A Track Day is an ideal opportunity to develop your riding skills and explore the performance of your bike with no artificial speed limits, fewer and more predictable hazards than on the road and if the worst happens, medical support on hand.
This guide captures the experience of over 70 track days by two riders at most of the UK circuits. Most but not all is common sense. It's aim is to give you the information you need to stay out of trouble and get the most from your day.
The Briefing: All trackdays start off with a briefing to all the riders before the tracktime begins.During the briefing you will be introduced to the instructors and told how the sessions will be run etc.
You should be shown the flags that will be in use, what they mean and what you must do when they come out. Make sure you know your flags. You should be told about the condition of the track and any special features of the circuit about which you need to be aware. This includes how to join the track safely from the pitlane and where to leave the track when the sessions have finished.
Most trackday organisers run a series of sighting laps at the beginning of the sessions - you'll be told about these in the briefing. Usually its 3 laps at the start of the first few sessions following the instructors with no overtaking. You will be warned about the consequences of riding "dangerously", pulling wheelies, stopies, not obeying the marshals flags, speeding in the paddock area etc...
You will probably be told what to do in the event of someone crashing - which is do not to stop to help! Trained marshals are on hand to deal with fallen riders and you will simply cause more of a hazard and get in the way if you stop to help. Some briefings are very good, others not so. Be sure to ask if there is anything about which you are uncertain. Dont worry if it sounds like a stupid question, chances are there are others who are unsure as well.
Learn the geography of the course and control adrenaline levels
Sighting Laps: The first one or two sessions generally start with a number of slow sighting laps led by an instructor, usually wearing a fluorescent bib. Put the bike in a suitable gear, perhaps 3rd or 4th and leave the gears alone. You can now concentrate on learning where the track goes.There is no overtaking during the sighting laps. In particular, note the location of the marshal's posts. They are there to warn you of hazards ahead.At the start of the session the Marshals usually show a green flag to indicate that the track is clear and to show/remind you of their location. Note the condition of the track. Cement dust is used to dress oil and fuel spills on the circuit and although safe, is best avoided.
When the sighting laps are complete you will be waved on... ...stay calm and continue at a steady pace! Dont go ballistic on the first free lap or you will almost certainly arrive at a bend faster than you can deal with, panic brake, run out of track and end up in the gravel. Build up speed slowly.
Staying out of trouble: Remember you have all day, so take your time to learn your way around. Ease into the day and into each session gradually. Take care on cold tyres. The number of laps required to get your tyres up to temperature depends on many factors. In good conditions it will take at least two laps. If it is cold and/or wet, it could take many more.
You don't have to stay out for the full session. If you are getting tired or stiff, then come in. Fatigue reduces your ability to concentrate and you need to be fully switched on at all times. If you are tired you are more likely to make mistakes. Beware track-evenings - if you have been at work all day you won't be at your best. Also the limited amount of track time available on evening events often leads to people going too fast too soon and falling off. This is not only bad for your safety but eats into the already limited track time. You don't have to do every session so miss one if you want a break.
Beware the first session after lunch. If you've had a big lunch you may well be feeling lethargic and your reactions will be slower than normal. Its a good idea to eat small and often.
Concentrate only on what is in front of you. Trust other riders to pass you safely. If you are aware of a rider behind you do not alter your line to let them past. You may move into their path just as they attempt to pass. Aim for consistency, not speed. Use your familiar road riding style until you are comfortable with where you are going.
Trying to hang off the bike or get your knee down when you are not used to it will distract your attention from where you are going. Be patient, it will happen. You will make mistakes, so maintain a good safety margin.
Its a good practice to turn into corners later than you might at first think. This reduces the risk of you running out of track on the exit. Ride such that you are always relaxed and in control.
If you have a problem raise your left hand, slow down and keep to the outside of the track on your way back to the pits. If you need to cross the 'racing line' to do so you could just pull off the track and wait until the end of the session. Get behind the fence so that you are safe and so you will not distract other riders.
Passing: Be aware of their position, but look 'through' them to the track ahead. They do not know you are there. You do not know their level of skill and experience. They may be experimenting with different lines. They may make a mistake. e.g. Change down one gear to many. Loose the front, Out brake themselves etc. You may make a mistake. e.g. Change down one gear to many. Misjudge your speed, out brake yourself etc Their safety is in your hands.
Suddenly appearing alongside may make them sit up, or brake mid-corner. The safest place to pass is on the straights. Getting good drive out of a bend allows you to pass safely on the exit. To pass safely on the inside going into a turn you need to be ahead before you reach your braking area. This gives you both time to adjust your speed and line accordingly. If in doubt, don't. Let them go, find some space and carry on.
Know your braking, entry and apex points.
Learning the circuit: Remember you are aiming for consistency so count your gears so you know which gear you are in for each turn. Aim to get your gear changes consistent lap and lap. Once you have this baseline you can alter your gears as you get faster during the day.
Find reference points for each bend on the circuit. Braking, entry and apex are the most important. If there are cones out, use them. If not, ask the organisers to put some out. The cones will usually mark turn-in and apex points. Get as close to them as you can and be as accurate as you can. You will learn faster if you ask the instructors to show you round
Rainy conditions: Dont go home! Riding in the wet is a good opportunity to learn and boost your confidence. Its a great time to practice accurate lines and being smooth with the brakes as well as the throttle.
When riding in the wet try and aim to get on the throttle as early as you can through the corners. Driving through on a positive throttle will load the rear wheel and unload the front. You stand a much better chance of saving a rear end slide than a front wheel slide!
Using all of the track will maximise your corner speed for a given lean angle so its good to be accurate with your lines - However, avoid at all costs white lines and curbs which are extremely slippery in the wet. A good thing about wet trackdays is that usually a lot of riders pack up and go home leaving those that stay with loads of space on the track and even more tracktime if the number of groups is reduced. Also, its a surprising fact that when its wet hardly anyone ever crashes so there are very few stoppages.
Bike and Gear: As a precaution, remove anything from the bike that you dont need, or that you wouldn't want to get broken or lost in gravel trap. You will not need your mirrors and removing them reduces the risk of bending the stay and cracking the top-cowel and screen if the bike ends up on it's ear. Cable ties are very good for fastening the top-cowel to the stay. Mirrors, indicator lights, the number-plate and tax disk are easy to remove and replace.
Remember to empty your luggage compartment. Before going out on the circuit tape up any 'glass' items left on the bike. Switch off your lights. They can distract other riders and the tape adhesive will cook onto the lense and be very difficult to remove. Check for loose nuts, bolts and other fasteners.
Tyres, brake disks and pads all wear at an increased rate on the track so make sure they will last the day. It is a good idea to check your tyres pressures. Some people reduce them slightly for trackdays, but the important thing is to make sure they are close to the recommended pressures.
Fuel up before entering the circuit. You will probably need to get fuel again at lunch time. Remember to stick your number plate back on and untape your lights before going back on the road. You will need to tape them up again before you go back out on the circuit.
If you have a race can, check if there are any noise limits in force at the circuit on that day. Make sure your gear is in good nick.
Some organisers will check but it is in your interests. Empty your pockets and take off any jewellery. Consider merits of a back protector. At the end of they day replace anything you have taken off the bike (particularly your number plate) and remove any tape before you go back on the road. Don't forget to switch your headlight back on.
If sh*t hits the fan: You arrive at a corner too fast and don't think you'll make it. What do you do? If you can, try and avoid just holding onto the brakes looking at the gravel trap! You will just end up in there and if you do you will fall off. Try and let go of the brake, look into the turn and throw it in. You will probably get round and if you don't it is better to low side.