I decided to miss the first round at Brands Hatch for a number of reasons (Lack of time, never having seen the track, being Indy being a very short track so likelihood of getting lapped really quickly) and instead thought that getting to know the next track on the calendar was a better use of my time and money. So when I saw a trackday by Hottrax on a Saturday for just £89 I signed up straight away. I quickly formed a plan about taking it easy and learning the track, build some confidence and get to know some of it’s traits. I don’t know why but the day is soon altered from the standard Novice, Inters and Advanced day to a Novice/Inters, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2 day after I book it and an ACU training session is added to it.
I load up the car on Friday night and get an early-ish night for the 5am wake up call. Eeek!
The alarm goes and I am on the road before I really wake up. It’s a 2 hour and 40 minute drive according to the Google Maps, but that doesn’t factor in towing the trailer, getting a jerry can of fuel on root or anything like that. A long drive into to what is looking like the best weather of the year to date and I get there just in time for the safety briefing. I find the reason for the change of groups at this point. The day after Auto 66 club is having a race meeting and so a fair number of people are getting their eye in. I sign on after the briefing as I have cut it that close and find that I am in the Novice/Inters group. There is a fair number of people complaining about that, but I am not one of them, as it fits with a first time visit and my plans for the day. If it’s a problem I can always go and ask to be moved I suppose. I sneak back to the “learn the track” talk going on at the back of the canteen to hear what I should be doing and let it sink in.
Anyhow. To business. Session 1
The normal 3 laps behind the marshal gives me the first look at the circuit. It’s narrow, twisty and undulating. I’m right behind the marshal and we are not going at any pace what so ever. He is constantly looking over his shoulder where he can and I get the feeling that there is some people struggling to keep up at this pace. Still it’s early doors and I get to see the cones all marking the track. Large yellow ones for turn in and little orange one for apexes… I wonder if they will leave them out for the race weekend :). The marshal’s R1 pulls in after 3 laps and away we go. I am concerned about the temperatures my bike is showing, 118, and I am concentrating on being on the right part of the track and what the briefing suggested, like “brake here on the up hill, short shift on the mountain, down a gear but don’t brake here” and the like. Even so, what a track! It’s hard work and probably the most physical track I have been on! I get past left right and centre but it is of no concern to me, the temperature is though and it’s back to the pits.
I quickly take the belly pan off and see that the coolant that was at the full marker when I changed the coolant to water is now not even showing. I hope this to be an air bubble that hadn’t been filled up when I flushed it out rather than anything more serious. I borrow a funnel off some lads opposite me, who are running an SP1 in an endurance class and Gixxer streetfigher, top it up with confidence that is the problem, as the coolant took a number of flushes to get rid of, then there must be somewhere that it is hard to get too. I have never had a problem before, so I am fairly sure that will have it sorted.
I am not struggling with anywhere particular, just need to take my brave pills and up the speeds a bit. Though I am having a bit of trouble picking a braking point for the downhill entry into Mansfield. There is a lot of traffic, something that will be a factor all through the day, and to find a clear lap to work out braking points and the like is becoming tricky. I am not being as brutal as some on overtakes, there are quiet clearly some people in this group that would be higher up groups and are riding to prove it. I get the front wheel pawing at The Mountain on one of my early laps and I stamp at the rear brake totally missing it (D’oh). Though probably only a few inches, if that, it feels like I am about to flip it. There are no more dramas, the temperatures are nice and low and everything is just coming along nicely. I can already see this place takes some learning.
Session 3 is a traffic fest. I don’t seem to get any clear running at all. I learn very little, but do tag on to one of the faster guys out there for a bit of the lap that shows me that I’m rolling off to much for the first and second corners. These are like Island at Oulton Park, every time that I go through there I always come out saying to myself “You could have gone faster”. My pace is upping, or at least I think so but I can’t seem to find a space at all to string it all together. I am getting blasted by the thous down the straights… well what they call a straight at Cadwell. One lad on an R1 that is fast down the straights but a bit slower than I want to go round the corners has a huge slide coming out of the flip flop chicane right in front of me. I get passed him quiet quickly after that. Looking back at the end of the day at the data I have I did manage to squeeze a lap out at the very end of it, which if I recall correctly was the one after I got passed the R1 and strung a bit of a lap together.
The last session before lunch is more of the same. I catch bikes in lots and lots of places that I can’t simply ghost past and have to sit behind them for a corner or 2 and some others aren’t so kind and get in between and make me have to work a bit to clear them. I get glimpses of clear track and get a few corners strung together and it’s sinking in how to ride, I just need some space. I am getting better into Mansfield and think I have a marker that I can use.
Lunch is called and chat are had all round the place and expensive food is bought.
The first session after lunch, for the first Advance group is red flagged virtually straight away as it gets underway, which is the only one I noticed all day and it’s called over the tannoy, which is unusual. I hope it’s not a bad off and that it’s no one is hurt.
Our session is called. I was going to get a bit of a 1 to 1 with the instructors but none are around, even though they said there would be. A first at a Hottrax day. Rather than waste the track time I say “blow it” and head off out on track, right into the middle of traffic. This is the worst session of the whole day for traffic and I take it easy, working past people where I can, the inexperienced being mixed with some truly quick guys is making it all a bit interesting. I get held up by someone that can’t or wont hold any sort of line but then is blistering quick in a straight line, after chopping and changing around the corners. There is nothing wrong per-say with his riding but it does make getting past quiet tricky with out a do or die move.
The next session is the best yet. I get to the holding area in about mid pack and I am expecting it to be in another traffic filled track. Then as we get let out in groups I get held right at the front for a good while. I set off a bit quicker than the bloke to my left to make sure I get the best of the track and finally I can string some laps together, and it’s fantastic. I get a good few laps to string it together and find myself running out of revs (eek) in top. I haven’t got my spares with me so I can’t alter anything about it. It’s not to bad, just a bit low if I get a good run out of the Barn or Charlies 2. So I have learnt to change that for the weekend to come as well as the track, a bit.
The final action of the day sees a fair few people pack up early and head off home. I think some had not gone out the session before either but I get a good empty track and put in some good consistent times, not as fast as I have popped in before, which I put down to it being late in the day and I am getting tired. I am not chasing times and they are coming one after another after another, which all bodes well. All to soon the chequered flag is waved and the fun part of the day ends. Just the long drive home now.
Roll on the races