Giacomo Agostini, Valentino Rossi, Mike Hailwood and even Barry Sheene; four of the greatest names in motorcycle racing history, and they all started by learning on a race track. The road to becoming the next Grand Prix winner is a long and winding one that requires years of hard work, dedication and an increasing level of outside investment of time, money and experience from people who know what it takes to race at the highest levels.
For some, it’s a calling; a destiny even. For most of us though it’s nothing more than a dream. However, that doesn’t mean to say that as a humble road rider you can’t experience the thrills (and spills) of getting your knee down around some of the world’s most iconic race circuits and sampling the adrenalin inducing, heart pumping speeds as you follow in the shadows of your racing heroes.
Track days have been around for a while now and have long been the playgrounds of all those would-be racers; opening up the otherwise forbidden realms of some of the worlds most hallowed tarmac. Track days offer you the chance to be on a real race track with qualified instructors and include safety items such as marshals and medical facilities. It’s a chance to do the things your bike was designed for, but you simply aren’t allowed to do on the roads. It’s a chance to put your bike and yourself to the test as you chase the chequered flag, in pursuit of the fastest lap time (and ultimate bragging rights over your friends) and to regale in reminiscent stories of valor and heroism long after the day has ended. It doesn’t get more exciting than that!
A good track day will provide all of this and more. It is widely considered that learning to ride properly on a track makes you a better road rider; which stands to reason when you think about it. It’s not so much about speed but positioning on the road, confidence in the corners and making judgments about the road ahead. It will also allow you to learn a lot about the capabilities of your bike, grow confidence in your own abilities as well as understand your own limitations in the relative safety of a closed circuit, should the worst happen.
So, now we’ve whet your appetite for a track day adventure, how do you get involved? There are several factors to consider when booking your very first track day to make sure you get maximum benefit and enjoyment from it. These factors are as follows:
1. Instruction/Race School
All Track Day organisers have a pool of instructors who will be present at each Track Day. The instructors are usually made up of a mixture of vastly experienced road riders (emergency service riders, advanced riding instructors, etc.), Ex & current road and short circuit racers; it’s not unusual to find yourself receiving riding tips direct from BSB, WSB and TT riders at many of the circuits in Britain. Their knowledge and experience is invaluable to the novice as they’ll take you step by step through the riding methods used on a race track. More experienced riders will benefit just as much whether you are looking to shave a few more seconds off of your lap or just looking to get your knee down. You will be briefed on techniques, positioning, corners, timing and much more. The instructor will then follow you out onto the track while you put these methods in to practice; your instructor is then perfectly placed to give you feedback on your performance and how to progress next.
Each organiser utilises their instructors in slightly different ways; some provide them as standard throughout the course of the day ensuring that each group gets some time with an instructor whether it be in all sessions or just 1, others use them in a standalone race school which may be booked along with your Track Day. Check when making your booking so as not to miss out. Receiving at least some tuition is highly recommended for all riders but especially for beginners- you won’t be disappointed.
2. Your bike or Their Bike?
You generally will have 2 options when booking a track day- these don’t always apply at all circuits and will often depend on the type of track day you want to book, something which we will touch on later, but either option may be determined straight away by your own personal financial and other circumstances. Your options are to take your own bike on track or to hire a bike from the track day hire company. There are several pros and cons to both options.
Using your own bike can be better as you can build on the relationship you already have with your bike, you know its characteristics and it should be a bike you are already comfortable riding. That said, you may have a few qualms about taking your bike up to the red line and thrashing both the brakes and tyres (and other mechanical bits) over several laps of the race track. Your own bike may not be best suited for track use, a custom cruiser for example, and you will have little choice other than to hire a bike. If you are using your own bike you should note that it will have to pass scrutineering before being allowed on track so it needs to be in good, safe working order. Requirements vary at different circuits, but we will touch on this again later.
Hiring a bike from the Track Day hire company can make a huge amount of sense. Their mechanics will have checked each bike carefully before the start of the day (and will continue to do so during the day). The bikes will have passed scrutineering and may come equipped with more specialist tyres and suspension settings to allow you to maximize your own riding performance. There are, of course, additional costs to your Track Day experience if you choose to hire a bike. Costs varying greatly depending on the service provided by each of the many different Track Day hire companies. Some simply supply the bike, tyres and a technician to maintain the bike- this will cost in the region of £150-£180 per bike, per day. Others offer this plus fuel, refreshments, rest areas, advice and guidance. For this you can expect to pay around £250-£280 per bike, per day. The hire companies will meet you at the circuit of your choice on the day of your booking. They are separate companies to the Track Day organisers though so will have to be booked independently of each other. An example of a typical track day hire company can be found here, although others are of course available www.smallboytrackbikes.co.uk
3. Venue & Transport
Track days are offered at circuits’ right across Europe; from top flight GP circuits to local club circuits. This is largely a personal choice determined by any particular aspirations you may have to ride at a specific track together with budget and ease of travel/transportation considerations. It is usual to start off fairly close to home for both convenience and cost. If you then want to travel further afield the options are almost endless. If you are taking you own bike you should consider whether you are going to ride your bike to the circuit or if you will transport it in a van or trailer. Taking your bike in a van is considered to be the better option as track days can be long and tiring and you will want some minor comforts to be able to relax between sessions. Taking a van will allow you a bring a folding camping chair for example, a cool box with drinks and snacks, a packed lunch, a few tools, etc. You can’t always rely on the track-side facilities to be open. The more experienced track day goers may also take spare tyres, tyre warmers or even more than one bike!
