Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Track Day at Donington Park

You may find this boring, you may find it interesting. I thought I'd share my experience.

My First Track day

I did my first track day on the 23rd September at with Focussed Events at Donington park. This is my narrative of the day which aims to provide some insight in to what happens and what to expect. The day, for me, went from 5:50 am to 6:30pm including travel (7:45am-5pm on track). One thing of note is that your insurance will not cover you for use on the track so if you muller your bike you need to have a way to recover it and get home. My back up plan was my wife using her brother’s transit van third party and a plank of wood and a 4 tonne winch. Thankfully I didn't need to try out that eventuality but it is best to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Before I got on the track

If you can get a group of you to go, it makes the day a lot better, I went with some people I met through Roadcraft Nottingham’s ride out group. Russ is an excellent chap who shares his knowledge freely and is a motorcycle evangelist and you can tell he loves motor bikes and the community.

I brimmed the tank the day before as I had to leave home at 6:20am, travel 30 miles to meet a friend and take an emergency ACU lid as I wasn't sure they’d let me on track with my Caberg V2 407. Then it was 30 miles up the A444 to Donington. I only live about 40 miles from Donington in the first place and sign on starts at 7:45. I guarantee you that you’ll get your money’s worth, it’s a massively long day and I was mentally and physically exhausted at the end of it.

My notes of things to take were: Rain suit (just in case), drivers license (both parts), indemnity form, credit card, cash card, mobile phone (for emergency calls, Facebook, Email and photos)

Things I could/should have taken: SLR/compact camera, action cam (I didn't think it would be allowed but loadsa guys had them on their bikes, no helmet ones allowed), Foot pump, lunch (£3.90 for a bacon buttie), water (£1.50 for a 500ml generic), masking tape and gaffer tape (masking tape so the gaffer tape doesn't leave gum on your mirrors etc).

I managed to do the entire track day on a single tank of fuel (109 miles of WOT) including the journey there (30 miles). I had to fill up at the first petrol station I found on the way home (but I only got 13 litres in the tank). The fuel on site was credit/debit card only unmanned and it was £1.60 per litre and only had super unleaded which I thought was not unreasonable for track side fuel.

I met up with Russ and the guys in garage 11, introductions followed and some banter. I was feeling apprehensive. The guys were taping up their indicators, head lights, brake lights and rear view mirrors. The weather was bad but not as bad as it could have been. The forecast had been cloudy and dry but a fair drizzle was present.

We signed on which consisted of showing both parts of the drivers license, getting a bracelet and handing over the indemnity form. A few people were doing last minute negotiation to change groups (1 novice, 2 intermediate, 3 advanced and group 4 was insane racers).

Driver briefing

Driver briefing happened at 8:45 which arrived much sooner than I thought it would. Main point was about silencers. They have noise monitors around the track and anything over 95db and you’d get a black flag, get two black flags and your day is over. There were plenty of race prepared bikes which sounded noisy and some with baked bean cans welded on but I saw no black flags during the day. Their main point was that Mallory was going to close (it seems to them to be a foregone conclusion even though the news I heard was quite positive) due to the motorbikers doing a few laps with the baffles in and then taking them out after a couple of sessions. They made it crystal clear that a factory exhaust was the only option for the day and after watching the bikes they certainly seemed plenty fast enough to me.

I would say, at a guestimate, about 60%+ of the bikes were track only and had fibreglass body work, the lights, brakes and mirrors all removed. Probably 60%+were larger than 600cc. 80% were sports, my Fazer stood out like a sore thumb.

The experience

I didn't change my tyre pressures during the day although most of the guys on the sports bikes did. There was a good sense of camaraderie and plenty of guys around to lend a hand. One guy had his suspension settings changed completely which he said improved his stock R1 dramatically. Another guy changed his track tyres for wets (which got rid of the drizzle around midday). Most of the bikers had Drift and Go Pro units on their bikes with the Ghost, HD170 and Hero 2 being the most popular.

I was in the novice group and expected to wear a fluorescent jacket but no one questioned or asked me to. No one checked my helmet or my bike at all.We did 3 sighting laps which were done on a amber flag so no overtaking and at about 50mph. Most of the track could be done at 50 without much drama apart from the hairpins. The effect was like a long snake winding across the racing line around the track.

At this point the misty drizzle was obvious. The track was properly damp and my visor has water streaming from it. My apprehension was palpable. I don’t ride in the wet, my tyres were years old and I've only been riding 6 months. Having said that it didn't stop me honing from the second we were on track. I think I managed to overtake 10 bikes during the day and I was going flat out at the limit of my ability. I was overtaken, with ease, at least 80 times. I see no shame in this as not only am I inexperienced, the other guys were mainly on much more powerful bikes.

There were 5 sessions during which each of the 4 groups went out for about 20 minutes at a time. This was about 5 laps or so which is plenty enough for a novice. The first 2 sessions were harrowing as the track was damp but the remaining 3 were brilliant.

For one session I asked if an instructor could take me round the track as it was free. As I thrashed the Fazer down the racing line the instructor was ahead of me, looking backwards at me whilst twisted in his seat riding one handed around the racing corners without even breaking a sweat. He rode in front of me for 2 laps using his arm to indicate the racing line, then behind me for 2, then in front of me for 1 last lap showing the points where I needed to be wider or move in more. Then, after pulling in after the chequered flag, he came up to the garage and told me some of the multitude of things I wasn't doing properly. It was all positive input but I was hoping for some praise…. That didn't happen ;-). I needed to hold on to the tank more with my thighs and move out so that I still feel anchored to the bike. When I was leaning off, I thought I had a whole cheek off the seat when I hung off for the lefts and right but apparently whilst I was doing it for the rights, I was hardly off at all for the lefts. Admittedly there are only about 2 proper left hands on the whole track.

According to one of the guys this can actually be a real issue as the left hand side of the tyre does keep warm meaning that you have a hotter better sticking tyre on the right hand corners than the left. This does lead to the left hand bends being deceptively dangerous. The right hand side of my tyre was bobbling and tacky whilst the left hand side was not.

I found the whole track a complete hoot and very enjoyable. Making Mcleans and Coppice in to a single turn was great fun, going from 110 to about 30 for the esses makes you very nervous, especially braking hard in the wet, then committing to a couple of sharpish turns.

I found most improvement for me in Melbourne, a real opportunity to take up the entire track and get the bike leant over (no I didn't get my knee down) and clip the apex and get the WOT on the way out. Goddards is probably the turn I need most improvement for as I’d take it too sharply or be in the wrong gear for the exit. It’s a deceptively large bend and sometimes I’d slow down for it too much meaning I’d have to throttle on during the bend, rather than on the exit.


It was a brilliant and fantastic day. The company was excellent with none of the attitude or arrogance that I was expecting. I didn't come off the bike which was a real danger for me as I was pushing my limits and my limits are very real to me. A number of times going in to a corner I was thinking “I’m going way too fast for this but I can’t brake or change down without unsettling the bike” and when I came out of the corner with ease I was stunned and happy and very satisfied. Riding in the damp, whilst unexpected, gave me some valuable experience too.

The only negative for me was the rider’s perceived abilities. There were people in the novice group who should have been in intermediate, they were absolutely caning it. Likewise there were people in the intermediate and advanced groups that should have been up or down a group too. I would see a 2 cylinder thumper out in the advanced group being overtaken left and right by the sports bikes lap after lap (I may be showing my lack of knowledge and they may have been competitive but it certainly didn't look like it to me).

Oh, and today I ache all over. I think I'm all hooned out for the week.

I hope this is of use to someone. If you've not done a track day, it's a fantastic experience and a great hoot.