package offered by Triumph in the Daytona 675 and it went on to win both Supertest and Masterbike’s prestigious awards in the Supersport class two years in a row (in 2006 and 2007).

The Daytona 675 went through two signficant iterations in 2009 and then 2011 before being completely revamped in 2013.

2006- First incarnation
2009- Headlamp/fairing redesign, less weight, +3bhp, new top end, lighter wheels, improved suspension and brakes
2011- Introduction of the 675R. Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes
2013- Complete re-design

1GG_0863Track and road riding are two different disciplines. Riders that are new to the track benefit from smaller capacity bikes that don’t overwhelm their abilities. Many experts suggest that a 400cc four, or 600cc twin is the perfect bikes on which to learn track craft. These types of bike force you to focus on corner speed and the maintenance of momentum; all of which contribute to increased confidence, ability and ultimately faster lap times.

Once you start to acquire those track skills, you will want a more powerful machine. This is where any Supersport category motorcycle will meet that need. In the hands of an accomplished rider a 600cc machine will anihilate a less capable rider on a bigger machine despite giving away 40-80 horsepower.

The key attributes of a track motorcycle are:

– designed for track use
– relatively low cost (both to buy and maintain)
– easy to upgrade
– cheap to repair with wide availability of new and used spares

So are all 600cc motorcycles from 2000-2010 the same? In short “no”. In order to win races, Japanese motorcycles have chased more horsepower with ever increasing red lines and narrower power bands as a by product. If you exit a corner in the wrong gear on a Japanese Supersport bike, you will be eaten alive the bikes following behind.

RYE_6275Triumph’s 675 triple engine nearly matches the Japanese in headline horsepower but it delivers usuable power right across the rev range. Invariably this means nearly double the available torque at 5000RPM. This is what gives the Daytona 675 so much usuable drive out of corners and is what makes the bike so forgiving to less experienced riders.

To be honest a 750cc motorcycle is probably the capacity bike for track use because it affords a combination of 600cc handling combined with 1000cc like engine performance. Of all the Supersport bikes from the noughties (2000-2009), the Daytona 675 is probably the closest match to a 750 – a fact borne out in many head to head comparisons with Suzuki’s GSXR750 where the Daytona 675 regularly turns in faster lap times.

Are you sold on the Daytona 675? If so, which model should you buy?

My advice would be to go for the 2009-2012 models. If you can find an “R” model, so much the better. The newer 2013+ models are both more expensive, less easily tuned and will have less second hand part availability. It’s worth noting that there is almost complete parts interchangeability between the 2006-8 and 2009-12 models which gives access to a huge set of available parts and spares.

My own track bike is a 2009 Daytona 675 on which I have done nearly 3000 track miles! Over the past two years I have made the following changes to the bike (incrementally):

520 chain conversion: -1/+2 gearing change for better drive
suspension: new K-Tech springs and valves (front) and K-Tech 35DDS lite rear shock
slipper clutch: swapped for a 2013 slipper clutch

Apart from using increasingly stickier track tyres each season, I don’t have any further immediate upgrade plans, although a removal of the catalytic converter and a remap on a dyno are on the cards.

I sometimes wonder about changing my Daytona for something else… but then I realise that this bike does everything that I ask of it so well that I’m pretty sure I would only be disappointed by something else. Plus I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on the howl and crackle emerging from its Arrow exhaust as I drive from corner to corner!

Silverstone GP 30 September 2015

SilverstoneGPIt has been nearly four months since my last track day and so I was really looking to riding Silverstone’s GP circuit as my final track day this year. This event was organised by No Limits; a company whose ethos seems to be giving good value for money and lots of track time. The day cost £155 (US$ 250) and we would be using the same track configuration and pits as the BSB field that would be arriving the following day to set up for the penultimate 2015 series event.

The weather forecast for the day was good with sunshine predicted and no showers. I arrived at the track just after 7am after an hour’s drive and was surprised to see how full the paddock was. When I had made the booking a couple of weeks earlier, there were plenty of free spaces but with the draw of a great circuit and good weather it looked like the event would be full instead.

I unloaded the bike and kit into one of the garages that had a mix of road bikes, track bikes and race bikes; one of which was showing signs of recent offs with scratched fairings held together with cable ties. I grabbed a space near a power socket and set my bike on its stands with the tyre warmers on. The air and track temperature were definitely on the cold side so I elected to use cold tyre pressures of 29psi in the rear and 31psi in the front before switching the warmers on.

The briefing at 8:30 was the usual affair and was thankfully short and to the point. It’s refreshing to get a briefing that focuses on giving important information without the waffle given by those that like the sound of their own voice. Unusually for Silverstone, static noise testing was required for the fast group; probably on the basis that many of the fast group bikes are race bikes and likely to be noisy.

