Harley Davidson Rocker C – Stratstone Harley Davidson
Yamaha FZ6 – Streetbike
Wow what a day!!!
I have had the MOST fun morning ever, and I have spent the rest of the day bouncing around in my own little way telling everyone that I’m the next Rossi……….I am…………….honest…….well maybe not ,but there is a reason for this ridiculous claim!
I went to the Ron Haslam School of Racing at Donnington….ahhh yeah!!
I have been toying with the idea of doing some racing next year, however preposterous that may sound…………and yet I have never actually done a track day……which is kind of handy if you want to race on track………whoops! So having garnered some expert advice from the guys at Streetbike and Pure Triumph, we came to the conclusion that if I wanted to race on a track……….it would be a good idea to do a track day…..so I suppose the main bullet point you should take from this paragraph, is that if you want to get good on a track….do a track day……….did I mention getting on a track?
Yet I didn't want to just go on an open day, swing the bike around a few bends (probably using my indicators!) and think I was ready to head into a Championship….as that is the kind of thing I would normally do and end up maybe a tit out of myself and rearranging my brains on the tarmac.
This is where the Ron Haslam School of Racing comes in, they got in contact and suggested if I was looking at doing some racing…….on a track…….why not come down and do one of their courses……on a track??
Quicker than Usain Bolt (I'm feeling topical tonight!) running the hundred metres with some chicken nuggets dangling from the finishing line, I said……….”erm” but luckily that was quickly followed by a “Yes!”. The lovely Jenny set the whole thing up for me, and then this morning I set off to Donnington on the Harley Rocker C!
That reminds me, I have a Harley Rocker C……did I not mention that? Oh okay, the lovely people at Harley have given me one for a week, so I will be riding this crazy looking thing for the next 7 days, and will let you know what it is like! I also had an awesome Suzuki B King from Streetbike for a few days, but I was planning on taking it out on a big ride, and then they sold it (they are a bit good at their jobs at Streetbike!), so I had to take it back, but not to worry, I will be getting my hands on another one soon for a big review, needless to say that in the short time I had it, it made an impression.
How can an upright bike with a Hayabusa engine not?? To be fair actually they now put the new B King engine in the Hayabusa….that’s how good the 1300cc plant is, and the rest of the bike is pretty damn fine too. In fact I can’t wait to get back on one ASAP, but until then, Streetbike have given me a Yamaha FZ6 to have some fun on, so I will let you know what that is like in the next few days after I have given the Rocker C a good seeing too.
Now where was I? Oh yeah…….Track Day!
So having arrived on probably the most un track day like bike ever, albeit a very cool one, the sun shining and perfect racing conditions at track side, I went into the Paddock Suite, signed up and got on with turning myself into a racer! First of all I got fitted for all the right racing gear (flip flops and nipple tassels not really being the order of the day!) and headed off to my first race ever briefing!!! After learning about the different cones designed to give you help braking, turning in and hitting the apex, and a quick safety chat, we went out to the pit lane to meet our instructors.
I was on the Premier course, which consists of a half day with three track sessions on track (yay!)with an instructor and all the trimmings! The gentlemen who had obviously pulled the short straw to be lumbered with me was a lovely chap called Adam, who I immediately hit it off with, and I was paired on track with a gentleman who was quite a novice road rider, but who had done a few track days, giving me a good bench mark to work with.
In the first session it was all about learning where the braking points are, how the bike feels and handles, and obviously getting to know the layout of the track…….which is kind of handy when you think the Honda CBRR600 we were on tops out at 170mph, which coupled with the fact that Donnington is one of the most technical circuits around, did seem quite daunting.
I needn’t have worried, as I immediately felt at ease on the bike (similar to my old R6!), and even though we were getting passed at an alarming rate by the others, I was determined to get the basics right before I gave it too much welly (I know this doesn't sound very much like me and my normal gung ho attitude, but I have always wanted to race, and I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity to learn from some of the best riders around!).
This first session also serves as a great way for the instructor to take have a look at your riding style and pick up on anything that isn’t quite right, which for me translated mainly to my body position on the bike. When you are riding on a road, you often assume that you have a good position in the bends and are getting a good lean on the bike, but for someone like me who has never actually had his knee down before, I was about to find out exactly how wrong this assumption was!!!
Adam took the time in between sessions to get myself acquainted with exactly how to position yourself on a bike to allow you to actually get it round a race track, and after a few minutes practicing on the bike on a stand in the garage, and with the wise words of Adam ringing in my ears, it was time to head out for session two.
