Trackdays

On track – beating the winter blues in Spain

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It’s the first session of the fast group and the sky around Jerez deep in rural Spain is reverberating to the sound of bikes being ridden hard. We’re waiting in the paddock for the call to form up in the pitlane, a ragtag army of first timers, road riders, commuters, Sunday scratchers, hardened European veterans and trackday addicts.

The circuit is 2.75 miles of gloriously fast straights, late apex technical twists and turns, and its 13 corners demand respect. MotoGP and WSBK both race here, and this is the track of choice for teams from both series for pre-season testing.

Soon a deep feral roar enters the paddock and pulls up. It’s a brand new Yamaha R1 and its owner has run on in Turn One and binned it in the kitty litter. Pretty soon the fast group’s first session is over and the other riders pull in. They dismount, remove their lids and head over to the garage where the battle-scarred Yamaha is resting, eager to muck in and help it return to the track.

It’s our turn next, and we nervously head to the track. It’s going to be a challenge – the Ducati 749S and me shouldn’t get too much of a beating from the litre bikes here in the corners, but we’ll get mullered on the long straights. It should make things interesting.

Rewind a week and I’m just leaving Stamford on my way to drop the bike off in Bedford. That’s the joy with events like this – you turn up at the designated collection point, pack your bike and kit securely in its stillage, wrap it in clingfilm and then it gets loaded on a truck and makes its way to Spain.

It’s 21º on this first day at the Tracksense event at Jerez – the sun is shining, the track’s warming up nicely and there’s not a single cloud in the blue sky.

The first session passes in a blur. The Continental Race Attacks were quick to warming up, offering loads of grip, and the 749S was gloriously powering its way through the corners.

It’s handling brilliantly, and sending it away to have its suspension set-up by Griff Woolley at Aprilia Performance has paid dividends. It’s beautifully composed, even when I’m being brutal on the brakes, and it holds a line as well as any modern machine I’ve ridden. Not bad for a 13-year-old Italian.

There are a lot of quick boys on track, including some very fast BSB race machines, but the good thing about trips like this is that everyone’s here for the same reason – to spend as much time as possible riding their bike round the track, over and over again. Nobody pressures anybody, nobody’s interested in claiming scalps or showing you how quick they are, they all just want to enjoy as much tracktime as possible.

After using the morning to learn the track, by mid-afternoon I’ve been downgraded from the intermediate group and am kneedown at almost every right-hand corner.

But after six brilliant sessions the day’s over and we make our way to our digs for the night – the four star hotel just a stone’s throw from the circuit.

Day Two sees the pace pick up and following a quicker rider for a few laps lets me try their lines. They’re tipping in much later, so I take their lead and before I know it I’m getting quicker and more confident. Before I know it my knee’s gracefully kissing the floor for the entirety of the lairy Turn Five, which I’ve just started to do in fourth. It feels quick, really quick, but I reckon I could even snick another gear through there.

I carry on lapping until the fuel light comes on and then head into the paddock. I grab a drink and a snack, refuel the bike and give my visor a clean. Back in the UK it’s raining and yet here I am in vented leathers and boots having the time of my life.

The day finishes with a talk by riding god Simon Crafar, who shows us some on board footage from his GSX-R10000. He’s a talented rider, but a genuinely enthusiastic and likeable bloke to boot, and gives us way more time than he should, answering our questions about lines, gearing and braking markers. His motto is ‘the only limit is you’…listening to him, I suspect he’s right.

Day Three sees more of the same, and I’m laying dark lines out of every corner, smearing rubber into the grippy Spanish asphalt as I open the Ducati’s throttle. I’m hitting my apexes with accuracy, reveling in my on-track battles with the bigger capacity bikes. There’s nothing as stable as my bike mid lean, and I’m able to claw back a lot of time in the corners, before losing it all again on the straights. It’s a never ending tussle, which ebbs and flows as we make our way around this glorious track.

