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Take It to the Limit: A Day at the Track

In the Lifestyle section of the March 2002 issue of Profit & Loss we took a look at track day preparation – how to set your motor bike up for a day’s racing at one of the many tracks around the UK. So, the bike is set up, transport is arranged, and you are off to one of Britain’s leading race tracks, but what is awaiting you? What does it feel like to follow the racing lines of world champions?

Simon Scott-Martin reveals all as he takes us through a track day.

“Welcome to a world of spending every last penny you have…on biking.” This was how we were welcomed to our first track day at Donnington Park. Sitting in a room with 100 or so other hardened track bikers nodding their heads, chuckling to themselves in agreement. Donnington had held the British stage of the Moto GP championship (Biking’s much more exciting rival to Formula1), the previous weekend, which had seen heroes of the track, including world champion Valentino Rossi who was back to defend his glamorous victory the previous year, racing. We were at the GP, knowing that we had booked our track day for the following weekend, dreaming of mimicking these guys, getting a couple of tips, and basically dazzling onlookers when we graced the track.

Being the youngest of the ‘crew’, (consisting of four good friends), as well as the least experienced of all, and having never done a track day, my work was cut out for me. It started off a bleak summer’s day, light misty rain getting harder at times, but the adrenalin was pumping none the less. On arrival I felt really important having a paddock to share with my buddies, we even had our own tool box on hand to get our bikes ready. One look in the next paddock along was a very humbling experience though, almost a mobile garage, the equipment was amazing, just like you see on the television. There were tyre warmers at up to £300 per pair, a selection of tyres fit enough to grace any Moto GP pit garage, also at up to £300 for a decent set of race compound tyres.

The tyre choice is very important depending on weather conditions, and can make the difference between falling off and not, however, a set usually won’t last longer than one track day. There were varying sprocket sets for different tracks, depending on whether top speed or power is more applicable, ranging from £70 to £100 each. Aside from the latter, there were spare fairings, also costing up to £350, even more for carbon fibre ones, screens, batteries, tools, the list was endless. Pound signs began rolling across my eyes.

Driving Miss Daisy…

Group ‘A’ was called out over the loudspeaker, this was it, no manhole covers to dodge, no police requiring watching out for (purely in case of over-enthusiasm), no gormless drivers with coffee in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other to get in your way. I was ready. The rain didn’t bother me, it meant there was no pressure to overtake, undertake or do whatever it takes to get past the guy in-front of you. Off we went, out of the paddocks and onto the track.

For the first couple of laps I felt like I was “Driving Miss Daisy”. Riding in the wet is a learning experience, you start off slow and let the confidence build up. Every lap you get a bit quicker, before you know it you’re leaning the bike and going a lot faster than you imagined possible on your first session ever on a track, let alone In the rain. It’s very easy to lose your confidence, especially when one of your buddies goes down on the same left hander as Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi and countless others the weekend before. That marked the end of my first 20 minutes on a track. I didn’t fall off, didn’t have any major scares, got whipped up by 2 of my mates and had a grin from ear to ear. To top it off, the sky was beginning to clear up. It was going to be a great day, already the money issue mentioned in our introduction was beginning to make sense, I already felt as though this sport was going to take up a lot of my time.

Bikes are not a cheap hobby, but they’re worth it, the buzz, taming the sheer power of a sports-bike, and the competitive element make it a very addictive sport. As promised this was the start of a very expensive hobby. The initial cost of the bike, the modifications, track days, transport, accommodation all adds up, but it feels so good that you don’t mind, you just make it happen.

The rest of the track day was full of events. The weather turned out to be superb, the track warmed up, the tyres stuck to the track like glue and we kept getting faster with every session. My buddies didn’t seem to need it, but I was gaining in confidence and feeling really at home on my GSX-R, developing a style of riding which still needed a bit of polishing but felt awesome, and to top it off, I put a good scrape on my knee sliders in the Melbourne Hairpin, what a feeling!

By the end of the day, tens of thousands of pounds worth of bikes had been thrown into the ground by their riders. The time, money and effort which had gone into these machines to get them into this pristine performance state now had to be recreated over time, just to get back onto the track and relive the experience.

…Riding Like Crazy

One week after the first track day, our weekend consisted of bikes, bikes and more bikes. The four of us did some weekend riding, where the knowledge gained from the track day was obvious. The surf had been flat over most of the summer period so there was no need to jump in the car and head for the coast, just to be disappointed. The weather was holding up so it was a matter of booking as many track days as possible before the bikes were put away for the winter, so three weeks later we booked Lydden Hill in Kent. Some needed to do repairs, one of the crew decided to buy a new bike all together after the “Donnington experience”, others of us just made sure we and our bikes were ready.

After the long ride to Donnington, I decided that a trailer was a necessity, all I needed was a tow bar. I had the space at home to keep one, so why not? I didn’t need to rush around before the first session preparing the bike, taking off wing mirrors, taping up lights and indicators and losing every bit of unnecessary weight possible, it was all done the week before and transported to the track.

We checked the Internet so as to learn as much as possible about the track, it was going to be chalk and cheese in comparison to Donnington. Some people rated it highly, others just wrote it off, we were there to make up our own minds.

After a good nights rest in a B+B in Canterbury, we woke up ‘amped’ for our 2nd big day, the weather was cooking, so our choice of tyres was perfect, the rest was down to the riders. We arrived early in the morning. As we drove in, we took one look at the track. The first thought which went through my head was how are we going to fit thirty five bikes on there at one time let alone do a bit of racing at speed? Bikes inspected, we donned our leathers and headed out for our first session’s sighting laps, following an instructor who was going to show us some racing lines. Grip on the track was never a problem, but I realised after the first session that I never sat on the bike with both bum cheeks, I was always hanging off primarily to the right as there was only one lefthander on the circuit. In terms of a learning experience, for the bike and myself, how to lean it over, control the power and on the correct racing line, this track was amazing. The feeling of not being overtaken once for a whole session (and even lapping a couple of dudes) was awesome, it must have been comparable to what Valentino was feeling a month prior at Donnington, surely…

Even though it was physically demanding, it was tough to leave at the end of the day. I just wanted as much track time as possible. One thing is for sure, doing track days gets the need for speed on your way to work along the embankment out of your system. Plans for next season now include joining a racing club, with weekly meets all around the country, I may have to pay a visit to my friendly Bank Manager, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

Profit & Loss

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