7 STEPS TO LEARNING TRACKS…
Getting to grips with newcircuits isn’t always easy, but it’s simpler than you might think if you apply this process.
We’re not talking about going back to school but, before your trackday, try to figure the circuit’s layout. YouTube videos are spot-on for this, assuming the rider you’re watching is capable of hitting apexes. If they’re not, then just focus on grasping how many bends there are and what turn follows the next.
Gawping at a track map will also be pretty helpful for figuring the layout, but a more engaging (and fun) way of learning a circuit is to fire up the old games console. Yes, really. Some of the more recent videogames feature uncannily accurate digital versions of the real thing, so they make for the perfect way to bang in a load of laps before you’ve even set foot on the track you’re trying to learn.
Every trackday starts with a briefing and while you might be fighting the urge to nod off at some points, you should pay particular attention to the bit where the host’s instructors talk about the track’s layout and give guidance on where to pass, which bits are quick, and where not to be a hero.
Although track instructors aren’t necessarily the quickest of riders, most of them have clocked up crazily high numbers of laps at circuits, so they know what they’re on about (well, most of them). After the briefing, go and collar one for a bit more info. Getting an idea of how to tackle certain corners and finding out what gears to run will make the learning process a lot easier.
3 TAKE IT ALL IN
When the time comes to let rip, don’t be in a hurry to just follow the guy in front and be drawn into making mistakes. Chill out, find some space and do your own thing. Most trackdays run around seven 15-20 minute sessions per day, so you’ve plenty of time to break the track’s lap record later that afternoon. Ride within your comfort zone, appreciating the flow of the circuit, the cambers of the corners and where the undulations make the track blind. It’s all about getting familiarised and grasping the sheer basics of the circuit.
4 PICK A GEAR
Once you’ve worked out which way round the track goes, the next most important thing is to work on your gear selection. If you’re riding a road bike, chances are your gearing will be way too high, but you’ll just have to adapt if that’s the case. If you’ve got spare sprockets, you should look to change them to maximise your exit drive and top end. But don’t worry about any of that until you’ve got the basics of what gear goes where.
The trick is to choose a gear that keeps the motor bubbling on the sweet spot ready for you to drive out of a bend. On most inline-fours, that means choosing a gear that’ll keep the revs north of 8,000rpm. Make your gear selections habitual, and keep tabs on them with a gear indicator, assuming your bike’s got one. Don’t be afraid to ask an instructor if you’re struggling to work out what gear goes where.
5 GET IN LINE
If you’re on a bad line, you’re either going to go slow or crash. It really is that simple much of the time. Most trackday companies put cones on corner apexes, and some even use cones to highlight braking markers and turn-in points. The most common mistake people make on track is to turn in early and run out wide on the exit; lining you up for a stint of motocross if you’re not careful. Don’t let that happen. Constantly think about your positioning and make sure you’re using the full width of the track on the run-in and exit from a bend; unless an immediately following corner dictates otherwise.
Use the cones and get in a habit of turning in as late as necessary to hit those apexes. At first, don’t worry about corner speed, or how hard you rinse the throttle on the way out; just get yourself running the right lines first and foremost. Speed is something you can always add into the equation later on, but not if you’re nine foot off an apex. If you’re struggling with the cone system, ask an experienced rider or instructor to give you a tow around.
6 BRAKE WITH HABIT
Some people go balls out and hop on the anchors when it seems right. Other people use references. They can be anything from purposefully placed marker boards to tarmac changes, scalps in the track to areas where you can see loads of rubber. One piece of advice is to keep your references simple; ones that require you straining your eyes for several seconds can be lethal.
Once you know which way the track goes and you’ve a good idea of what braking areas are on the track, start to think about where you’re braking and get into a habit of applying the brakes at the same place each lap. You’ll probably find the first few times daunting as you hurtle towards your marker, but it’ll soon get easier. Repetition is the key to success, so before long you’ll find yourself much more relaxed as you squeeze on the go-slow lever. Do that enough times and you’ll soon find yourself eager to brake later. That’s a good thing. That’s progress.
So, the options are then to either find a new marker or calibrate your mind to brake a second or so after the marker you’ve just passed. The choice is yours. One thing that is advisable is to brake progressively at first, until you’ve got utter confidence in yourself and the brakes to use them harder.
7 RULE THE TRACK
Once you know your lines, gears and braking markers, you’re pretty much on your way to becoming a Grand Prix rider. Well, maybe not, but you’re going to be a lot better off than just winging it every lap. But here’s the catch – don’t get lazy. To truly find a good pace and build on your confidence you have to repeat the above processes time and again. The quicker you get, the later you’ll brake, the faster you’ll corner and the higher the gear selection you’ll use. It’s all progressive, so be prepared to make changes as and when they’re needed. Stick to this template and you’ll find learning new tracks a doddle.
ONCE YOU KNOW LINES, GEARS AND BRAKE MARKERS, YOU’RE ON YOUR WAY TO BEING A GP RACER. MAYBE...
Poring over track maps can aid your understanding of a circuit...
Watching on-board laps can help...
...but intimate personal tuition is priceless!
No cones for the right line? Ask an expert! (not pictured...)
Now that’s learning a track in comfort!
Most tracks wouldn’t let you go to these lengths to highlight your braking marker...