As I finish loading up my bike and kit for the return leg, I take time to reflect on the past three days. Yes, the track is great, and yes, I’ve well and truly bonded with my bike, but it’s the friendships and banter that will stick in my mind. Sharing a garage with nine other riders, nine other like-minded souls has been great, but it’s the nights that make trips like this really memorable. Sharing a room with someone for four nights is a great way to ensuring you’ll make friends, and sharing a track with a group of strangers for three days is a great way of making great friends for life. This is the by far the best thing I’ve done on a bike and is far better than a UK trackday – it’s more relaxed, the vibe is better and the riders are more disciplined. Try one, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. Hope to see you there…

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Tested – California Superbike School Level Two

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The California Superbike School exists for one reason, and one reason only – to help riders master the art of cornering. Their step-by-step approach to training splits each Level into different drills, starting with the basics and adding elements on in simple but challenging exercises, all done under the expert eye of your own personal coach.

Every rider, regardless of ability, starts at Level One and there are four levels to the syllabus – the school’s riding system which is based on the radical A Twist of the Wrist manuals penned by Keith Code in the 1980s and 1990s. The system works – riders including James Toseland and Leon Camier have passed through the school’s doors on their way to racing success.

If Level One is all about throttle control and keeping the bike stable, and we covered this in depth in Issue 6, then Level Two is all about vision and the effect it has on your riding. As with Level One, the day will be split into five technical briefings and five track sessions, with each level building on the previous one. We’re at Silverstone, the UK School’s spiritual home, and will be riding the rapid National Circuit configuration complete with iconic corners such as Maggots, Luffield, Woodcote and the very fast Copse – the very same corners MotoGP legends Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo will be racing on in just five days. We’re based in the old garages, not the new and unpopular wing complex, and it’s inspiring to think our bikes are in the very same buildings that will house racing’s elite in just a few days. The day’s not even begun yet and it feels like we’re winning.

After completing the necessary paperwork and getting our kit checked over, we head to the back of the café for a safety briefing. This will also be our classroom for the day, and will be our second home when we’re not on track.

Glen Rothwell, California Superbike School riding coach and classroom guru, will be the man challenging our preconceptions and pushing us to push ourselves, and after explaining the day’s schedule and what he expects of us, we’re assigned our coach. I’ve lucked out today – I’m under the expert tutelage of Richard Brown, AKA Badger, the school’s general manager and coach, and the school’s coach of the year in 2006. He’s quick, knowledgeable, calming, enthusiastic and patient – everything a good coach should be.

Session One – Reference Points.

When it comes to cornering, we’ve all experienced the same problems at one point or another, although it’s fair to say some experience the problems more frequently than others. We’ve all come to a corner, panicked, braked, then realized we could’ve ridden it much, much quicker. Or we’ve found our eyes drawn to a particular part of the road, or something near our piece of the road, focused on it, found ourselves riding towards it, panicked, grabbed the brakes and found ourselves drifting wide, horribly off line and in all sorts of trouble. The issue here is target fixation, that moment when our brains focus on what we want to avoid at the expense of everything else. It’s partly down to evolution – our eyes have developed to for three things; food, danger and sex – but it’s also down to poor skills and lack of vision. By raising your vision and fully understanding what’s approaching you’ll give yourself more space and a slower sense of speed, effectively buying yourself more time which allows your eyes help you ride better.

We’re encouraged to use our eyes to scan the track for any distinguishing features – track furniture, marks on the asphalt, kerbs, drain covers, changes in the surface, rubber marks – to help us identify when to turn in and where the apex is. This is essentially a navigation exercise, and as well as allowing us to learn the track, we’ll only be allowed to ride in one gear and with no brakes, essentially allowing us to revisit the fundamentals of Level One – throttle control, turn-in points and two-step turning.
As we head out on to the track, the first thing that strikes we is just how wide Silverstone is. It’s at least 15m wide, and is as far removed from Cadwell as it gets. It’s really bumy too, especially in Luffield. The second is just how ingrained road riding is in my brain. I know I’m on track, but I can’t get used to overtaking on the left, and at the end of my first lap badger pulls me in. “This is a really wide track, so why aren’t you giving yourself more space. You’ve just passed a Triumph, far too close, and I’m not having it. Calm down and use the track. We’re all hear to enjoy ourselves. And we’ve got all day. Now, behave.”

