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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Losing my virginity!

A provocative title for the post but nonetheless accurate in terms of leaving it until I was 68 years old before doing my first ever track day at the weekend. Well, that's excluding a crazy lap of the Isle of Man TT circuit at dawn in 1969 with a mate before they closed the road for the racing that day! That doesn't really count though as it was on public roads and I was young, stupid and bulletproof. Only one of those 3 criteria applies now *blush*.

A handful of our Institute of Advanced Motorists local group are trackday enthusiasts and a wider invitation was sent out for other members to have a go. Being used to riding fairly fast on the road is one thing but on a track is another thing entirely, especially at Hampton Downs. It's an international standard track, highly technical with 11 metres of elevation changes and a couple of blind entry corners - eek! On their website, there is the statement that the fastest speed ever recorded on track is 287 km/hr by Kiwi Andrew Stroud on his Suzuki superbike. I really wish I hadn't read that before going there! However, you sometimes just have to step outside the comfort zone to prove that you're still alive and kicking so I thought that documenting my impressions of that first occasion would be good fun.


Hampton Downs, North Island NZ

The track is a couple of hours ride from home which meant an 0500 alarm clock. Nerves weren't helped due to listening to wind and heavy rain on the roof at various stages throughout the night. The forecast said "improving" but riding down the twisty coast road from Coromandel in the dark, in the rain with no-one about was not a pleasant start to the day. Traction control was set to "wet weather mode" and fortunately, there were no anxious moments. With dawn breaking, the rain stopped and temperatures climbed as I headed south-west. Yippee - one less reason for sliding along the track on my arse!

Nerves were building on arriving at the track but impressions were favourable - fantastic facilities and the IAM team had booked a pit garage which was a godsend for a bit of shade in temperatures which were climbing to the high 20's.


Pit lane early morning - almost deserted


Team IAM starting to roll in
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)


More Team IAM


IAM members getting organised

Getting signed in, having my "novice class" pink bracelet attached and subsequent briefings by Playday on Track (links with the California Superbike School) was a great experience for a first-timer. Quietly efficient and outstandingly professional, good-humoured and genuinely nice, approachable people. It was explained that if anyone binned their bike, they would have to wait for the recovery trailer which had "The Trailer of Shame" emblazoned on the side. No-one wanted to do the best part of a lap on that with their mates looking on! The expected behaviours by riders was delivered with a light touch but the message wasn't lost on anyone - very reassuring. All manner of IAM bikes took part, ranging from a BMW HP4 superbike, Suzuki V-Strom 650 adventure bike, various sized GSX-R's and everything in between. Any bike is fine for a track day - just get out and have fun.


Pretty in Pink - suits you sir!

An instructor from the California Superbike School briefed the novices that he would lead us during our first session at a moderate pace for a couple of "sighting" laps to help with our judgement - very reassuring! He recommended us to drop our tyre pressures to around 30 psi to allow for temperature and pressure rises - more on that later. The most worrying thing was the instruction to either remove our mirrors or tape them up so as not to get distracted and wander off line. For someone who uses his mirrors every 10 seconds or so on the road, it was a big ask to change that mindset! We were also told to return for a debrief after the first track session to discuss our experiences. Each session on the track would last around 15 minutes and with the different skill level sessions, this meant roughly an hour between rides. In print, this seems like quite a wait but boy, in reality the downtime vanished in an instant by the time you'd exchanged banter with your mates, checked the bike, rehydrated and got rid of it again with a nervous pee!


JK taping up headlights and mirrors on his FZ1


Earnest discussion about tyre pressures - Geoff, Harald and Ian
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Grovelling to the God of Tyre Pressures
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

A quick trip to the toilet block for a nervous one and it was time to suit up and prepare to join the queue in pit lane for the novice class track session.


The first anxious wait to enter pit lane - no time for another nervous pee! Geoff and JK
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Staging in pit lane
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

In no time at all, we were rolling down the slip road onto the track in Indian-file behind the instructor. Bloody hell, ingrained muscle memory of good road riding practice takes over and a quick glance over the shoulder when joining the track, then trying to see through the taped-up mirrors when braking for the first corner. What a complete Muppet I am but at least the sighting laps help to get rid of those habits before upping the pace! The next 3 or 4 laps go in a blur, trying to remember lines for each corner, and trying not to leave braking too late. All I can say is thank heaven for ABS in those early laps to disguise one or two panic brakes to scrub off excessive speed! So how did the first session go?  Well in all honesty, there were so many things to think about, I honestly can't remember any highlights as I was working so hard trying not to stuff up.  However, I stayed out of trouble and was happy that the bike went so well, so was looking forward to our next turn with a lot less trepidation than the first session. First priority was to bend my spectacle arms a bit more to stop the bloody things sliding down my nose with all the sweat!!

