Given the arrival of Jr in August my track time was rather limited this year but I still managed to do another level of CSS and a couple of lovely sunny days at Snetterton; one of my new favourite tracks.
The year started with CSS level 3 in the snow at Silverstone. God it was cold, but CSS is always great.
Then the 675.cc track day at Snetterton at the beginning of May.
And quickly back to Snetterton for another go at the end of May.
I also finally managed to get my GoPro on track. Here’s a video from the 675.cc track day:
This weekend is the Le Mans 24 Heures Moto. I went last year and it was an incredible experience. I really want to go again but I’m not sure I’m ready for that campsite again just yet. I have heard there are slightly less mental campsites than where we were but being Le Mans everything’s relative.
I like this description from May 2012 Bike Magazine:
Only the deranged or chemically numbed actually enjoy camping at a French 24-hour motorcycle race, but that’s no reason not to eagerly sign up for the experience.
The Gauls have few rivals when it comes to organising a race-centric party. They think nothing of goading the Gendarmes to the point of distraction, then scarper when the paramilitary CRS goosestep on to the scene. If they’re not doing that they’re revving a brand new GSX-R1000 until its headers glow cherry red. This kind of idiocy is best viewed through beer goggles, but it’ll stay with you forever.
Then there’s the racing. If you don’t camp you’ll be itching to leave by 10pm to get back to the B&B before it’s too late and you’ll miss what makes 24-hour racing special. Camp and you can sit, like a gargoyle with a swollen bladder and pink eyes, mesmerised by the glowing discs ’til sunrise. You’ll get a good 43 minutes shut-eye before a 1988 VFR750 with no silencer is ragged around your chosen field. But you have to experience it once.
So I did Level 1 yesterday. It was on the Silverstone International Circuit which is the same southern loop that the Ron Haslam School uses; a really enjoyable circuit. It was a long hard day but I had a great time!
After scraping the frost off my bike seat outside the Premier Inn I headed to the circuit for a 7am start. There was a familiar face at sign on.
After a general introductory briefing it was decided that as it was still a bit chilly we would start with the off-track drills first. Each level has a specific ‘off-track drill’ such as the lean bike or slide bike. For Level 1 it is a steering drill where they make sure you are counter-steering properly. Even though this was something I was already familiar with my coach still gave me a couple of useful tips to make my turns smoother.
The rest of the day followed a format of alternating classroom and track sessions. The classroom session first introduces the skill that you will be practicing and then you hit the track to put it to use. While on track your assigned track coach will observe your riding and give you some set hand signals to help you practice the drills. When you come in he will give you a debriefing before your next classroom session.
The first session was all about throttle control. We were restricted to riding in one gear and not using the brakes AT ALL! This is quite a change from what most people are used to on track and it really focuses you on achieving the correct corner entry speed and using a controlled throttle application to steady the bike.
The second drill was turn points. During the classroom session they had applied big yellow crosses to mark the turn points for the corners. This is not so much about your riding style but more a chance to practice thinking about and hitting turn points and observing what happens if you turn a bike-length sooner or later. We could use 2 gears here but still no brakes.
Drill three was the quick turn. This is where we practiced getting the bike leant over as quickly as possible. This has a big effect on the amount of lean angle required to get round a turn. I found quick turns were easier in slower corners than faster corners. Makes sense I guess. The faster you are going the more force is required to tip the bike over.
The next session was all about rider input and the importance of relaxing on the bike. I found this made a huge improvement to my cornering. Making a conscious effort to relax on the bars really stabilised the bike and I had never even noticed a tendency to grip the outside bar when leant over. For example on a right-hander I would tend to grip tighter with my left hand. Three gears and some light brakes are allowed here.
The last session was a kind of introduction to Level 2. This was called two step turning. We all know bikes go where we look, however this can cause problems for us as there is a natural tendency for us to look to the inside of the corner and to turn in too early causing us to run wide on the exit. The two step fixes this by making us pick out our apex before we reach our turn point; separating the looking and the turning. This was another massive improvement for me. It takes a lot of concentration if you aren’t used to it but it makes the corners so much easier as you already have an idea of where you want to go before you start your turn in.
Like I said, the day is a lot of hard work. It takes an effort to remember to apply each of the drills to your riding but when you do you can see the improvements immediately. Because of the concentration required they tell you to only ride at 80%. There were still one or two who wanted to prove how fast they were and treated it more like a track day (which it isn’t) but the coaches are pretty good at reminding them to show everyone else some respect.
By the end of the day I was knackered but still wishing I’d booked in for Level 2 on the next day.
I’ll definitely be going back ASAP and I recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their riding and not just to go faster on track. It’s all perfectly applicable to normal road riding too.
Here are some pictures from the day. There are more in the gallery.