It’s a valuable lesson and one I take on board. The lack of brakes makes Copse tricky and I’m turning in too soon. I’m also struggling to gel with Luffield. I’m entering the first left too wide, which is pulling me too far right for the next part.

We pull into the pits and Badger has already spotted an issue; my throttle control. “You’re struggling to hold a line, and that’s down to your throttle control. Smooth that out and the bike will stop feeling nervous and you’ll start to feel happier. Stick with it, it will come.”

Session Two – Changing Lines.

We’re back in the classroom and Glen is explaining the mechanics behind our riding. “The track you’re riding is 15m wide and consists of just seven corners. This means you’ll need 21 reference points, three for each corner. How many have you got?”
Trust be told I’ve managed to find about six at the minute. Which means I’m 15 short, and will explain why I’m struggling to ride the same line on consecutive laps.

The solution is to use the next session to explore new lines and different parts of the track. “During the early MotoGP, Sete Gibernau used to finetune his set-up by riding the same line lap while Valentino Rossi would use the practice sessions to explore all sorts of different lines to give himself as much information as possible to exploit any potential overtaking opportunities during the race. Different lines means it essentially becomes a different and brand new corner – a new turn-in point affects your apex and exit speed. Riding on the very right of the track for one lap, then the very left for the next lap will give you a new appreciation of the track and will allow you to notice details you’ve missed on your ‘normal’ lines.”

We head out again, ducks and drakes style, trying to absorb as much knowledge about the track as we can. It’s eye-opening, and makes me realise just how many lines there are through the corners, and just how wide, and late, some corners should be taken.

At the debrief Badger’s noticed another issue. “You’re missing Step One in Two-Step Turning. You’re moving your head but you’re not looking at the apex. You’re fixing your gaze on the exit, and that’s compromising your lines. Remember to look at the apex, and you’ll find things start flowing again.”

Session Three – Three-Step Turnin

This drill builds on Two-Step Turning and adds the exit to turn-in points and the apex. “Try and use the furniture and reference points, and link them together. For example, at Woodcote, hug the bollards and then look for the gantry on the right. This will stop you running wide and will let you get on the gas quicker.”

It’s a lot to take on board and out on track I start running wider lines, using more of the track as I start identifying more reference points, my confidence growing with each lap.

Badger notices a difference too. “You’re starting to run some nice, wide lines, which is making the track open up, which is allowing you to gain some speed. It’s coming together nicely.”

Session Four – Wide View

This session is all about using your peripheral vision. Making a conscious effort to use this in turn-in points prevents target fixation and gives a greater sense of space by slowing everything down.

It sounds simple and it is, and it’s also brilliantly effective – it really does give you a heightened sense of space and time, slowing everything down and giving you more options. It’s also very tiring initially, but it’s a skill you can practice during your normal drive/ ride.

Session Five – Picking The Bike Up

The day’s final session is all about getting the bike as upright out of a corner as quickly as possible. The sooner the bike is upright, the sooner the rider can get on the throttle. Glen explains: “Dani Pedrosa is the expert at this. If you watch him, he stands the bike up as early as he can. With the bike on the fatter part of its tyre it will have more grip, and the suspension works better when the bike is upright too. It’s a particularly useful skill to have in the wet.

“Some of you will be doing this anyway, and for some of you it will be new. Basically, you pick the bike up by countersteering the opposite way you did to turn in, so pushing on the outside bar instead of the inside, and keeping your body right off to the inside. By combining this with the throttle roll, you can be very early with full throttle and very fast out of the corner.”

