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Brands Hatch GP 22 May 2014

brands-GPDespite recently complaining about Brands Hatch and its pricing, I none the less decided to visit and ride the GP circuit again. While the shorter Indy circuit can be a little boring, the GP circuit is faster and more interesting. No Limits were running this track day, and it featured three groups instead of the four that appears to be the norm at Brands this year.

The forecast was for a dry morning with showers after lunch. With a little luck it would be possible to get at least four dry 20 minute sessions completed before lunch. Any dry afternoon sessions would be a bonus.

After signing on, I proceeded to the mandatory noise test which is required for all bikes. The GP circuit has a static noise limit of 101dB which the Daytona passed easily despite having no baffle in its Arrow can. After visiting Silverstone twice recently, where no noise test is required, I forgot what a pain queuing up for noise testing is.

No Limits is a no nonsense track day organiser, and their briefing was short and to the point with an extended briefing for novice riders. This is a good briefing format which other circuits and track day organisers would do well to follow. Their track day format is also different in that the Inters group (which I was riding in) go out first followed by the the fast and then the novice group; most other organisers send the fast group out first.

This cause me a bit of a consternation as I was still in jeans during the briefing and I only had 10 minutes to get into my leathers before heading out for the three mandatory sighting laps! I sprinted to the van to get changed and collect my gear. The rush to get out on time meant that I had no time to switch on my data logger nor my cameras.

The first session was mostly taken up with the sighting laps, and I think we got another couple of laps after them before the session ended. I returned to the pits feeling unconfortable on the track as I couldn’t seem to find any rhythm; my riding felt a bit stop and start and I made many silly gear change mistakes including often changing down one gear too many for a couple of corners causing the back of the bike to fishtail around wildly.

In the second session, I managed to do half a lap before the session was red flagged by the most bizarre crash. Someone managed to total their bike on the long back Minter straight which leads into the Hawthorn Bend. Crashes going into corners are common, but this one occured on a long straight section of track well before the fast right hander.

As I passed the incident (which you can see above), I saw the rider lying in a foetal position at the side of the track with debris everywhere – I wished him well as I rode past. Luckily he was OK although his bike looked a complete mess. Speculation in the garages later was that the bike may have been dropping fluid and this might have been the cause of the accident.

It took a while to clear the track and cart the rider off in an ambulance. But once done, our second session was restarted afresh effectively delaying all the subsequent sessions by 20 minutes. I continued to struggle to find any decent rhythm that session and so afterwards I went down to the No Limits garage to see if I could ride with one of the instructors to get some help. In the event, I bumped into Simon, a No Limits instructor who offered to ride with me in the next session.

chainI was told to follow for a couple of laps to learn the lines and then Simon would follow to critique my riding in a debrief after the session. We managed to get two laps in before the session was red flagged because someone’s bike had thrown its chain! You can see the chain in this photo and the video below.

Following Simon was really helpful. It always amazes me how instructors ride round the circuit one handed spending 10% of their time look over the shoulder at you when you’re struggling just to keep up with them! The red flag caused us a few minutes delay in the pits while the bike and rider were recovered before we headed out again. This time Simon would follow me for the remainder of the session in which we got about another three laps in.

Talking with Simon afterwards was really interesting because although he could have faulted me on many points, he focused on two things only in order not to overwhelm me. Firstly he wanted me to concentrate on the lines through two specific corners; the lefthander at Surtees and the righthander at Sheene Curve. For Surtees he wanted me to follow the radius of the turn more instead of turning in deep, straightening the corner and then squirting straight out of it; a technique more appropriate for litre sports bikes. At Sheene Curve, he wanted me to run further over to the left on entry and carve through the corner instead of treating the corner as a 90 degree right hander (because it isn’t). He felt that improving my lines through those two corners would yield a significantly better lap.

