Trips

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…