Tag Archives: Silverstone international

Silverstone Int’l 2 May 2014

Arriving at Silvestone at 7:30am under a cold overcast grey sky, the weather couldn’t have been more different from my last outing here two weeks previously. With Andy’s help, I had made good progress riding a little faster on this circuit. This time I would be riding on my own trying to put some of the pointers that Andy gave me into practice and I was curious to see just how much more progress on my own.

The track day comprised three groups; novice (group 1), inters (group 2) and fast/advanced (group 3). The fast group contained many racers as BEMSEE would be racing on the same International circuit the following weekend. I signed on, to be greeted by Neil and Joe, two of Silverstone’s friendly instructors who have both helped me in the past with instruction and tips. I think they were a little surprised to see me back again so soon!

D675-tyre-warmersSince borrowing a set of tyre warmers last time out, I was sold on the concept of using them and brought my own set of Diamond ones and paddock stands. After unloading my bike and gear and getting everything set up, I headed over to the briefing. Luckily this one was a shorter and more to the point one than the previous one two weeks earlier!

Being in the middle group, we were out after the fast boys. The track still had a few damp patches on it and looked cold. I had a feeling that my warm tyres would lose most of their heat after the three sighting laps and the short return to the pit lane prior to heading out for the remainder of the session again. While the sighting laps proceeded without incident, the mayhem really started when we returned to the track for the rest of the session. On the first lap back on track, someone overtook me on the grass going into the Vale! I’m surprised that they thought I wouldn’t stay to the right of the track on the corner entry before flicking left for the chicane.

The first session was carnage. Three offs and a red flag terminated the session; the result of some spectacularly bad riding. Talking with Joe afterwards, he figured that this was the first time that some riders had been on track this year and their excitement was getting the better of them. He hoped for calmer riding after lunch when people had a few sessions under their belt and stodgy food to slow them down.

KR1-250A 250 two stroke was parked next to me in the garage. Its owner had only just fitted its newly rebuilt engine the night before. You don’t often see two strokes on track days, and this one was lovely despite the fact that it has been created from a selection of different models and makes of bike! I offered to follow and film him for as long as I could keep up with him. On track, I found keeping up with him harder than I thought because although it was relatively easy to catch him on the straights, he literally flew through the corners!

Unfortunately his bike only managed three laps before his engine seized going into Stowe at the end of the long Hanger straight. You can see those laps and the effects of the engine seizing in the above video. Despite the rear wheel locking up, he managed to save it and avoid a tumble. He also seemed pretty cheerful when he returned to the pits considering what had just happened.

Although Joe had offered to ride with me for a bit in the second session, with one thing and another we didn’t manage to hook up until the third session. Following him that session, I managed to reduce my lap time from my best the previous fortnight by a full second again and that was in a session with lots of other traffic on track. In the debrief that followed, Joe indicated that I needed to try and improve my consistency following my lines from lap to lap and to get really try to get on the gas earlier in the corner exit. One benefit of a Daytona 675 with an Arrow pipe is that anyone following you can hear as soon as the throttle is opened up hard so Joe was easily able to tell when I was (or wasn’t) opening the throttle. He suggested going out in the next session on my own and concentrating on those two areas.

The next session didn’t particularly feel any faster than the others. However I did notice that I was overtaking quite a few more riders than I had in the previous sessions. On returning to the pits, I found that I had just shaved another 2.5 seconds off my previous best time!

That session is shown above – it was the last before lunch and my best session of the day as it turned out.

After lunch, Joe found me on the track and tagged along for a bit, before leading me around again. At one point on track he came past on the Hanger straight giving me a big thumbs up. Chatting afterwards, he said that my exit out of the tight right hander on to Hanger Straight was light years better than before – he could hear me opening the throttle earlier and harder than in the previous sessions. In fact, he jokingly remarked that he actually had to open the throttle fully on his GSXR750 to catch me, which was the first time that day! I didn’t manage to better my time from the previous session but was still pleased with the progress I had made.

silverstone-intlThe other aspect of my riding that Joe mentioned was body position when I complained about finding it really hard to match the radius of his turns at speed. He reminded me of the need to loosen up above the waist and drop my inside shoulder towards the corner far more than I was currently doing. The more weight I shifted to the inside of the turn and the lower that weight, the tighter a turn I should be able to make for less lean angle. Looking at my tyres, Joe reminded me that there was more lean to be had from them and that this coupled with a more open throttle mid turn would allow for higher speeds through the faster turns like Stowe, Club and Abbey. One final thing he picked me up on was having my feet too far forward in the footpegs; something that came back to bite me the very next session!