We spend five minutes riding chairs in the classroom trying to emulate Dani Pedrosa, pushing our chair back to make our ‘bike’ stand up.

On track it seems to work well at Woodcote and Copse, allowing me to get on the gas much quicker, while also making me feel safer.

Away from the classroom:

I spent three days on track at Jerez and the effects of my time at the school were noticeable. I was riding with much more confidence, picking reference points to help me string together corners and ride with consistency. And by having the confidence to explore different lines, I was able to work out which corners would benefit from later, wider lines. And wide view enabled me to avoid target fixation, even when the rider in front of me panicked, grabbed a handful and ran on. The system is proven, the system works. So if you want to make yourself a safer, smoother and more confident rider, see what the California Superbike School can do for you.

Riding – nine tips to get more from trackdays

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1) Positive thinking

Having the correct state of mind is crucial to a good ride. Whether you’re learning a new skill or pushing for a fast lap, a good mind set will pay dividends. Developing a new skill requires you to ride within your limitations, placing your attention on what you are doing. This allows you to understand the technique and gives your brain the time to digest new information. In the first few sessions of a trackday only work on one area of your riding.

2) Study a circuit map

The importance of a circuit map cannot be underestimated. Used correctly there are many advantages to be gained, none more-so than highlighting clear, easy to identify objects and markers for your braking, turn entry, apex and corner exit. Replaying laps of the circuit in your mind using these markers will reinforce the track layout and the lines you have chosen. Once you have specific makers set for a given turn you can refine them to become more efficient and reduce your lap times.

3) Raise your vision

All of the senses are working overtime when pushing personal limits, but the eyes often have a mind of their own. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we are doing rather than what we want to do. Identifying reference points early will give you a better sense of speed, improve steering accuracy and throttle control.

4) Find your lines

One of the most common problems riders face is being able to understand what makes a good line. When constructing a corner start at the exit and work backwards. Your track position on the exit is dictated by your apex. Knowing the exact point of the apex will help you decide on a turn area. The position and the consistency of your mid-corner position is what truly dictates your line through a turn. Make a concerted effort to use good vision and locate a late apex to run faster lines.

5) Do corner preparation

The key to success is to get as much as possible done before the corner. Set yourself up early by moving your body position in to place before the turn entry. This helps the bike to remain stable.

6) Sort your braking

Use of the brakes on track has one primary function over all others, to set your speed for the turn. A very useful technique which allows you to set your speed deeper into the turn is trail braking. The initial hard braking should be done early while the bike is upright, reducing the risk of losing traction while the forks are compressed absorbing any bumps. As the turn begins and the lean angle increases additional cornering forces are placed on the tyre and suspension. The brake pressure should be released smoothly and in direct proportion to the increase in lean angle.

7) Turn quicker

One of the biggest limiting factors to increasing cornering speed and reducing your lap times is how quickly you can turn the bike. The faster you enter a corner, the quicker you must turn the bike. There are a number of ways to do this but the most effective way is to countersteer. Applying pressure to the right (inside) handlebar will turn the bike to the right and vice versa. The more pressure you apply the quicker the bike will turn. Using the pegs can assist with this and will allow you to run faster corner entry speeds.

8) Stand it up

A major factor to increasing your speed is how quickly you can get to full gas. Being patient with the throttle will help, and used in conjunction with picking the bike up on the exit will make use of its full potential. Standing the bike up reduces the lean angle and allows the suspension to work more effectively. This reduces the cornering forces and load on the tyres, enabling you to drive the bike out of the turn. Timing is important – too early and the bike will run wide. Get it right and you will smash your best times.

9) Be patient

Rolling the throttle on too hard early in the turn will push the bike wide, forcing you to hesitate or even roll of the throttle. Be disciplined and wait for the precise moment you can drive out of the turn. This will allow you to be assertive with your throttle and get to full gas sooner, carrying more speed down the straights.