The race Fireblade with an Akropovic exhaust parked next to me in the garage failed the noise test and its owner had to go and buy a baffle for the pipe. Even with the baffle fitted, he only just managed to squeeze under the noise limit; probably because Silverstone required the bike to be revved to 7,500rpm instead of the more usual 5,500-6,500 like other circuits. When queried about the higher revs, the noise tester claimed that Silverstone were leading the way in championing more stringent noise regulations!?! If they are not too careful, they will start losing all their customers.

As usual, I was in the Inters group for this circuit and ours was to be the first group out on track for three sighting laps before continuing the remainder for the 20 minute session. We were scheduled to have 7 x 20 minute sessions with a one hour lunch break between 1 and 2pm, but my feeling is that 6 x 25 minute sessions and no lunch is much better on such a long circuit; a format used by Silverstone themselves for their own track days. The order on track would be Inters, then Novices followed by the Fast group.

The first session didn’t produce any surprises during the sighting laps however once they were out of the way and the pace increased, I seemed to be passed by quite a few riders including two packs of 4-5 riders. Their pace was so rapid that I wondered if they shouldn’t have been in the fast group. I suspect that riders will book into any group that has availability when their normal group is full and this was the case for some of these riders. The others were probably “heros” that wanted to spend their whole time overtaking all the other riders in the group.

After returning to the pits, I went to speak with the tyre man as I had had two slides from the rear; one coming onto the Hanger Straight and the other on the left hand exit from the Aintree corner before it joins the Wellington Straight. He reminded me that the track was still cold but that I should aim for hot tyre pressures of 31psi in the rear and 33psi in the front for the Pirelli Rosso Corsa tyres that I was using. He reminded me that the pressures should be checked after the tyres have been warmed up with the tyre warmers and resulted in me needing to take about 2psi out of both tyres.

For the second session, I set up my cameras and data logger using the Garmin Glo GPS receiver. The session went well and I noticed that I was braking deeper into the turns compared to me last visit although I may have been scrubbing off more speed than I wanted through the corners as a result. I was curious to see how I has done in terms of times for that session but discovered the the Garmin GPS has malfunctioned with the data logger showing a single lap of 4:07… despite the fact that I has been around the circuit at least four times. I switched the GPS and data logger off in order to reset them both for the next session.

I had asked Del one of No Limits instructors to help me with my riding in the third session, and we joined the circuit at the back of the first pack to head out. I had last ridden with Del at Donington back in March and was looking forward to riding with him again. The plan was that I would follow him for one or two laps to see his lines and then he would follow to see how I was doing.

The session was running late as a result of someone’s engine blowing up and putting oil on the track after Stowe in the previous fast group session. Eventually we were allowed out and I followed Del as closely as I could. I started off reasonably well until we got to Stowe corner at the end of the Hanger Straight. Del peeled into the right turn while I nearly ended up running off the track as a result of not concentrating properly. Looking back on it now it seems quite funny now, but it didn’t at the time!

The result was that Del backed off the pace more which wasn’t what I wanted, although to be fair, I couldn’t keep up with him through the corners anyway. This is another area that I will still need to work on more in the future. While following Del, I also noticed that I was still making the rookie mistake of turning into the corners too early. After two laps following Del, he waved me past and I tried to remember as much as I could as I led for the remainder of the session. This turned out to be just one more lap as the session was shortened because of the original delay at the start.

During that session I managed to post a 2:55 minute session, just 3 seconds slower than my best time at this circuit. I was pleased with that although I never managed to repeat it again that day. During the debrief Del thought that I had ridden reasonably well, and that the corner speed I was after would come with more practice and application. He also mentioned how “smooth” I had been riding around; something echoed by other instructors I have ridden with. Perhaps “smooth” means “slow”?

These are my lap times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - 3 sighting laps
2 ? GPS failed
3 3 2:55 GPS failed youtube
4 ? GPS failed
5 4 3:00.69
6 4 3:03.00
7 3 3:01.56

While I was slightly frustrated that I couldn’t get close to a lap time around 2:50 that day, I did feel that I made some good progress. I was definitely braking later into the corners and was using the gearbox more and with slicker gear changes. I also noticed that I was running out of revs down the Hanger Straight and might now fit a rear sprocket with one less tooth (down from 49 to 48) to give me 3-4% more top end speed which should equate to about 145mph (as measured by GPS).

I also discovered that the Garmin Glo GPS receiver had packed up during the next session that I tried using it again, so I removed it from the bike and replaced it with the QStarz 818 unit which has never let me down. I got rock solid reading from the QStarz for the final three sessions. The Garmin may be headed for Ebay as it has let me down too many times now. I think its a fairly poorly designed device with a terrible on/off switch which probably contributes to it having no battery power when you need it.

The combination of weather, good organisation by No Limits, great people to talk to in my garage and being back on track after a long lull made for a brilliant track day and a perfect way to end my 2015 track season.

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.

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.