To be totally honest, my first track day of 2016 started out as a complete disappointment. I arrived at Castrol Raceway's road course confident and ready to ride, having just successfully completed Justin Knapik's On Track Performance Race School less than 24 hours earlier. In seemingly no time at all, my intermediate group received a five-minute warning, and in the time that it takes to start your bike, put on your helmet and gloves and line up, I was out on the track.
From Street to Track with Patrick Lambie (6)
Inside Motorcycles Western Correspondent Patrick Lambie is spending the 2016 season getting his Honda CBR600RR street bike into track-ready form. Follow him as he encounters the highs and lows of going from the street to the track!
There is nothing that can replace the one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush that accompanies pushing the limits of a modern motorcycle. Having accepted that the most appropriate setting in which to do so is in a controlled environment, I dedicated the 2016 season to the track. After investing time and resources into preparing the bike, accumulating gear and equipment, and completing a race school, the next step was all about getting seat time, and for me that means track days.
The premise of a track day is really simple. For a fee you get to take your bike out onto the track and put in as many laps as the allotted time or your personal stamina allows. This particular type of adventure starts when you register for the session. For those who have never participated in a track day, the cost may seem steep, as much as $250 for the day, depending on the track and organization putting on the event. However, the math is really quite simple. If you get pulled over doing 160 km/h on the street you will, after a mandatory court appearance, incur fines that could reach a thousand dollars or more, plus legal fees. Conversely, when you hit 160 km/h, 200 km/h or even faster on the track, you get an ear-to-ear smile.
The other thing that typically happens during the registration process is that you are asked about which group level you will be riding in, usually described as novice, intermediate or expert. Some organizations provide very specific criteria while others leave it to you to assess. Basic rule of thumb is to be honest. If you are new to the track and have never completed a high performance on track school, you need to be in the novice group. At the same time if you are an expert level racer with black number plates on your bike, lapping in anything other than the expert group will quickly become a frustrating experience.
Upon arriving at the track it is time to focus on unloading and setting up your bike, gear and equipment. For those of us who transport our bikes in the back of a pickup truck, unloading and loading can be a challenge. The good news is that motorcyclists being motorcyclists, there are always multiple people ready and offering to help. If it is your first track day or a new track, one piece of advice is to ask for a pit area close by the organizer's tent or booth, and let them know. Their business model is built around you becoming a repeat customer, so they will definitely want you nearby where they can make sure you are having a good time and finding everything you need.
Once you are setup and have signed in, the next item on the agenda is the rider's meeting. This is the time when the organizers will welcome you, tell you what to expect during the day, review current track conditions and cover procedures and safety protocols. It doesn't matter where you are or how much experience you have, these meetings are not only mandatory but they are important. Not every group or track has the same rules, and something as universal as a red flag can have different implications for riders on the track at the time of the incident.
With all of the formalities out of the way, take some time to walk around the pit area to say hi to old friends and make some new ones. Then head back to your pit, get into your riding gear and warm up your bike. Before you know it they will be calling your group and it will be your turn to head out in the track, which is where we will pick up next time.
So you arrived the racetrack, unloaded your motorcycle, attended a riders meeting, jumped on the bike, and rode out onto to the track. And then, before you knew it, you were sitting in your pit reflecting on a day that feels like it flew by in an instant.
More than likely, somewhere near the front of all the thoughts and emotions working through your mind, is one question: “How do I go faster?”
One option is spend a bunch of time at the track and try to mimic the “fast” guys, but that's only good if they actually know what they are doing; otherwise, you are just learning a bunch of bad habits.
If you are serious about exploring your full potential on the racetrack, a more practical and proven approach is to check out schools in your area. For me this involved a visit to the On Track Performance Riding School in Edmonton. Owned and operated by multi-time EMRA and Western Canadian Superbike Champion Justin Knapik, the school offers multiple classes including two levels of performance riding. On Track Performance also runs a dedicated race school designed to assist you in attaining the licence required to complete at events held by the EMRA and other road racing organizations.
