Strategy is what can separate the amateurs from the professionals. Come up with a game plan and you can plan on being in the winner's circle.
Strategy at the track is key to a podium finish. While we'd all like to sprint towards the finish, as most do in our dreams, a plan of attack will help ensure your safety and success.
Diehard racing fans know all about race strategy. We marvel at our heroes’ ability to plan passes laps ahead of time, conserve their tires, and know when to try and make a break from the field. And they can do all of these things while rocketing around the track at speeds that would make us mortals soil our leathers. Over the years, what has separated riders like Valentino Rossi from the endless horde of also-rans left fumbling in his wake? Strategy.
But when we roll our own humble machines onto the hallowed tarmac for a track day, are we employing the same techniques? For some, the goal of going to the track is simply to have fun, but for most of us, it’s to learn how to go faster. You don’t pay all that money for registration fees, travel costs and sticky rubber to go tool around in the middle of the RPM range, at lean angles you can reach in a department store parking lot. You do it to go as fast as you can, to find the limits of your abilities, and to improve them!
So what’s your game plan? You can start creating one before you ever get to the track, just by analyzing your riding. What areas need the most work? Where on the track are you most uncomfortable? Is it braking, midcorner speed, corner exit? Do you struggle with your downshifts? Do you have trouble finding good brake and turn-in markers? An honest assessment of these areas easily becomes a checklist for your next track experience.
Even if you answered “yes” to all of those things, it won’t help you much to try and work on all of them at once. Pick one area, and work on that and only that for a whole session, or a whole day. Write it down, and remind yourself of it when you strap on your helmet before every session. Then, forget about everything else. If your goal for the day is to learn how to look through corners better, then turn off your lap timer and just do that. As much as it may pain the ego, even try bumping down to the Novice group to work on it. Go as slow as you need to (within the obvious bounds of safety), and treat each lap like a skills drill, instead of superpole.
Take a similar approach to learning a new track. The pros have sophisticated software that breaks each lap into segments, to identify problems with bike setup or rider technique. While you many not have the gadgets, you probably know the areas on the track that are tripping you up. Try just focusing on them, instead of going balls-out for each and every lap.
Continue Reading: How To: Track Day Strategy>>
Most tracks will have obvious sections that you can string together; a certain set of turns that must be executed as parts of a whole, to be done right. Pick one section to work on at 95%, and then cruise the rest of the lap at 80% while assessing what you could do better. This makes the process easier to manage mentally, and pays huge dividends when you string the sections together later in the day. This is exactly the same process that the top riders in the world use at every track, and it will work for you too.
Now you can put together a real plan. If the average track day has 7 sessions, try breaking it down like this:
- First session: Warm-up. Go out and cruise, look for your lines and markers, etc.
- Second and third: Drills. Practice smooth braking, corner entry, visual skills, etc. Choose one per session.
- Fourth: Track trouble area 1
- Fifth: Track trouble area 2
- Sixth: Start putting it all together.
- Seventh: Go for a fast lap!
If it seems like that’s a lot to try and fit into one day, that’s because it is! It’s to your advantage, when you can, to try and book two days back-to-back, so you can spread out these self-guided lessons, and get more focus on each of them. Spend the whole first morning on drills, and the whole second morning on sections, and your afternoons flying around for the joy of it.
Finally, get help! No, I don’t mean hiring a therapist, although my wife has occasionally suggested it might be necessary. Most track days have coaches, or at least control riders, who are faster than most of the other riders there. Ask them to follow you, so they can watch and point out any huge mistakes or poorly chosen lines. Then follow them, and see what you can pick up from watching. When I first started asking for a tow at the track, I immediately went seconds faster than before.
Better still, cough up the dough for one of the many excellent track schools around the country. They are all expensive, but they have a strong value proposition. If a single track day can give you as much riding experience as a year of street riding (and it can), then a single day at a good track school is probably worth 10 regular track days. The information is distilled to its essential truths, presented by professionals, and methodically practiced. A good school can change exactly everything about your riding, and your approach to the track.
A methodical, strategic approach to the track is one of the biggest areas that separates truly fast riders from those who have only talent. If it works for the fastest riders in the world, it’s worth a try for the rest of us! So the next time you’re taping up your headlights and filling your gas cans for a track day, take a few minutes and think about your plan. If you do, you’ll come away from the experience faster and smarter than you would have otherwise.
What’s your plan when you roll into the paddock in the morning? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!