For the session after, he wanted me to work on my body position. He confirmed what I suspected; that I am still crossed up on the bike. He noted that I generally moved my bum and legs correctly to the inside of the turn while often incorrectly positioning my head and shoulders to the outside of the turn instead of the inside where they should be. Sitting on his bike, he demonstrated that I needed to bend my arms more and move my helmet as close to my inside hand as possible; effectively forcing my torso over to the inside to position it correctly. Sorting out my body position would allow me to be more relaxed and to take corners faster with less lean angle. He did actually also compliment me on two aspects of my riding though. He was pleased that I was accelerating hard after Grahan Hill bend and changing up along the short straight and then down again for Surtees. He also was impressed that I was treating the right handed Clearways and Clarke curves as a double apex turn – this is the way he teaches students to ride that section of the track and that I was doing that without prompting.

In talking with Simon, it was obvious that here was someone with a tremendous amount of track experience who could quickly analyse a rider’s strengths and weaknesses and give bite sized chunks of information to work on. His was really was a spectacularly impressive, simple and thorough debrief. In the next session I determined to work on those two problem corners he identified and to focus more on body position in the other corners where my lines were better. I was just starting to get into it when the session ended; seemingly not long after it had started! The reason being that this session was being cut short to make up for time lost earlier in the day.

Over the lunch hour between 1 and 2pm, I nestled down in my camping chair for a rest and ended up dozing a little. I’d had a busy week, and the early start that morning contributed to a general feeling of tiredness. If I’m honest, lethargy had set in and I didn’t really feel like riding that next session after lunch although I figured that I ought to make the most of the decent weather while it lasted. While I focused on body position this time as per Simon’s advice I still found that I wasn’t travelling that smoothly round the track – the lack of rhythym had come back to haunt me again and after 15 minutes of the session with spots of rain beginning to fall, I decided that I’d had enough and headed back to the pits early before I ended up crashing. I figured a short rest and I would be good to go for the final two sessions of the day. However the weather had other plans… because just after arriving back in the garage, the heavens opened and the track was deluged with torrential rain.

With only two sessions remaining and lightening and thunder likely for the remainder of the afternoon, I decided to abandon the day and head home. If I’d been feeling less tired, I would probably have done at least part of one of those sessions in the rain to see how the Michelin Power Pilot 3’s I was running fared in the wet conditions.

My times for the day were as follows:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 7 2:02.57
3 6 2:01.18 Riding with Simon youtube
4 2 2:09.36 Short session due to earlier incident
5 6 2:06.93 Stopped early
6 – 7 Abandoned due to torrential rain

The last time I was on this circuit, I managed to post a time of 2:08, so my new fastest time that day of 2:01 (although still slow) is quite a significant improvement. Brands GP is a fantastic track – it has a little of everything; some decent straights, tricky corners and downright amazing corners like Paddock Hill at turn 1. If I’m being totally honest I now prefer faster and more open circuits like Silverstone where you have more time to relax and think between the corners but you probably learn more on these tricker circuits!

A three group track day on the Brands GP circuit is always a special treat and No Limits run their track days really well, so apart from the weather spoiling the end of the day, it ended up being a pretty successful and fun day.

So long Brands Hatch…

BrandsPit… it was good while it lasted.

No, Brands Hatch isn’t closing down. It’s just that I may not attend any of their track dates this year despite the fact that it’s a great circuit with great staff and good facilities. If you’re interested to know my reasons why then read on.

Brands Hatch’s 2014 track day calendar has recently been published and only one day time event on the Indy circuit is with three groups per hour while all the other dates are four groups per hour. As someone with a few track days under their belt (including many at Brands Hatch), I can confirm that track days with four groups per hour suck compared to ones with three groups.

Four groups per hour means another 25-30 bikes at the circuit which makes for more crowded parking lots and garages. There’s just a lot less room and longer queues for things like food and toilets.