Although pulling up to the circuit gates on your bike and riding straight onto the starting grid might seem like a dream come true, it’s far from practical. You will also need to consider how you will be feeling at the end of your track day- you will be both mentally and physically tired and you will have been in and out of the saddle all day. It also takes a little while to change your mind-set from race track to on-road, so if you are riding home at the end of the day take some time out to rest after your last track session and focus your mind on the journey home and away from the high speed corners of the race track.
4. Which Group?
Track days are usually split into ability groups, who will take it in turns to use the track. These groups help to keep down the numbers of riders on track at any one time, giving you a better quality of time on track, and they allow for set session times to make sure that everyone gets a fair and equal amount of time on the track. Groups will help the marshals control the track environment to provide you with the highest levels of safety possible and grouping by ability ensures the faster riders aren’t tangling with the slower novice riders (again for safety and also for everybody’s enjoyment of the day). You can expect to choice from 2 or 3 groups, sometimes more, usually ranging from novice (slow) to fast. It’s important to be realistic with your selection. Selecting a fast group when you have not ridden on a track before would be dangerous. Similarly, deliberately choosing a group that you are too fast for will prove unsettling for those around you on the track, which in turns becomes dangerous. If you are new to track days you should select the novice or slowest group available and ideally pay for expert tuition for the first couple of sessions. This will add to the overall cost of your day but the benefits you will receive from the guidance of a race school instructor will be the difference between an okay day and an amazing day! If you really are a natural, they will move you up a group.
If you are unsure which group you should choose always call the track day organiser and ask their advice before booking. They are best placed to guide you in making the right decision. If you do end up in the wrong group on the day then the marshals/instructors will either assist you in reaching the required level to stay in that group or move you to a more suitable one, whether that be up or down.
5. What if I crash?
Unfortunately motorsport is one of those sports with a degree of inherent risk. Accidents do happen on track days, just as they happen during real races and damage may be sustained to your own or a hired bike and perhaps even to you. This is another good reason why using a van or trailer to transport your bike to the circuit is a good idea. Should you crash your bike during the course of the day the chances are that the marshals and track staff will assist you in collecting your bike from the gravel and getting it back to the pits. That however is where their help will end. If you didn’t bring a van and you can’t persuade a fellow rider to drop you and your bike back at home you will have to arrange for your own recovery. It’s worth remembering that your motorcycle insurance policy won’t cover you for any sort of track or racing incidents, so you cannot rely on them to help you. Similarly they won’t pay for any repairs that are needed as a result of the track day.
For more minor incidents, some riders will bring a few spares: levers, foot pegs, handlebars, etc. to keep the bike going throughout the day. Some will also replace their relatively expensive original ‘road going’ fairing with a cheaper set of aftermarket race fairings, which will lessen the financial blow of dropping your bike on track - race fairing for most sports bikes will cost approx. £300-£600 for a full set [excl. Fuel tank] compared to approx. £2500-£3000 for genuine replacements from some manufacturers- sometimes more!
6. Track Day Insurance
Some insurance companies now offer a special type of policy specifically for track days. These policies can be purchased for either one off events or to cover a number of days throughout the course of a year. Typically they will cover damage to the bike, helmet and leathers and recovery costs although they tend not to pay out for labour fees and other garage costs- therefore any settlement you receive is intended for you to rectify the damages yourself rather than the insurer place the vehicle with a garage and have it repaired for you. There are a number of reasons for this which are beyond the scope of this article but largely revolve around the frequency in which track day bikes are being adapted and enhanced beyond what is permitted on UK roads.
All bikes and helmets should be inspected by a scrutineer before going on track. Scrutineering is an important part of ensuring the safety of those on and around the track. Your bike should be in good order before arriving at the circuit. You will have time to tinker with the bike during the day but it must conform to the scrutineering rules at all times and will be inspected before being allowed on track. The scrutineers will carry out a number of checks similar to an MOT. If your bike fails scrutineering and can’t be rectified at the track then it will be “game over” before you have even begun, so spend some time before you go to make sure your bike is ready. These rules are laid down by the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) who governs motorcycle racing in the UK. Their guidelines are also used for track days.
