A week before this track day I got a call from Jo (the track day organiser) at Silverstone asking whether I would mind moving from the Inters to a new combined Novice/Inters group because the fast group was being replaced by an event for Bennetts (the insurers) with Scott Redding while the Inters group was being replaced by a women’s only group.
I mentioned my concern that some of the faster Inters could be riding at a radically faster speed than first time novice but Jo was well aware of this and reassured me by indicating that there would be fewer riders on track and that the briefing would emphasise the need to look out for slower and less experienced riders on track. I was given the option of taking a credit against a future trackday next year or attending this one – I chose to attend as this was going to be my last Silverstone date for 2013.
I arrived at Silverstone at 7:15 to find the circuit shrouded in mist with poor visibility. There was enough moisture in the air that the track seemed to be damp too – these were less than ideal track conditions. Still it could have been worse as the weather forecast predicted rain showers during the day. Since our group was the first out at 9am, I was hoping for four dry-ish sessions before lunch when the heavens were predicted to open.
The women’s only group was an usual feature for a track day and it was hosted by Maria Costello. There was a full compliment of riders on all kinds of bike from smaller twins to large litre plus bikes. I ended up talking to a few of them and they all seemed a keen and friendly bunch (and why shouldn’t they be?). My feeling is many of these women wouldn’t have ridden in the usual predominantly male track day group, so providing a female only group specifically for them was a way of making track days more accessible. Hopefully some of them will continue to do more track days because my feeling is that more women on track would be to everyone’s benefit.
The instructors for our group included Neil Richardson who I had ridden with for two sessions on the GP circuit back in May. I was amazed that he remembered me at all as I was signing on and as we chatted he offered to ride with me in session 2. Neil was an accomplished 250cc racer in his day – even beating Joey Dunlop in one of the North West 200 races! I really enjoyed riding with him last time out and was looking forward to repeating the experience on the shorter International circuit.
The first session comprised three sighting laps followed by a return to the pits before rejoining the track for the remainder of the session. Although I had been slightly ambivalent about being on a race track at the start of the day, I found that by the end of that first session I was totally hooked again!
In the second session I followed Neil out on the track. My goal was to remain as close behind him as possible as he gradually upped the pace each lap pulling me along behind him. Despite the fact that the track conditions were less than ideal with damp patches here and there, I still managed to lap at 1:33 following him – an almost identical lap time to the one I achieved following Simon Crafar (of MotoVudo fame) the month before on the same circuit but in warmer and brighter conditions.
In the third session, I tried putting what I had learned from Neil into practice on my own. After arriving back in the pits at the end of the session, I was really pleased to find that I was only about a second slower compared to my best lap time following him. Riding following an instructor is definitely easier than riding around the track on your own where you have to make all kinds of decisions like when to brake, when to turn in, what line to take round the corner and when to get back on the power. My only hairy moment that session came when I was nearly rammed from behind going into the Vale chicane – you can see this in the short clip below.
Luckily no-one got hurt and the Yamaha rider even managed to keep his bike upright despite the deep gravel that he plowed into, which was pretty impressive.
As I become more familiar with Silverstone I’m finding that many of these riding decisions are becoming more automatic. The other thing which is improving (I think) is my body position through corners – I definitely feel more relaxed and almost as though I’m hanging off the bike like a monkey in left handers. Things aren’t quite so good on right handers where I can still feel a lot of tension in my back and neck so this is an area that I’m going to have to keep working on in the future.
I’m also starting to notice how much more difficult it is to get past slightly slower riders on bigger bikes now. This is due to the fact that I’m riding more quickly and the difference between my riding and many of the other riders in my group is less than it was in the past. Those riders that I can catch going into a corner, I often struggle to pass on the exit as they use their bike’s greater power to blast away from the corner. It’s starting to dawn on me that the only way to get past bigger bikes is to either outbreak them into the corner and/or carry more speed through the corner and ride around them where possible. Even though I could outdrag a bigger capacity bike down the straight in the novice group, it is almost impossible to do the same in the inters group with faster and more experienced riders.
During the fourth session, the rain that was forecast arrived and the track gradually became wetter as the session wore on. In fact the rain continued over lunch and lasted for both of my afternoon sessions. The rain almost meant that I abandoned the day at lunchtime, but after talking with a couple of the instructors, I was persuaded to venture out anyway. They reminded me of the fact that riding in the rain teaches you many things… especially smoothness.
|1||–||–||Didn’t time this session|
|2||10||1:33.34||Riding following Neil, the instructor|
Riding in the rain was actually a lot more fun than I remembered the last I tried it at Snetterton. Adding a couple of psi to the tyres helped them cut through the water more and massively improved their feel out on track especially in the corners. What’s amazing is how hard you can both accelerate and brake provided that the bike is kept upright or nearly so. Hanging off the bike really comes into its own in the wet as it allows you to carry a faster corner speed for less lean angle. Following the instructors on track I also noticed how much more they widened the corners in order to minimise their mid corner lean angles. By the end of the last session, I was enjoying myself so much that I had gained sufficient confidence to chop another 4.5 seconds off my lap time compared to the previous session!
I thoroughly enjoyed this track day. I was riding with a good friend and it was fun seeing how much they were enjoying themself too. Silverstone really is a sublime track day venue. While I love the GP track, the smaller International circuit layout is perfect for allowing you to practice the same corners over and over. It has a perfect mix of fast sweeping corners, tight turns and the wonderfully fast Hangar Straight. The organisation at Silverstone is getting better and better, and they really go the extra mile in providing free tea and coffee, lunch vouchers and most importantly free instruction (without the time pressures that paid slots create). Combine that with the fact that the Silverstone instructors are a friendly and approachable bunch who are available throughout the day and you would be hard pushed to find a more enjoyable and better value for money track day anywhere in the UK.
I plan on booking up quite a few events at Silverstone in 2014… just as soon as they release next year’s track day calendar!