The biggest negative about a four group per hour event is that you either get 4 x 15 sessions per hour and 7 sessions in total during the day or 5 sessions of 20 minutes for the day. Either way you get about 40 minutes less track time as a result and if you factor in more sessions with the potential for more red flags then you could end up with even less track time than that.

Two forthcoming track days at Brands are in fact being offered as three group per hour events on the longer GP circuit but they are being charged at a whopping £229 (US$ 366). That’s car track day prices! Contrast Brands GP track day prices with £149-159 (US$ 240-254) for Donington GP or £159-175 (US$ 254-280) for Silverstone GP. Whichever way you look at it, I just don’t think that riding at Brands Hatch offers the equivalent value for money.

For track day riders, there are other brilliant circuits within two hours of Brands that quite frankly offer better value for money. These include Snetterton, Bedford Aerodrome (both managed by MSV just like Brands), Silverstone and Donington (the last two of which are truly iconic).

Circuit Groups/Hr Av Cost Track Time Cost/Hr
Brands Indy 4 £99 1:40 £60
Brands GP 3 £229 2:20 £100
Silverstone Int’l 3 £139 2:20 £60
Silverstone GP 3 £167 2:20 £71
Donington GP 3 £155 2:20 £66

The Cost/Hr figure is what a rider pays to ride at the cicuit per hour of track time

The table above shows that Brands GP is worse value for money compared to the other circuits listed and you can also see how much less track time you get in a four group per hour track day and that’s without factoring in the extra bikes and bodies that cause more competition for space and facilities.

I’m not entirely convinced that this situation has come about as a result of greed either on the part of MSV or the track day organisers renting the circuit because Brands probably doesn’t have to work too hard to fill their calendar and they’re looking to earn the same fee per day regardless of the event. The track day organisers renting the track therefore either need to either sell more places or charge more.

On the Indy circuit, they know they can’t charge a lot more than they already do which is why they’ve opted for four groups per hour. On the GP circuit, some riders will pay (a lot) more for the chance to ride the GP ciruit because it only hosts one to two bike track days a year, so track day organisers can run 3 groups per hour and still be reasonably confident about selling all the places despite their eye wateringly high price tag.

If track day riders begin to avoid Brands Hatch events thereby making them less economic to operate, then MSV may need to re-think and change their prices so that the track day organisers can revert to three groups per hour at more sensible pricing. If however, riders continue to flock to Brands like lemmings then nothing will change and maybe other circuits will start to look at what Brands is doing, change their policies and/or raise their prices accordingly too.

It’s important that track day riders let organisers know that the four group format is not what they want otherwise this could be the start of a slippery slope towards less track time, more bikes at venues and higher prices.

Hopefully this won’t be the case but we’ll have to wait and see what transpires for the remainder of 2014 going into next year.

Update
It appears that Brands Hatch isn’t the only circuit operating four group sessions because the only track days available at Castle Combe are also four groups per hour at a cost of £130 for the day.

Brands Indy 17 Jul 2013 – Part 2

This is a continuation of this post.

After receiving some excellent and helpful feedback from my previous post about riding at Brands Indy, I headed to Brands again with some revised goals in order to continue to try and improve my riding and reduce my lap times. These included:

  • not rushing or charging the corners by braking earlier
  • trying to use more of the available track space on corner entry and exit
  • opening the throttle sooner in a corner in order to drive through and achieve more speed down the straight
  • improving my body position when cornering to achieve a lesser lean angle for the same corner speed

Comparing the video below with that from my previous outing at Brands I can see that I didn’t really achieve any significant improvement on the first three objectives. I also doubt that I made that much improvement on the body positioning objective either but it’s hard to realistically determine this from the video. However, one good thing that you can determine from the video is how well the external mic works at picking up the amazing sound from the 675 triple engine – a pure symphony of sound!