A goal of racing in 2016 led me to sign up for the race school, and I could not be more pleased that I did. During the classroom session Justin’s natural and effective teaching style delivered concisely laid-out information in a manner that conveyed his passion for racing, learning and safety. The following day the classroom gave way to on-track lessons where a ratio of only 2 students per instructor, all expert level racers themselves, provided the perfect learning environment. As the course drew to a close, not only did I feel prepared to race, but my overall riding skills had taken a quantum leap forward.
So what did I learn? Over a two-day period Justin and his team covered so much information that it would be impossible to summarize it in this blog entry. What I can say is that after learning about items like throttle control, braking, visual cues, proper body position, and how to develop effective lines, my number one takeaway was the fact that before you can be fast, you first need to learn how to be smooth. Anyone with decent riding skills and no fear of crashing can hammer their way around the track, but if you want to be truly fast, you first need to master the fundamentals. Accomplishing this involves making the investment into proper training and then practicing everything you’ve learnt until it becomes second nature. During this time you will need to accept that the focus on skills will take precedence over being fast, but as you progress, the speed will materialize and you will realize your goals. While it may take longer and cost more than just thrashing your way around the track, the end result will definitely be worth it.
I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to thank Justin Knapik for inviting me to participate in the 2016 On Track Performance Race Licensing School. It was an incredible experience, which I highly recommend.
Your bike is all ready and it's time to head to the track. Not so fast. Preparing the bike is just one step of many, and inadvertently skipping even one item has the potential to ruin your time at the track before it even begins. With this in mind, here are a few items to consider.
After making the decision to head to the track this season, my attention quickly turned to determining what bike I should take with me. While momentary consideration was given to acquiring a bike specifically for track days and club racing, there was never really any doubt that it would be anything other than my trusted 2006 Honda CBR600RR taking this new adventure with me.
I guess the best way to start this blog is with a simple “Welcome to my latest adventure.” After what feels like a lifetime of riding on the streets, in 2016 I am heading to the racetrack in search of an outlet that can satisfy a desire for speed and the accompanying adrenaline rush. It promises to be an exciting season, but as I found out right away, challenges are waiting around every corner.
It seems that with every project I work on there are always certain milestones, including the one that can only be described as the “What in the world made me think this was a good idea” moment. Shortly after deciding to expand my riding to include track days and road racing, that point arrived with striking clarity.
In theory my plan was anchored on a sound decision that some may even call “mature” or “prudent.” However, it turns out that there is a lot more involved with avoiding the speeding tickets and potential danger that awaited me if I continued to push the limits of riding on the street, than simply going to the track. As I contacted a few of the subject matter experts I have been fortunate to meet during my tenure at Inside Motorcycles, the questions and options that they laid out for me were more involved than anticipated. Do you want to stick to track days, or do you want to try road racing? Do you want your track bike to also be street legal? Do you have the right gear? Which tracks do you intend to go to? How will you transport your bike? Not only was the list seemingly endless, but every decision also led to a whole new set of decisions that needed to be made. As much as it would be easy to defer some of them, the reality is that the track season in Canada is short and time spent wallowing in indecision will ultimately eat away at the opportunities to ride.
Ignoring decisions and failing to do your homework can have even worse repercussions. Unless you are fortunate enough to live beside a racetrack, heading out for a track day or a race is going to involve loading up your motorcycle, all of your gear and an assortment of tools. Once you finally get to the track, do you really want to find out that your gear doesn’t meet the safety standards or that your motorcycle isn’t allowed? For experienced racers and track day riders, all of this is second nature, but for a newbie, there is no substitute for research and preparation.
Over the next few months, this blog will document the highs and lows of my experience as I work towards the goal of participating in multiple track days, attending a race school and hopefully competing in a couple of races. Along the way I will try to share some of the issues as they come up and how they were handled. As someone who is more comfortable with a camera than a wrench, it is safe to assume that I won’t be offering advice on how to set up a motorcycle to compete in a CSBK race, but if you are interested in a first-hand experience of the racetrack from a unique perspective, stay tuned. It promises to be fun.
- Patrick Lambie