Where the hell am I supposed to be pointing???
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Concentrate, concentrate!
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Rolling down pit lane after the first session
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

The novice debrief immediately after the session identified a pretty common fault of turning in too early, resulting in running wide and losing both position and exit speed. His mantra of "In deep, out early/fast" drew the usual range of smutty responses from the riders!


"In deep, out early" - say it again (and yet again) guys!


Banter between sessions - Geoff, Ian, Terry and JK
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Tessa and Terry in deep conversation after a track session

Each track session was a huge learning experience, not only pushing a bit harder but trying to get lines right and identifying individual rider characteristics that allowed me to do overtakes without cutting things fine and making a fool of myself. In the photo below, I'm setting up to overtake a Gixxer rider on the exit from the downhill hairpin. I'd noticed that he was turning in early which was keeping his speed down through the bend. It was simply a matter of going in deeper , turning in and getting on the gas early (and making a complete stuff-up the next lap!) In a similar vein on the approach to the downhill hairpin, it involved going over a blind crest at pace before the hairpin. Some riders didn't like approaching what they couldn't see at a rate of knots and it was a great opportunity to gas it in second gear up to around 11,000 rpm and get some passing done on that short approach sprint. Wow - so much looking, thinking and learning! 


Looking at the apex and watching the rider in front in case he drifts wide
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Hard(ish) on the gas on the way out
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Part of the IAM team - Ian, Geoff, Harald
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Some rapid line changing - Geoff and Steve
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)


C'mon ya bugger, turn......
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Getting it on!
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

I guess everyone finds one aspect of a track day harder than others and my challenge was the long uphill sweeper towards the pit straight.  Pretty hard on the gas whilst leaned over was ok until some fairly serious speeds were being reached then the airflow on a naked bike whilst moving around on it started to make the front end shimmy slightly.  Having the nerve to keep the bike rolled on when that happened was work in progress!


Fastest part of the track down pit straight
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

Rapidly scrubbing off speed at the end of pit straight at the 100 metre mark!
(photo courtesy of Barry Holland)

As mentioned earlier, cold tyre pressures were set at 30psi because of the temperatures generated on track increasing the pressure.  Out of curiosity after one of the later sessions, I checked the rear tyre pressure about 5 minutes after the session and it was 40psi.  It would have been higher than that immediately after getting in.

Having recently replaced the OEM D214 sport tyres for a set of PR4 sport/touring tyres for all-weather riding with IAM, it was gratifying that they coped really well with the track.  The higher crowns also made turn-in much quicker than the D214's which to be honest were pretty disappointing.

Melting the rubber off my new PR4 rear tyre!

Inspecting the front tyre for the first time, I got a horrible feeling for a moment that it was starting to delaminate but looking more closely, it was picking up rubber deposited on the track by other bikes due to the high temperatures.  Looking around the garage at other Team IAM bikes, we all seemed to be experiencing the same thing.

Picking up tyre rubber from the track

I saw something on TV recently about a rider, Paul Garrett, who had become a paraplegic through an accident.  He had resolved not to let his disability get in the way of leading a full and active life and with the support of family and friends, continues to race with the aid of velcro and other aids holding him onto his bike.  What an inspiration to us all for grabbing life by the scruff of the neck in the face of adversity - truly humbling.  He was stationed outside our garage and it was an utter privilege to see him in person.

Paul Garrett on his Triumph Triple - an absolute inspiration

Some thoughts about the day
They say that you can't teach an old dog new tricks but what an incredible experience!!!!  It's easy to see that trackdays could become really addictive.  I'll be forever grateful to IAM Treasurer Tessa for floating the idea in the first place and moving me out of my comfort zone.  Also to both Tessa and Terry for organising a pit garage which helped to make the day so enjoyable.  Special thanks  to Barry Holland from all of us who took part as he selflessly took over 1000 photos of us during the day whilst he stayed off  his own 2 wheels - pure gold!

Has it helped my road riding?  Probably not but why does it have to?  It's seriously good fun in its own right.  Indirectly, it has shown me just how good the Suzuki is in terms of handling when "pressing on a bit" - something one rarely experiences in normal road riding.  I was surprisingly fresh at the end of a long, hot day and this was probably largely due to continuous re-hydrating.

