This weekend for my birthday I finally managed to get along to a track day. At the last minute I managed to find a place on a NoLimits track day at www.rockingham.co.uk on the international motorcycle track.
As this was my first ever track day I wanted to take it easy in the morning and get to know the track. I was going pretty slow and had quite a few people passing me but it was fun. I started off riding at about the same pace I ride on the road to give myself time to learn the track. The idea was to build up speed once I had learned where to turn in etc.
Right from the get go I realised just how big a difference there was between my riding and that of some of the others there. The main thing being their interpretation of 'close'. I really struggled with holding lines and focusing on my riding with so many other bikes darting around me. As I said, I was in the novice group. From the roll call in the morning it looked like I was the only track day virgin there!
After quite a few 'oh *&$%£' moments where I thought I was going to hit people who were riding where I was about to be, block passing me on the inside I started to get used to the barging. As you can see from my tyre (right) I was carrying a fair bit of speed. It should be said that I was the only person on a sports bike. Almost every other bike in the novice group was a modified race / track only machine.
Heart in mouth I continued to increase both my entry and apex speed to the point that, on the right handers, where I was more confident I was carrying the same apex speed as some of the slower in my group. After lunch I took a few training sessions from different instructors to learn the cornering lines from them. One of them, a guy called Alan, went around for a few laps as I followed him and he built up speed. Thanks to Alan and the other instructors for their help. I definitely needed it.
The video was taken on my first few laps under instruction. The first lap was slow to get everyone (including me) on line. After that Alan did a faster lap then I overtook him so that he could check out my riding. The advice and help I had from Alan and the other volunteers from NoLimits was really helpful and I felt that over the course of the day my riding really improved.
To show what a difference it made check out this picture of my tyres later in the day.
Overall I really enjoyed the day. It took the whole day to get used to how close some of the other riders get when they are passing you. If someone rode that close to me on the road I would likely pull them over. Given that it was my first track day I think it was just part of learning the ropes. I could see though how a novice or nervous rider would really have struggled. The main problem I found was that I was stood up a lot of the time while trying to ride on line by a block pass. I expect as I increased my speed this would happen less and less.
Although the fazer is no track machine it did really well. The tires were really amasing and well worth the money - they gripped like they were on rails and inspired me to push the bike over while slowly increasing my speed all day. I really had a chance to push the bike to it's limit - scratching the pegs quite a few times. No knee down though. I can only figure that this was due to my riding position combined with seat height as the riders I could keep mid corner pace with were all knee down while I was far from it. The main issues with the fazer were the suspension and acceleration. When, on the rare occasions I wanted to pass someone the bike really struggled for power so I had to do it under breaking which was always an interesting experience - throwing you really deep in the corner. The other thing that let the fazer down was it's general height: under heavy breaking I had the back wheel off the ground on quite a few occasions.
When I do another track day I think it would be worth removing the centre stand to reduce the risk of scratching it. I would also seriously consider renting a bike both to try out a different machine and avoid the mental challenge of not wanting to risk a crash as I needed to ride it home.
The track it's self is really surprising. the chicane at turn 1 provides a challenging and technical start to your lap with turn in point being critical. Later in the day a skid mark provided the perfect signal. After that the long sweeping left provided bags of fun, probably the fastest I have ever travelled at those lean angles. The hair pin double left with late apex was probably my favourite corner but the bump as you transition from the oval to the inner track presented a challenge for the fazer's soft suspension. This was where I caught the pegs on quite a few laps. This opened up into one of the three right hand corners, the first feels tight and the second, not long after it is compromised for the line into turn 5, a chain of four left handers. This was the area I was initially weakest. Most of the other riders took an early apex into turn 6 and connected the rest of 7, 8 and 9, riding around the outside - ignoring the apexes. This allowed them to carry a lot more speed through that section. The last left in the run became my favourite later in the day as it had such a fun flowing speed including, exaggerated by the elevation change. Turn 10 was the slowest, being a right hander, lots of people came off here, no doubt with cold right hand tire shoulders. The final chicane complex was hard to figure out at first as it was all about the positioning and late turn in to the final corner to maximise speed down the straight.
I can't wait until I get another chance to ride on a track. Hopefully next time will also be as hot and dry (and Brands Hatch).