Over lunch, I’d been chatting with two riders riding Suzuki SV650s. One was riding in the fast group lapping at 1:16!! The other, Del, was hoping to start racing this year, and as I had passed him earlier in the day on track, I offered to follow and film him as best I could for the sixth session. We managed to get one lap in before it was red flagged. After a few minutes delay back in the pits, we were allowed out on track again. Despite the fact that the SV only makes 70bhp compared to the Daytona’s 112bhp following Del proved to be a lot harder than I thought. He was really quick on the gas coming out of the corners as you can see in the video below.

During that session, I managed to catch my toe when cranked over to the right going through the Village right/left complex. That silly body positioning mistake coupled with my general tiredness made me decide to stop for the day before I had an accident during the next and final session of the day. I had been riding harder (and faster) than ever before on this circuit and the pace had taken more out of me than I previously realised. I was happy to head home with myself and the bike in one piece.

My times for the day were as follows:

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 6 1:32.86 youtube
3 9 1:31.86 Riding with Joe
4 13 1:29.38 youtube
5 10 1:31.6 Riding with Joe again
6 8 1:31.07 youtube

The quick witted among you may have noticed the discrepancy between the times reported in the table above and those shown in the video overlays. This happens because RaceChrono is using the mid-corner at Stowe as the start-finish line, while the video overlay is using the first line on the start-finish straight after Club alongside the new Wing complex.

This track day was a lot busier than my previous visit in the Inters group. It also had some pretty fast riders; some of whom were so excited to be on track (probably for the first time this year) that it looked as though they’d forgotten to bring their brains with them. This probably explained some of the offs and red flags. Thankfully no one got hurt.

Silverstone is really starting to feel like a second home to me. Hooking up with Neil and Joe again was great fun – the instructors at Silverstone really are a great bunch of guys. I’m especially grateful to Joe who helped me so much throughout the day. As I drove home in the van the evening, I reflected on how much fun I’d had and how much I’d learnt. I’m back again in four weeks time on Silverstone’s GP circuit and I can’t wait!

Silverstone Int’l 14 Apr 2014

silverstone-intlWaking up on a sunny Monday morning, the portents for a great track day were looking good. I had also arranged to have a day’s instruction with Andy Taylor of Real Roads fame. We first met on a track day at Brands Hatch back in October 2012 when he instructed me on what was to be my first track day in nearly 20 years.

This track day at Silverstone on the International Circuit was my first of 2014 in the UK. This was a three group track day with two novice groups and one inters/fast group. I booked into the Inters group although I was slightly apprehensive about being out with much faster riders. After arriving at the track, my suspicions were confirmed as I spotted a race team unloading two bikes from a large van.

Soon after arriving, I met Andy in the paddock. He should have been ridding his new GSXR750 track bike which had recenty replaced his CBR600RR, however that bike was out of action due to a fairing mix up. The supplier had sent an incorrect fairing which Andy only discovered after painting it and trying to fit it to his bike! As a result, he would be riding his road going Fireblade instead. As we were chatting, he mentioned its Yoshimura exhaust pipe, however I didn’t really understand the significance of that conversation until later in the morning.

This was to be my first track day using tyre warmers as Andy had kindly brought a spare set with him for me to try. I was dubious of their benefit as I normally allow one to two laps to get the tyres up to temperature before trying to up my pace. However I could really feel the difference the warmers made as I left the pit exit. The tyres just felt both different and better than they would have when cold and that meant that I could open the taps up after the first three turns through the Village complex leading on to the Hanger Straight.

A a result, I’m now a convert! Even running a set of Michelin Pilot Power supersport tyres, I think it’s worth the hassle of tyre warmers as you probably get an extra lap each session because you can get on the pace that much faster. You also don’t get sucked in to continuing to ride at a slower pace for the whole session after your warm up laps.