My lap times at Brands Indy have been pretty static at around 1:07 – 1:08 for the past two track days now, which means I’ve hit some kind of plateau. Watching videos of the day, I can see that the quicker riders are quicker because they carry more speed through the corners and onto the straight which is primarily a function of getting on the throttle earlier in the corner. If I could sort this one aspect of my riding out then I think I could probably shave anywhere up to 5 seconds a lap off my times.

Here are the session times for the day:

Session Laps Fastest Comments
1 - - Not timed
2 18 1:07.83 Timed Chrono session for regrouping
3 14 1:07.14 Running in group 2 instead of 1
4 15 1:07.49 Back in group 1
5 17 1:07.04
6 11 1:07.44
7 9 1:09.14

There are a couple of things to note about those times. Firstly that the quickest lap time of each session except the last was around 1:07. In the last session, I was both tired and wary of coming off which meant that I definitely backed off the pace a bit. Secondly the discrepancy in the number of laps. My feeling is that the time keeping wasn’t always that accurate and that in at least two of those sessions we had fewer than our alotted 20 minutes (for whatever reason).

The lack of improvement is disappointing, so let’s see if I can figure out what went wrong.

Body position

This is something I understand intellectually but I just can’t seem to get right yet. The theory is so simple:

  1. place the ball of the inside foot on the peg
  2. slide your butt over to the inside – have one cheek over the edge of the seat
  3. bend both arms ensuring that your outside arm is straighter and resting on or close to the tank
  4. pull your head and shoulder (upper body) towards the inside of the corner so that you head is inline with you inside mirror

Why is this important? Because it should allow you to carry more speed through corners with a reduced lean angle -the less lean angle you have the more power you can put down with the back wheel.

Sounds simple, so why do I struggle to sort this out? Well it appears that I have a particular aversion to right handed corners! Now this is a bit of a problem, as almost all of the race circuits in the UK run clockwise with a higher proportion of right handed corners than left.

What I’m basically doing in a right handed corner is sliding my butt over to the inside (and probably not enough) while leaving my head and shoulders nearly central over the tank which results in a twisted back and “crossed up” posture. This manifests itself quite clearly as a pain or tension in my neck and particularly on right handed corners. I think my body position on left handed corners is actually better (based on less pain in my neck!), although I don’t have any photos to confirm this.

What’s the solution? Reducing my work load in corners so that I can focus on getting my body position correct will be the simplest approach at least until this becomes more automatic. The easist way to reduce the workload in a corner is to reduce speed – I think spending one or two sessions next time out on track riding at 60-70% of my ability will allow me to devote the extra mental capacity to practicing this more effectively.

Forcing myself to slow down and ignore what else is going on track will require some discipline but I think that this is the only way I’m really going to start to make some progress. Otherwise I’m in danger of doing more track days and repeating the same mistakes endlessly.

Poor lines

Keith Code describes the racing line in a corner as that line that allows you to use the throttle most effectively. There is no one line that suits all riders for any particular corner.

I know that I need to focus on trying to find and take the best lines I can into and around the corners. Generally before a track day, I’ll do some research by watching fast group riders at the same circuit on YouTube. I try and imprint those lines in my head. However, it often happens that when I get out on track that information seems to magically disappear and I end up riding in the middle of the track again.

I’ve ridden Brands Hatch Indy several times now, and you’d have thought that the proper lines should be imprinted in my head – they’ve been shown to me on more than one occasion. But as you can see from the video, that just isn’t the case! So what’s going on? In one word speed! The faster I go on track, the more I revert to type and try to remain towards the center of the track through a combination of a lack of discipline and a strong sense of self preservation.

Moving from the middle of the track to the outside edge on corner entry feels scary – a fear that is compounded the faster you go. When I was shown the racing lines by one of the No Limits instructors at Brands Hatch GP, he made a point of going slowly for 3-4 laps so that I could really focus more of my mental capacity on learning those lines without any fear kicking in. That trick really helped me to understand what he was trying to show me and made it easier to go faster and more safely around the track for the rest of the day. I did notice myself diverging from those lines as the day wore on due to a combination of my increased speed increased and lack of attention – that speed difference was only a matter of 5-8 seconds a lap over a 2 minute lap.