Thinking a bit deeper about the whole experience, it was a bit like the early days of joining IAM.  The amount of information you need to take in and process to make fast, safe progress round the track is initially overwhelming.  In later sessions, you begin to realise how much more info you're processing to make good decisions.  That's just the same as every IAM member experiences on the road when making the IPSGA process second nature en route to sitting the Advanced Roadcraft test.

As a final aside, fellow rider Terry who is an experienced trackday rider said "Watch your speed on the way home".  He was right on the money as riding at the legal open road speed limit felt awfully slow!!

A wonderful day in great company which I'll remember for a long time!



26 comments:

  1. Good stuff Geoff! Now that you have mastered the track I shall look out for you on the IoM TT circuit?

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    1. Thanks Nikos! I have a photo of me on my Tiger 100 at the 1969 IOM TT way back in the blog. At the rate I chewed up the new tyres on Sunday, the Chief Financial Officer is likely to cut my balls off (a technical term) with too many more outings like that :-) .

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    2. At my age the balls are nearly redundant so I would think carefully if I had the same choice to make!

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    3. Likewise my friend. I do however have a sentimental attachment!

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  2. Awesome stuff Geoff! I bet the smile lasted all the way home!
















    PS: Can I borrow your bike this weekend?

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    1. Thanks Andrew - I'm still re-running it in my head right now with a big grin! Tell you what..... one of our members on a 650 V-Strom was fair flying round the circuit, even on half-worn adventure tyres!

      Errr..... no :-)

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  3. Superbly put, Geoff, it was evidently apparent that as each session arrived so the speed and enjoyment of all the participants increased! I wish I could have joined in, maybe next time. Being able to pursue both my hobbies (motorcycling and photography) was a real pleasure and I enjoyed the day immensely and learnt something too! Some of the photographs I was able to take I hope will be pleasing to the respective bike owners and all pictures will be available to all the participants and the IAM, if ever required. I couldn't help but notice how everyone from our garage improved and quickened the pace as the sessions mounted and whilst there was no racing allowed I have some great shots involving three of our number jockeying for track position. A great day out and educational to boot! Well done everyone, a memorable day!

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    1. Thanks Barry! Look forward to riding with you on the next one. Your magnificent photos will provide wonderful memories for us all. Yep, we all learned heaps and the competitive edge started coming out, haha!

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  4. Geoff
    A well enjoyed read mate, and I know exactly what you mean in every instance having done quite a few track days myself. There is no mistaking the butterflys in the stomach before each and every session, that never seems to go away. Mate I once did a track day with out taping my mirrors up and it was the worst one I’ve ever done. I was constantly looking behind to see that I wasn’t going to get T boned instead of consentraiting on what I was supposed to be doing. Now I just take the mirrors off completely. No problem.

    One thing I’d have to disagree with your comment on will it help you on the road – Probably not. To that I would say that there is no better place to learn how your bike actually handles and how far you can push it to it(your) limits in a relative safe environment. I believe that WILL translate back to your road riding, yes they are both different but you will definetly know your bike and its limits a lot better which will make you a faster and at the same time safer road rider.

    I have another ride day booked in at Eastern Creek coming up in April. Can’t wait, not sure if I’ll take both R1’s yet or not.

    Yes you really do have to watch your speed when you hit the road after the day, very good advice if you can manage to follow it....heh heh....

    Cheers

    Steve

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  5. Hi Steve and thanks! Yep, the organisers were really good about explaining why you tape your mirrors up. Made perfect sense but it's still hard breaking good road habits!

    I don't think we're in any real disagreement. My comment was personal to me based on the Roadcraft training I've done with IAM for use on public roads. I certainly didn't mean to imply that it had no value for riders in general.

    All the best for Eastern Creek. Despite the enormous fun I had, I probably won't do another one as there are heaps of other things on the bucket list!

    Haha! I guess that's why there were a couple of Highway Patrol cars sitting not far from the track! My route home was through the countryside and I did find my speed drifting up on a couple of occasions!

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  6. Good job Geoff!!

    I'd have such an anxiety attack I probably couldn't even get suited up, but you did it!! Well done.

    Thanks for sharing the pics.

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  7. Thanks Brandy!
    Totally understand. Tessa, our IAM Treasurer also expressed exactly the same sentiments that a lot of us felt. Most of us lead comfortable, sheltered lives and stepping out of our comfort zones, no mater what it is; is good for our souls!