There were to be four 20 minute sessions before lunch and three after lunch. Our plan was to ride independently for the first and last session of the day and for Andy to eiher follow or lead for the five intermediate sessions with a debrief after each one. The morning’s rider briefing seemed to drag on longer than usual – I suspect this was because of safety concerns with two novice groups on the day. In the event, this meant that we were still scrambling into our our leathers immediately after the briefing as our session, the first of the day, was about to start. For one reason or another this seemed to be a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the day – I seemed to be constantly coming from behind trying to get out on track on time!

SilverWingPitThe first session was great. It was brilliant being out on the fantastic Silverstone International circuit in such glorious weather. My plan for the session was to try and brake later for the corners and not to fall off! In terms of pace I was definitely running near the bottom of the group and it was quite humbling to see just how much faster and smoother the quicker riders were. However, rather than being intimidated by them, I found that they were generally considerate in their passing manouvres and I really enjoyed being out on track with them. I also doubt that I was much of an annoyance to them because they flashed past me so quickly before disappearing into the distance.

AndyNoiseProblemI figured Andy would do his own thing the first session, but he seemed to spend that a lot of that first session behind me. I could tell this because of the sharp bark from his Yoshi exhaust. As we pulled in to the pits at the end of the session, Andy was hauled over by a marshall who wanted to noise test his bike. Andy had ridden the same bike at Brands a couple of weeks earlier and had passed a static noise test at just 102dB. Silverstone’s marhall asked Andy to run his engine at 7000rpm instead of the usual 5000rpm – so no one was particularly surprised by a reading of 113dB! Normally an incident like thing is an automatic ban from the circuit, but because of the extenuating circumstances of having passed at another circuit with a reading of 102dB, Andy was allowed to try and sort the problem out. This involved him removing the can, and trying different baffles – a time consuming process that cost him two hours and two missed sessions that morning.

I was left to my own devices for those sessions but was helped along with advice from Joe, one of Silverstone’s own instructors. He is a great character who obviously has quite a soft spot for the Triumph describing how he used to thrash race prepared machines on his totally stock Daytona 675. He also gave me some good advice regarding lines for each corner, reminded me to relax and bend my arms and upper body more, and to trust the bike’s tyres in order to try and use more speed through the faster Abbey and Stowe corners.

My first session riding with Andy instructing was the fourth of the day and took place just before lunch. With all the hassle that Andy had been through in the morning trying to get his bike out of track, I think that he was mostly happy to follow, watch my mistakes and understand where he could help me make some improvement in the subsequent sessions.

We took our time over lunch, spending the free Silverstone £10 (US$16) lunch vouchers on some decent food. In fact this is the first time that I have visited the canteen but it won’t be the last as there is a huge array of good food choices on offer. We both grabbed a sandwich being mindful that a large plate of pasta is not the most approriate food for an energetic afternoon’s riding. We were having such a good time over lunch that I strolled back into the garages to see most of the group exiting the pit lane. I quickly found my helmet, removed the tyre warmers and raced out of the garage leaving Andy scrabbling to get his bike ready too.

Silver-ValeOver lunch Andy had really made a point of stressing that I needed to take charge of the bike, and make it go where I wanted rather than leaving it up to its own devices. He did this rather forcefully as he felt that this was one of the areas where I was really letting myself down. He argued that doing this and using more of the track (on corner entry and exit) would reduce the radius and allow me to take the faster corners at a higher speed.

After the session, Andy was smiling. He hadn’t been sure whether to hang back and wait for me to come past or whether to go for it and try and catch me up on track. In the event, his racing instinct must have taken hold because he went for it finally catching me on the final lap of the session. He seemed impressed because he found it harder to catch me than he thought and because he could see that the conversation we’d had over lunch had actually begun to sink in.

The next session Andy followed for the first part, led in the middle of the session and followed again at the end. You can see the session in full below. Also included is a data overlay showing speed and acceleration/braking g-forces using data from my RaceChrono app.

