Donington Park GP First Ever Track Day
I got to the circuit, very nearly coming a cropper on the long gravel driveway near the entrance, and as I knew nobody else there, decided I’d better hope Lady Snoots Bike Hire had a van there with big letters on!
When I saw their van pull in a few minutes after I arrived, I headed over and introduced myself.
Next I walked down to sign my life away, for which I got a free bacon butty and a cup of coffee! I sold my soul for less, so found it a good deal!
A lot of waiting around followed, chatting to a few other people, getting coloured wrist bands to show which of the three groups we were in etc. At the riders briefing I smacked a wasp backwards off my head before realising there were people stood behind me. I kept my eyes forwards as angry leathery shuffling sounds happened behind me. Oopsie!
The track day was being run by No Limits. Each of the three groups were scheduled to go out for twenty minutes every hour, providing there were no major incidents. As a Novice, my group was the last of the three to go out.
I looked very carefully over the Kawasaki ZXR636 B1H track bike. I have NEVER ridden a 600 sportsbike before, so didn’t have much of a clue what to expect! I also thought about riding my own bike for a session, mainly to get some photographs of it – I decided against it, as the track bike had super-sticky tyres, upgraded brakes, tuned suspension, race rearsets and tyre warmers… it just wouldn’t be worth the risk of droping my bike!
They called our group and the Father and Son team of Lady Snoots took the tyre warmers off my bike while I stretched out a bit, regulated my breathing, and tried to both clear my mind and focus at the same time.
I threw a leg over the bike (taller than I expected) and joined the other forty or so riders at the end of the pit lane holding area. Oooh shit!
The first three laps were to be ‘sighting laps’ – following the instructors in single file and getting an idea of the track layout and the ideal racing line.
Having played the video game over the weekend, the track was pretty true to it in real life. What a game can’t prepare you for is the breathtaking drop downhill through the Craner Curves, then the climb back up after Old Hairpin! What a rush coming over the crest and looking down over that!
There was another blind crest on the entrance to Coppice which was a bit nasty, but nowhere near as bad as I’d been expecting. Then the long back straight with a couple of huge humps which I soon found brought the front wheel skyward when you were hard on the power! The tight Esses chicane I never got right all day because I was either severely bulked by slower riders, or was too slow on the exit. This was actually the hardest corner.
A quick blast down to the Melbourne hairpin was again over a blind crest that I thought would take serious balls to power over before the braking zone… then it was around Goddards sweeping back onto the start straight.
After a few laps I was getting the feel of the bike and also realising I wasn’t going to be the slowest, and then they let us loose…
We’d been told to keep it all in perspective. The main problem with the Novice group is that the others will be taking lots of weird and wonderful lines, and braking in unexpected places. We were told to give each other plenty of room and not go diving past people with inches to spare. For the most part I followed people, and was off the power soooo early before the corners it was ridiculous. But safe.
In this first session I found I could take a wide line into Goddards and cut back to the inside and beat most people down the start straight even on bigger bikes.
Two things from the game, too: I’d found taking a tighter line and staying on the power down to Old Hairpin I could nip through. This worked for me all through the day! Even better was that everyone else seemed to be braking for Starkeys, whilst I copied what I did on the game – full power and knee-down all the way up the hill! Without playing the game I’m sure I’d have just copied everyone else!
I think it was my first or second time out that I started scraping my knee around Goddards! Now I was racing!
My confidence grew with each session. There were always a few who came past like I was stood still, but a lot of that was because I wasn’t willing to risk much overtaking. I stayed glued to a few of the faster people, though.
There were a few crashes but mainly in the other groups. We had a few waved yellows and I think two red flags where we had to come back to the pit lane while they recovered bikes. Then, near the end of one session, banked right over going around Melbourne, I got a major misfire that tried to spit me off as the bike bucked about. I raised my hand and headed straight to the pits, where Lady Snoots got the spare bike straight out for the next session. I’m pleased to say it felt exactly the same, so I didn’t have to learn it all again!
The other bloke hiring their GSXR wasn’t so lucky, binning his in the gravel and getting told his day was over…
So over the 7 sessions I started braking later into the corners, scraping my knees everywhere, and was very far from the slowest! I was definitely happy with my performance, although there’s still a lot of room for improvement!
A great day and trouble free thanks to Lady Snoots! The only real ‘moment’ I had was braking hard for Melbourne and Goddards and getting it all sideways with the rear chattering away!
It was a bit lonely for me on my own, and I wish all my mates weren’t pussies, but it was still good! I probably shouldn’t say, but it seemed like everyone there who I got chatting to had a crash and disappeared home early….
So a life-long dream has been realised and I did it well!
The photographs from the day should be available for viewing from Thursday morning, so I’ll be buying lots and putting a load up on here! Hopefully they’ve got some good shots of me!
If you’ve never done it, you NEED to! One more thing about how it compared to a video game – doing it for real was EASIER!
It won’t be the last time I do it…