Slowing down for a couple of sessions at my next track looks like a promising solution to reinforcing those lines. The lower speed will hopefully allow me to concentrate on the lines for corner entry and exit, and deal with my body position at the same time.

Using the Throttle

Using lots of throttle on the straight is easy… even I can do it! Knowing how much throttle and when to apply it in a corner is much harder. Most instructors advocate getting on the throttle as soon as you can in a corner. After braking hard for the corner, the throttle is then cracked to settle the suspension so that the weight distribution between the front and rear tyres is biased to the rear.

I seem to have (at least) two major problems with throttle usage:

  1. not using it early enough in the turn
  2. and not using enough of it as I drive out of the turn

Generally I find that the faster I approach a corner the later I get on the throttle. You’d think that this simple fact would cause me to reduce my turn entry speed so that I could overcome the two problems identified above. It is this instinct for self preservation which also prevents my opening the throttle more quickly and fully as I’m coming out of the turn.

If you watch the above video, and then compare it to a previous video from Brands, then you’ll see that I did try to approach the corners in a more controlled manner. My feeling though is that what I took for more control was in fact laziness and complacency. Let me explain…

In trying to slow down for the corner entry, I tried to brake earlier for the corners. However on reviewing some of the video, I can see that I often coasted into the corners (after braking) at only a slightly slower pace than the previous track day! It isn’t good enough to brake earlier if you then negate that by not applying the brakes hard enough so that you arrive at the corner at the lower speed you wanted in order to then drive on through the corner.

The solution? Brake early and brake hard while the bike is upright. Come off the brakes and crack the throttle to settle the suspension. Assuming that I’m then cornering at a speed that isn’t triggering all my survival instincts I should be able to roll on the throttle earlier and harder to drive out of the corners.

I’m at Silverstone GP next week and I plan to try again with these same objectives outlined at the start of this post. I have video footage following one of Silverstone’s instructors which I will study before the track day. Armed with that knowledge I intend to ride the first two sessions at around 70-80% of my ability so that I can hopefully make better progress.

On one level, this day was frustrating, but on another level it was amazing fun. You know you’re having a good time when you get back into the garage after a session with a huge grin on your face… and trust me when I tell you that this happened quite a lot!

Brands Indy 17 Jul 2013

DCIM100GOPROThis track day at Brands Indy was organised by Focused Events and was unusual in two aspects; firstly this was a “Chrono” track day which meant that all the bikes were fitted with timing transponders, and secondly the track time would run from 9am through to 8pm. The cost of the day was £145 (US$ 220) which seemed a bargain despite the fact that there were four groups.

Fitted to the top of the fork leg

Fitted to the top of the fork leg

The idea behind the Chrono day is that everyone gets sorted into the group most appropriate for their riding speed. The first session of the day involved three sighting laps followed by some free laps in whatever time remained of the session. The second morning session was timed and those times were used to regroup the riders for the sessions after lunch. Unfortunately, my transponder failed to work (or someone failed to note its times), and I found myself missing from any of the group lists after lunch!

I went to see Barry, one of the Focused Events organisers, and he put me into group 2 (inters). I suggested that I would be better off in group 1 (novice) but he said the group was full and I’d be alright in group 2 anyway. I completed one session in group 2 but found the pace intimidating as I was constantly worried about getting carved up or rear ended by someone as the whole field seemed to be passing me on a regular basis! Luckily someone else in our garage wanted to move from group 1 to 2, so we just swapped our group stickers on the front of the bike! I felt much happier in group 1 with the other novices as I tend to run about mid field in terms of lap times.

