Sunday, September 2, 2012

Queensland Raceway - What to expect on your first track day.

Biggest fear?
I've been talking about it for years, but still hadn't done one. Why? Simple. Breaking my bike. 
Yeah, I didn't want to drop it and write it off, and I know the road is a dangerous place, but you tend to ride within a different set of parameters, known limits. On the track anything goes, go as fast as you can and try to keep it upright. Harder than it sounds.

Then Will, of Billeigh Photography fame, tells me he's doing a track day with Champion's ride days on his new FZ8. This sparked a new interest. And another mates too apparently, because then Dave also took his R6 up to the QLD raceway for a day's thrash. So it was time to bite the bullet.

$190 later and booked in with Dave, who was keen to do it again already, for the Saturday. There's a choice of groups with red for beginners, green for slow intermediate, blue for fast intermediate, and yellow for FAST baby!

At Dave's advice I took green. His first track day was in red, but being able to overtake a fair few riders, chose to move up a level. Good advice.

The bike needs to be right. Period. Whatever you think you can do on the road isn't a patch on the abuse it'll get on the track. So check it over well. I did the following:

  • Unbolt the calipers, clean the pistons and check the brake pads
  • Change the brake fluid
  • Check wheel and suspension bearings
  • Do a quick bolt check including fairings, sump plug, exhaust etc.
  • Check all fluid levels, change oil if coming close to service interval
  • Clean, lube and adjust the chain
  • Give it a quick run to make sure all is well, and you're set

If you can get it there via trailer, van or ute, do it. If you drop your bike you might need to have it recovered home. That can get expensive. I spoke to a guy up there who hired a trailer for just $30 for 24hrs - now that's 'chup' as my old mate Shakey would say!
We were sorted because Dave was able to borrow a trailer for my bike, and still get his on the back of his old Commodore ute.

Get there early
As ever with my planning, we arrived with just minutes to sign in and get to the briefing. Not advised, but the staff at Champion's ride days are brilliant. The briefing was humourous, to the point and, if there were any questions, they were happy to continue. Spot on. After that it was time to unload the bikes, kit up and go.
The laps start with yellow first, blue next, then green and finally red. Just as well because we still had to get the bikes through scrutineering.
Will also came up to take pics (top man), and soon we being called out on to the track.

I was a little apprehensive to start with. I told Dave I'd follow him for a few laps then do my own thing. With talk of warming tyres for a couple of laps, and being careful of the only two left-handers on the circuit, I actually took it steady for exactly two corners. And that was it...

I decided I needed more so overtook Dave on the long back straight, hit the brakes hard (way too early), but even then thought I was going to miss the right-hander and launch into the gravel trap! Learning curve here we come. 
Within a few laps I was getting into some sort of rhythm - not very pretty you understand, but a rhythm all the same. I was missing apexes, braking too early and generally looking crap, but I was still able to overtake a few and before I knew it, the session was over! Damn.

Me in the middle
However fast you think you are, someone will waste you on the track. But it doesn't matter. It was a fantastic day with the sessions over in, what seemed like, seconds. I can now see why so many use tyre warmers. They just want to make the most of every single lap. I got talking to a few people that were regular track day fanatics, and the atmosphere was awesome.
If you've ever considered doing one, have a go. Take it steady, drink plenty of water and eat properly. If you lose concentration, or feel tired, it's easy to let it go tits-up. 

What's next? I want to go faster!
There's a self-imposed limit on everything we do in life. Here, for me, it comes down to one thing - I'm not prepared to throw the Gixer down the road, and to get faster I know that's something I need to get over. I need to hold it open for longer, brake later and slam it into a turn. Sooner or later this will involve the gravel trap. It has to.
When you're used to the road, a wide track becomes daunting. Yes, there's a lot more leeway when it all goes pear-shaped in a bend, but to get around the fastest, and have the best drive out, it's bloody hard to work it all out!

Can't wait...
For the next one. 
The plan is to get a load of us up there so we can all have a play around the track together. I also want to have a crack in the blue group. 

For the last session of our day, I took the R6. What a cracking bike! Brakes were absolutely superb, and it felt like it could run rings around the Gixer. Where I was braking down the main straight on the big Suzook, the R6 was able to pull up easily with room to spare! Maybe lacking a little in top end, compared to the thou's, but so easy to throw around. Less daunting too. Where I was scared to open up the Gixer out of bends while leant over, now you could pin it and go! Interesting...