Here are a few tips on what to check before you take your own bike to the track:
- Glass- where possible remove mirrors and any glass or plastic that might smash and shatter. Any glass that can’t be removed (headlamps for example) should be taped over. Headlamps that are taped should be switched off; headlamps that don’t turn off should be unplugged or fuse pulled to stop the tape/lens melting.
- Stands- Centre/Main stands should be such that they cannot be scraped on the track. This isn’t a 10 minute job on most modern faired bikes, so take some time to do this before you arrive. Side/kick stands with loose springs should be lock wired and cable tied up with the bike on a paddock stand.
- Brake Pads- Fronts and rears should have visible wear markers running through the pads. You will be braking much harder than on the road so it’s worth investing in new pads before you go. Sticking or binding brakes will be failed. Always replace brake pads and discs as pairs.
- Hydraulic Fluid- Reservoirs filled to the correct levels should show clean or relatively fresh fluid. Distinctly old and gungy fluid will fail.
- Cables- Should not snag when the steering is turned, should be correctly routed and properly secured at both ends.
- Steering Head/Head race bearing- Should have smooth movement free from any notching. Even the slightest click or knock could indicate a worn bearing. Again, this is not a 10 minute job to replace. Check them regularly and replace them if in any doubt before you go.
- Wheel Bearings- As above, should have smooth movement free of any notching or free-play.
- Chain- Should be lubricated, properly adjusted and free from tight spots. Sprockets with teeth missing, serious tight spots in chains and badly adjusted chains will all fail.
- Oil Leaks- Check for leaks of any type. Leaking fluid from anywhere on the bike is an instant fail.
- Nut & Bolt check (Lock Wiring) - Go around the bike and check all the major nuts and bolts are tight. For instance- spindles, calipers, brake line banjo bolts, clip-ons/handlebars, yoke pinch bolts, steering top nut, sump plug, oil filter, radiator cap, silencer, levers & pedals and fairing bolts (this list is not exhaustive!). Lock wiring isn’t normally required for road bikes but never hurts on the major areas such as sump plug and oil filter.
- Noise- All circuits have noise limits either agreed with local residents or imposed by local authorities. It is important for public relations and to ensure the longevity of access to race circuits throughout the country that we all abide by these rules. Scrutineers are generally quite hot on noise checks. Permissible levels vary from one circuit to another so check before you go that your bike conforms to the rules. Excess noise is an instant fail.
- Helmets- All riders on track must wear an ACU Gold standard helmet.
Nothing here is beyond the capabilities of someone with the most basic of tool kits and is no more than what is expected of any rider in terms of general maintenance of their vehicle; if you are unsure though it is always best to seek the advice of a garage.
Once you have your “eye in” and a few track days under your belt you will soon be moving up the ability groups. You will notice that a lot of track day regulars now keep a separate bike for track days rather than using their road bike. This is good if you can manage it as it will allow you to keep your track bike in a constant ‘track ready’ state rather than having to keep adapting your road bike for track use. It also means that you won’t run the risk of putting your road bike out of action if you do have a crash. These track bikes tend to be bikes that people have had on the road, the engines, chassis, etc. are all fine but perhaps the body work is in a poor state or some of the ancillary parts are broken or missing. The Track day goer would acquire this machine, relatively cheaply compared to a smart, road going version, and do it up with cheaper racing parts, never intending to put it on the road.
This country has a whole host of exciting and challenging tracks to choose from. Some of the more popular options are of course the Grand Prix and BSB circuits such as Donnington Park, Snetterton, Cadwell Park, Brands Hatch, Oulton Park & Silverstone to name but a few. Others worth visiting that you might not think of are circuits such as Anglesey, Bedford or Castle Combe, where clubs like the North Gloucester Road Racing Club meet (www.ngroadracing.org). Their web site, or indeed any similar club that may be based closer to your own location is a really good place to start if you want to get involved in club racing.
You can expect to pay in the region of £100-£140 for a track day comprising of 3 sessions, usually around 20 mins each, on a weekday. Some circuits offer evening slots of just 2 sessions for around £50 which is handy if you are local. Prices rise at the weekends when you can expect to pay around £120-£180 for the day. These prices exclude your own sundries such as tyres and fuel which you will be expected to supply yourself.
If it’s adventure you are looking for then Spain, France and the Czech Republic are popular choices with several British companies hosting track days at circuits across Europe, many offering packages which include transporting your bike and equipment, 4* hotels (room only) and track fees for one set price. These packages will typically include 3 days at the track and again tyres and fuel are not included. You will travel, race and socialise with like-minded people while combining the experience with a break abroad. For a package like this you can expect to pay in the region of £500-£650.
For general advice, guidance and to book a track day either here or abroad visit our friends at No Limits Track Days- www.nolimitstrackdays.com where you will find all the information you need on dates, prices, locations and how to book.