Immediately, by getting my body positioning right I was able to really get the bike over into the corners, and combining this with the short-shifting we had learnt, and changing up through the gears without the clutch, I found myself suddenly start to look a bit like an actual race rider. Still, I was getting passed with ease by some of the other riders, and so after session two, it was time for another chat with Adam.
This time, he felt it would be better if I went out solo with him, as he felt I was really getting the jist of all this lark, and he wanted me to simply try and stick to his back tyre, and brake less so that I would be smoother through the corners, especially the old hairpin where I was scrubbing off much too much speed before entry, the problem being that you then don't carry enough speed into the next segment.
We headed out on my final track session, and wow, what a difference, suddenly I managed to start feeling the racing line with ease, and all the body positioning, braking points and gear changes that I had been working on became second nature, and felt very natural, and so I decided to give it some!!!!
Not only was I not getting over taken, but I was suddenly going past a lot of the other bikers (Yes i was overtaking on track….ohhhh mummy I’m a racer!), and I really felt like I was Rossi flying through the Esses, flim flamming my socks off, and I even got my knee down a few times….hell at one point I got so low my knee, elbow and foot were all practically touching the ground!
I felt so relaxed, at no point did nerves kick in (luckily an affliction that rarely strikes me!), and I even started improvising the gear changes, finding the best gear for me for certain corners, and really opening this amazing bike up.
When the session ended, I had a real buzz on, and I wasnt the only one, when we got back to the pits Adam came boucing up to me, face beaming proclaiming “You’ve got it!! That was s**t hot!” He then went on to say how he was actually surprised at how hard I could brake (handy when you have overcooked it on the straight and can see your instructors bike getting ever closer as you try and scrub off the speed!), and how I had one the smoothest riding styles he had seen…….I asked him if I was his first pupil feeling some sort of sarcasmn heading my way…….but it turns out he has been doing this for years…….get in!
I must admit, and this it the sound of me blowing my own trumpet (think the Johnny Briggs theme – but more upbeat!), but it really did feel like second nature to me, I always knew I could ride fast, as I’m a bit stupid and dont have the part of the brain that says “Oh slow down or this might hurt”, but I really wanted to see if i could nail the actual ART of riding on a track, and even after just one day, I can’t believe the huge strides I made!
We headed off to the Paddock suite for the debrief, and to have our report card from our instructor read out to us, and I was gobsmacked when mine my feedback stated I was one of the best Adam had seen (insert joke about short sightedness here), and that I had made his job easy………saweeet!! He even gave me a rating of 88 out of 100 for my performance, not bad for a first timer!
After that, it was time for a quick chat with my fellow riders, some coffee, a lovely lunch and then back home on the Rocker C to Kerrang Towers!
Did I have a good day….no…….I had a brilliant day! Honestly, everyone at Ron Haslam’s School was so friendly, funny, knowledgeable and polite, and just seeing all of the other riders faces afterwards, whether novices or track day experts, was immense……. everyone came away making some drastic improvements to their riding, and more importantly, having had an amazing time doing it!
I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend a day, than at the home of GP racing, with some of the best instructors in the world teaching you how to ride fast….and smooth….and even getting a gumby like me to look good!
My only wish was that I had booked myself in for the Elite class that afternoon, as I was itching to get back out on the track and learn some more!
I would like to give a massive thanks to Ann, Jenny, Adam and everyone down at Ron Haslam’s School of Racing for a truly enlightening and awesome-tacular morning, and if there is one thing that you can bet on, then it is me going back to do another session with this lot as soon as possible. If you have ever thought about doing a track day, but wanted to get some instruction, or consider yourself an expert but want to improve your technique then I can’t recommend what a great day out you will have at the School, plus you will be amazed at how quickly you will improve with proper training, my only advice is would be to book it now, as they only do about 20 days a year and they fill up fast.
Oh yeah, and you know that racing I am thinking of doing maybe next year………well who knows, but at least I know its not a complete pipe dream anymore, and to say I am excited at the prospect would be an understatement…….watch this space….although I doubt my fellow Express sponsored rider Shayne “Shakey” Byrne in the World Superbikes is quaking in his boots! Talking of which………….
Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any better, I popped my head into Kerrang Towers to meet the lovely Emma from Express Insurance, my esteemed sponsors, who had just taken delivery of my new branded leathers, which I am sure you will agree look pretty damn hot…….and yes they have my name on them……I’m so vain!!
Seriously though, this means that you simply have no excuse to not come and talk bikes with me if you see me out and about on various machines around the country or at any race/track days, in fact, I would consider it rude of you not too!
So for the next few days I will be putting the miles on the Harley Davidson Rocker C, and my first impressions are, well especially after today, that it isn't exactly a track bike, but you knew that already! My goodness though, it is incredibly good looking, so check back to read my full review of the bike later in the week!