I suspect that the Chrono concept is a bit of a marketing gimic as the majority of riders will put themselves into the correct groups when they book up anyway. What it is good at doing is moving “wanna be” fast riders from the quicker to slower groups, and fast (novice track day) riders into the inters and faster groups. The Chrono timer only appear to be used for one session in the morning (see my notes below the lap times), although they do send out your lap times by email later – mine are attached below. It’s worth noting that won’t give out laps times to riders on the day as timing is generally prohibited.

Time of Day Lap Lap Tm Speed
Transponder 1xx
10:16:33 1 01:23.9 54.122
10:20:44 2 04:10.7 18.123
10:21:56 3 01:12.3 62.821
10:23:08 4 01:11.7 63.381
11:54:45 5 31:37.1 0.826
11:56:02 6 01:17.5 58.634
11:57:16 7 01:13.5 61.782
11:58:30 8 01:14.3 61.171
11:59:44 9 01:13.4 61.908
12:00:55 10 01:11.5 63.573
12:02:11 11 01:16.2 59.602
12:03:21 12 01:09.2 65.693
12:04:29 13 01:08.6 66.26
12:05:38 14 01:08.7 66.123
12:06:49 15 01:11.6 63.432
12:07:59 16 01:09.1 65.709
12:09:10 17 01:11.3 63.754
12:10:22 18 01:11.9 63.219
12:11:32 19 01:10.8 64.199
12:12:43 20 01:10.9 64.064
12:13:51 21 01:07.8 66.988
12:15:00 22 01:08.6 66.188

There are a few interesting things to note about this “Chrono” timer information:

  1. Although the laps run from 1 – 22, the time seems to span multiple sessions
  2. The time of day seems to bear no relation to any of the times I was actually out on track as my first three sessions started at 9am, 10:48 and 13:30
  3. I know I’m slow but the times reported at lap 2 and lap 5 are ridiculous!
  4. The lap times reported here for laps 6 to 22 correspond almost identically to the lap times reported by RaceChrono from session 2 except the transponder times are to the nearest 1/10th of second whereas RaceChrono reports them to the nearest 1/100th of a second

Overall I think the concept behind Chrono days is good but that its execution needs some refinement. If you have no data logger then it’s great but in my opinion you’re better off running your own logger and relying on that instead.

tommyhill-brands

Tommy Hill – poetry in motion

Tommy Hill was the guest instructor for the day, and it was an absolute pleasure being overtaken by him and watching his smooth flowing lines around the track. Off track he seemed really personable and approachable – I’m sure that those riders lucky enough to have had a session’s instruction with him will have derived quite a bit of benefit and pleasure from the experience. In the photo, I’m being passed by Tommy (immediately in front of me) at turn 3 (Graham Hill). He then proceeded to lay down a solid black line of rubber on the exit from the corner. If I had even 10% of his ability I’d be happy!

The most striking thing about the day was the temperature. It was a real scorcher with temperatures that must have been in the mid 30’s centigrade (at least). We were advised to ride with a degree of caution as the unusually high temperatures were likely make the track feel greasy. In the event that turned out to be the case with a few offs during the day including one where the bike turned into a fireball after crashing at Paddock Hill (turn 1); presumably at quite a high speed.

Bike with abandoned leathers and boots

Bike with abandoned leathers and boots

Here’s a tip for (really) hot track days… if you ride to the circuit; bring a pair of shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops so that you can get out of your leathers between sessions. Wearing leathers all day even in the shade is not fun! Many riders could be seen sporting a wide array of underwear in the garages during the day as they shed their leathers with abandon, although I did happen to notice that the female riders didn’t!

Despite the hot weather, I rate the day as brilliant. Plenty of track time with some interesting characters in the garages. I caught up with a couple of familiar faces from previous track days and it was great to shoot the breeze with them again.

After my last outing at Brands, I came with some specific areas to work on based on the feedback that I had received. Did I make progress? Well, because this post is so long, I’ll add the video, times and my assessment in this second post.