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  8. Awesome read there sir!!! It's been forever since I checked in on this blog....and what the bloody hell happened to the triumph?? 😀

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    1. Anthony - how the heck are you??? Great to hear from you and hope you're still riding. You'll find why I switched brands 4 or 5 posts back. Still a Triumph man at heart and this may be a temporary switch! Take care mate.

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  9. Thanks for taking the time to write again Geoff - it's always a pleasure to read your posts - Loui

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    1. Hi Loui, great to hear from you - it's been a long time and hope you're well! The posts will be a bit sporadic but the new bike gave me something to write about, hopefully without being too boring. Safe travels!

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  10. Very well detailed write up Mr James! Just the right mix of fun and informative.

    The story you tell sounds familiar, good fun to read but more fun to experience first hand. Best of all, when you look at the pics you get that buzz all over again.

    PS. I'm guessing you were well pleased you didn't try to squeeze this track day into the tail end of your OEM tyres' life.

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    1. Cheers Rob,
      A fantastic experience for a newbie in a pretty safe environment - the Playday organisers are really on their game. You're right on the money - when I see a particular photo, it brings back that moment and the emotion of it in real clarity.

      Absolutely correct. The D214's would have been down to the canvas and besides, they wouldn't have handled anywhere nearly as well as the 55 section PR4's you recommended - good one mate!

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  11. Thanks so much Geoff, for sharing your story and with such great photos! I should’ve thrown a sickie ;-)

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    1. Hi Lloyd,
      It was a fantastic experience - thanks for the kind words. Just up the road for you so maybe next time!

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  12. Bloody good on yah, I am trying to get fellow GSXS 1000 owners to come and do a track day here in Perth WA. Hopefully some of the forum members will read your excellent piece, and be able to take the plunge, am 62 and addicted to the track , the Redback, as my son nicknamed my red/black GSXS after a very venomous local spider, has done 3500k's
    and 2000 of them have been at the track. Keep on having too much fun for many more years to come

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  13. It's pretty addictive eh? Trouble is, my time is taken up instructing advanced road riding and if I spent any more time on bikes, my wife would slaughter me in my sleep!

    Yeah, we occasionally get redbacks around our ports but your whitetails are a bigger problem here. Not so venomous but more common.

    Same to you - age and cunning beats youthful enthusiasm every time :-)


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  14. Thanks for the write up Geoff, As usual you have a very enjoyable turn of phrase and it made me feel like I was there - as nervou8s or more so than you !

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    1. Many thanks Paul! Having a dose of the nerves is pretty healthy to stop me doing dumb stuff! However, the Playdays on Track team have made the system for newcomers pretty bulletproof so nothing to worry about other than the expected fear of the unknown. That's another bucket list item knocked off!

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  15. G'day Geoff, I thoroughly enjoyed your detailed account of the day. I think that you were pretty brave taking a new bike to the track actually. How did the bike handle on the first half lap or so when running 30 psi? I wonder if 30 psi becomes 40 psi on the track, what does (my) 42 psi on the road become on a hot day? I'm guessing that it wouldn't go up as much as it would probably run cooler at the higher starting temp.
    Those PR4's are damn good tyres. I'm just back from a 3K kms run. I thought that my now 11K kms rear PR4 would be stuffed on return, however, I think it has another 2K kms or so left - pretty amazing on a heavy bike and some two-up riding as well.

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  16. Hey Jules - many thanks and great to hear from you! Err... agree but the opportunity arose and it was one of those things which was an experience not to be put off. First time out on the track was fine as the instructor kept the speed down so tyre temps and grip could gradually build. On subsequent sessions, those of us without tyre warmers kept our corner speed down for the first lap.

    Tyre pressures may get exaggerated on the track because of the forces involved (as shown by melted rubber on the PR4's. They'll certainly go up on a hot day on the road buy maybe by not as much as you wouldn't normally "press on" as hard. The higher pressures you mentioned would probably help too. On the Street Triple, I used to run 32psi front, 38psi rear compared with the manufacturers recommendation of 36F, 42R due to warmer conditions in NZ as opposed to the UK recommendation. There's probably scope on the GSX-S too but with traction control, that helps a bit with grip. Might still tinker a wee bit though after the track experience.

    That's fantastic mileage you're getting from the PR4's on your bike - amazing in fact! Just goes to show what great tyres they are.

    Safe riding mate!

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