Following on from our success at the Ron Haslam Racing School, Petra, Greg and I decided to put into practice what we had learned but using our own bikes (Petra a Honda 600CBRf and Greg a Suzuki 750 GSXR), hence the track day.
For ease of access to all three of us we decided on Brands Hatch and chose one of their novices evening sessions. Weather forecast for the afternoon were cloudy, windy but dry with some threat of light showers but generally warm for the most.
On arrival at Brands at around 16:15 I had the pleasure of trying to get the Buell through the Db test which is a requirement for evening sessions at Brands, let’s just say we passed the test.....
Next came the standard signing in procedure and then briefing at 16:30 by MotorSport Vision. Everything seemed fine (no wheelies, no stoppies, no reckless riding, no smoking, no snogging etc....) until the point where we are told no overtaking in the bends! How else are you meant to overtake on a Buell! At this point I was ready to ask for a refund and go home. Then I remembered that this was not a Race but a Track day. Then redemption was the next part of the briefing about overtaking. Other than the obvious straight lines (big smiles from all the Power Rangers) you are allowed to overtake into the braking zone, but must give way if the bike in front has started leaning into the bend (big smile from the Buell rider/s), fine line deciding if the guy in front has actually started leaning in or just lifting his arse cheek to relieve some of the pressure. The sessions were going to be 3 sighting laps for the inter/advanced group followed by 3 sighting laps for the novice group and then straight into 20 minute sessions per group. Estimate was that we should all get three 20 minute sessions and would average between 12 to 15 laps depending on your abilities and weather conditions (and no crashes!).
After the briefing we were told to get our bikes and make our way, via the tunnel to the paddocks, chose a garage and wait to be called out on the sessions. We ended in garage 18 and shared it with three other guys whom I had met from the KTM forum some while back, Dutch, his other half Duchess and his brother. I know they used to be on the old UKBeg forum as Duchess rides an XB12s. Dutch rides a KTM 990 Super Duke (riding in the inter/advanced group) and his brother rides a KTM 950SM. The rest of the field was mainly made up of the three main Japanese manufacturers from 400cc to 1300cc (one very nice Honda 250 NSR and one very new R1). There were a couple of Triumphs, Ducati and a Benelli TNT. I saw one other XB12s riding in the inter/advanced group but I did not manage to speak to him (or was it that he ignored me...) Loads of people removing number plates (it was recommended to remove mirrors), adjusting suspensions and reducing tyre pressure. I had no intention of riding any slower than I do on the road so left the suspension setting as they were (at least I knew how my bike would react) with the only concessions being to reduce the rear tyre pressure from 36psi to 34psi and the front from 34psi to 32psi (mental note to oneself must remember to put some air back in them...) as they were likely to get slightly warmer than normal road use.
The sighting laps are a good idea as you follow an instructor round, who tries to show you the braking points, leaning in points and the general racing line. The instructor picks up the pace through the second and third lap and then everyone is back into the pits. I say try because when there is a group of 10 to 12 riders the lines get a bit distorted if you are at the back of the pack.
As the original idea was to put into practice what we had learnt at Donington I had intended to take it easy and see how the Uly handled herself round a race track. The 1st session was intended to be a gentle introduction into the circuit, get my feel for the braking zones and how to handle Paddock Hill bend. In my mind I tried to identify certain areas of the track with roads that I ride or have ridden in the past. Hailwood Hill / Druids Hairpin into Graham Hill Bend as a typical hairpin that one finds on the mountain roads, other than the fact it flattens out at the top of Hailwood which makes it interesting if you miss your braking point... Graham Bend into Cooper Straight and onto the start of Mclarens as a long sweeping bit that one finds on main national roads. For me the challenge was going to get my head and the Uly round Clearways/Clark Curve onto Brabham Straight, especially as there is a break in the tarmac almost all the round Clark Curve along the racing line and where you want to start putting the power down. Paddock Hill Bend dips downhill into the bend and the bike bottoms out into Hailwood Hill. I did not use many of the classic racing lines in that session but I did find my braking points and leaning in points. I was also able to judge the quality of the opposition (sorry other riders) for future reference.
For me the 2nd session started after the second lap when I decided to start pushing the Uly and making the most of its strength, braking, handling in the bends and torque coming out of the bends. This meant that for most of the 2nd session I managed to get some lead on the bikes behind, using the torque, but they eventually would over take me on the straights where the lack of top end and aerodynamics on the Uly (read fat rider) are obvious, but with a good bit of slip streaming I was able to stay in touch. This meant that when they throttled back and started braking for the next bend I was able to go past them into my braking zone and into the corners back in front. From some of the glares I got back in pit lane it was obvious I annoyed/upset a few of them. Halfway through the second session everyone seemed to slow down, I could not see any flags or indication as to why I should be slowing down until it dawned on me that it had been raining for the last 5 minutes or so, I cannot remember anyone saying rain equalled slowly down.
On the 3rd session everything went right and wrong at the same time. I managed to get out of pit lane just behind the instructors and their pupils and by Druids had got past them. This gave me an open track where I managed, for at least 3 laps, to get my lines right, brake slightly earlier to get my entry speed into the corners right and be smooth, hence enabling me to get the power down that little bit sooner coming out of the bends and getting the bike setup right for the straights and the next bend. This resulted in my scraping the right foot peg at Druids and the left one at Graham Hill. I also managed to hit the rev limiter a couple of times at the end of the straight, which is unheard of from me normally. By then I had caught up with some of the back markers (sorry slower riders) and coming up Hailwood Hill I overshot my braking point (slightly) so had to use more rear brake than normal whilst starting to lean into the bend, which on the bright side meant I backed it into Druids, though not necessarily totally under control
. At that point I decided to ease off as I had had a good few laps and the riders in front were all bunched up. Then right in front of me a guy on a GSXR (not Greg) decided to lay his bike down in Graham Hill Bend, red flags came out and that was the end of the day as it was nearly 20:00.
I can only marvel at the flexibility of the Uly, last week I had panniers and camping equipment loaded, doing 550 odd miles round France and Belgium in total comfort and today I am scraping the foot begs on a track day. Nothing but praise for the Michelin Road Pilots 2, the confidence they give through their road holding abilities and the feedback you get from them made the day for me. They held to the track without any faults to be found and when they did start to let go, due to rider input, they gave plenty of early feedback to let you know what they were doing
. The suspension worked fine and absorb the oddities of the track without any problem, probably worried the marshal a bit at Druids with the amount of dive from the front when piling on the anchors. The front brake, I have fitted an R1 front master cylinder, was really progressive and strong and the rear allowed good trail braking without locking up the rear, except for the aforementioned rider error. The bike is outstanding as always. Would I change anything, yes I need a new set of brake pads at the front and the rear as the ones on there are cooked.
All three of us will be going back to Brands for another session in the next month or so, though this time I might take the MV Agusta