After returning to the pits, Andy congratulated me on a good improvement in my riding. I think he felt that I finally belonged in that group as I was now running a similar pace to some of the other riders. RaceChrono confirmed that I had nearly made a 2 second improvement in my lap time compared to my last outing on the International circuit last October. Something really clicked that session and I finally really felt like I had made a significant step up in my riding. Reviewing the footage, I can see that I still need to move around the track more and make better use of all the available space. This is (yet?!) another area that I will be working on the next time out.

In the final and seventh session of the day, I think that tiredness finally began to take its toll as my riding was more ragged than the previous session, and I suspect that my lap times were slower as a result. Why ‘suspect’ instead of ‘know’? Because I seemed to miss the start of virtually every session that day for one reason or another which meant that I either forgot to switch a camera or external GoPro microphone on, or start the RaceChrono timer app before leaving the pits. In fact the only session I actually managed to time successfully was the penultimate session of the day and its data can be seen in the video above.

Hooking up with Andy and riding with him again was great. He is a really good instructor and I think that he helped me identify some key problem areas which improved through the day and he has given me something simple and concrete to work on at my next outing on the same track in two weeks time. Although I’m not yet riding at a level I’d like to be at, he did comment that my riding now and when he first met me over a year ago are like night and day. Going forward, he suggested focusing on making incremental improvements in the following areas:

  • Widening the turns by deepening the turn in point and avoid the temptation to dive for the apex too early. Similarly letting the bike run out wide on the exit for more speed and a reduced turn radius
  • Remembering to bend my arms more to lower my upper body and to allow it to lean further off the bike
  • Use more of the available lean angle on the tyres – there’s still another 6mm (1/4″) of my rear tyre available before hitting its edge
  • Having more confidence in both the bike and especially the tyres so as not to scrub off more speed than necessary on the entry to faster corners like Stowe and Abbey
  • Getting on the gas earlier to drive through corners like Club earlier and harder

Overall I’d rate this track day as brilliant – the combination of riding with Andy and being at Silverstone in glorious weather was fantastic. Silverstone run great and friendly track days with really helpful instructors and at a track whose facilities are among the best in the UK. Hopefully I’ll also have another opportunity to ride with Andy again later this year.

Silverstone Int’l 3 Oct 2013

HangarStraightA week before this track day I got a call from Jo (the track day organiser) at Silverstone asking whether I would mind moving from the Inters to a new combined Novice/Inters group because the fast group was being replaced by an event for Bennetts (the insurers) with Scott Redding while the Inters group was being replaced by a women’s only group.

I mentioned my concern that some of the faster Inters could be riding at a radically faster speed than first time novice but Jo was well aware of this and reassured me by indicating that there would be fewer riders on track and that the briefing would emphasise the need to look out for slower and less experienced riders on track. I was given the option of taking a credit against a future trackday next year or attending this one – I chose to attend as this was going to be my last Silverstone date for 2013.

I arrived at Silverstone at 7:15 to find the circuit shrouded in mist with poor visibility. There was enough moisture in the air that the track seemed to be damp too – these were less than ideal track conditions. Still it could have been worse as the weather forecast predicted rain showers during the day. Since our group was the first out at 9am, I was hoping for four dry-ish sessions before lunch when the heavens were predicted to open.

ladies

The women’s only group was an usual feature for a track day and it was hosted by Maria Costello. There was a full compliment of riders on all kinds of bike from smaller twins to large litre plus bikes. I ended up talking to a few of them and they all seemed a keen and friendly bunch (and why shouldn’t they be?). My feeling is many of these women wouldn’t have ridden in the usual predominantly male track day group, so providing a female only group specifically for them was a way of making track days more accessible. Hopefully some of them will continue to do more track days because my feeling is that more women on track would be to everyone’s benefit.

The instructors for our group included Neil Richardson who I had ridden with for two sessions on the GP circuit back in May. I was amazed that he remembered me at all as I was signing on and as we chatted he offered to ride with me in session 2. Neil was an accomplished 250cc racer in his day – even beating Joey Dunlop in one of the North West 200 races! I really enjoyed riding with him last time out and was looking forward to repeating the experience on the shorter International circuit.

The first session comprised three sighting laps followed by a return to the pits before rejoining the track for the remainder of the session. Although I had been slightly ambivalent about being on a race track at the start of the day, I found that by the end of that first session I was totally hooked again!

In the second session I followed Neil out on the track. My goal was to remain as close behind him as possible as he gradually upped the pace each lap pulling me along behind him. Despite the fact that the track conditions were less than ideal with damp patches here and there, I still managed to lap at 1:33 following him – an almost identical lap time to the one I achieved following Simon Crafar (of MotoVudo fame) the month before on the same circuit but in warmer and brighter conditions.

In the third session, I tried putting what I had learned from Neil into practice on my own. After arriving back in the pits at the end of the session, I was really pleased to find that I was only about a second slower compared to my best lap time following him. Riding following an instructor is definitely easier than riding around the track on your own where you have to make all kinds of decisions like when to brake, when to turn in, what line to take round the corner and when to get back on the power. My only hairy moment that session came when I was nearly rammed from behind going into the Vale chicane – you can see this in the short clip below.

Luckily no-one got hurt and the Yamaha rider even managed to keep his bike upright despite the deep gravel that he plowed into, which was pretty impressive.

As I become more familiar with Silverstone I’m finding that many of these riding decisions are becoming more automatic. The other thing which is improving (I think) is my body position through corners – I definitely feel more relaxed and almost as though I’m hanging off the bike like a monkey in left handers. Things aren’t quite so good on right handers where I can still feel a lot of tension in my back and neck so this is an area that I’m going to have to keep working on in the future.

I’m also starting to notice how much more difficult it is to get past slightly slower riders on bigger bikes now. This is due to the fact that I’m riding more quickly and the difference between my riding and many of the other riders in my group is less than it was in the past. Those riders that I can catch going into a corner, I often struggle to pass on the exit as they use their bike’s greater power to blast away from the corner. It’s starting to dawn on me that the only way to get past bigger bikes is to either outbreak them into the corner and/or carry more speed through the corner and ride around them where possible. Even though I could outdrag a bigger capacity bike down the straight in the novice group, it is almost impossible to do the same in the inters group with faster and more experienced riders.

During the fourth session, the rain that was forecast arrived and the track gradually became wetter as the session wore on. In fact the rain continued over lunch and lasted for both of my afternoon sessions. The rain almost meant that I abandoned the day at lunchtime, but after talking with a couple of the instructors, I was persuaded to venture out anyway. They reminded me of the fact that riding in the rain teaches you many things… especially smoothness.

Session Laps Fastest Comments Video
1 - - Didn’t time this session
2 10 1:33.34 Riding following Neil, the instructor youtube
3 8 1:34.00 youtube
4 6 1:41.62 Damp track youtube
5 10 2:02.76 Heavy rain
6 7 1:58.16 Rain youtube

Riding in the rain was actually a lot more fun than I remembered the last I tried it at Snetterton. Adding a couple of psi to the tyres helped them cut through the water more and massively improved their feel out on track especially in the corners. What’s amazing is how hard you can both accelerate and brake provided that the bike is kept upright or nearly so. Hanging off the bike really comes into its own in the wet as it allows you to carry a faster corner speed for less lean angle. Following the instructors on track I also noticed how much more they widened the corners in order to minimise their mid corner lean angles. By the end of the last session, I was enjoying myself so much that I had gained sufficient confidence to chop another 4.5 seconds off my lap time compared to the previous session!

I thoroughly enjoyed this track day. I was riding with a good friend and it was fun seeing how much they were enjoying themself too. Silverstone really is a sublime track day venue. While I love the GP track, the smaller International circuit layout is perfect for allowing you to practice the same corners over and over. It has a perfect mix of fast sweeping corners, tight turns and the wonderfully fast Hangar Straight. The organisation at Silverstone is getting better and better, and they really go the extra mile in providing free tea and coffee, lunch vouchers and most importantly free instruction (without the time pressures that paid slots create). Combine that with the fact that the Silverstone instructors are a friendly and approachable bunch who are available throughout the day and you would be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable and better value for money track day anywhere in the UK.

I plan on booking up quite a few events at Silverstone in 2014… just as soon as they release next year’s track day calendar!