Track days are the safest way to experience the full performance of your motorcycle, but visiting a a track you've never been to before can be intimidating and challenging. Here's how to ride a new race track for the first time.
1. Hit The Books
Look up a map of the track online and, if possible, review a race that's taken place there. You can also find GoPro footage on YouTube from a fellow track day rider. Some people like to play realistic racing simulators like Gran Turismo as well, but I've never had much luck transferring that experience to real life. What you're looking to do is just get a general idea of the layout, any unique challenges the track presents and any particular tricks or tips that may be helpful. For instance, Laguna Seca's Turn 1 hooks to the left over a blind crest in top gear. Sounds intimidating, but a friend told me the trick is to split the 'Z' and 'D' in "Mazda" as you pass under the bridge while approaching the corner, then aim for the third telephone pole on the horizon. Doing both puts you on the right line. Armed with that knowledge, I was faster than most other new-to-track riders when I visited it for the first time.
2. Be Aware Of Local Restrictions
Does the track day organizer require lockwire and water-only in the radiator? Do you need a bellypan designed to catch oil? Stuff like that can vary across even different organizers at the same race track. Noise limits can also vary. Its a pain to take time off work, drive for hours and prep your bike, only to show up to the track and be told you can't ride because your bike is 5dB too loud. So take the time to really make sure you know the day's regulations and that your bike complies to them.
3. Show Up For The Rider Briefing
The track day organizers will put on a rider briefing in the pits before the first session of the day. In it, they cover flags, any chicanes or other alterations which may have been added to the day and any special conditions or challenges that may have arisen due to weather or similar factors. Flags can vary a little bit track to track and country to country and you definitely want to hear about any potential hazards. Wake up a little earlier and show up for the briefing on time. It's also a great place to ask questions or find an instructor.
4. Take It Easy
Don't feel pressured to be one of the fast guys right away. Local riders may have ridden this track dozens, if not hundreds of times. Treat the first one or two sessions of the day as a scouting mission and just go out there and try and figure out which way the track goes and when. Learning a new track, you'll be spending most of your mental capacity on navigation. Devoting all of your efforts to learning the track early in the day frees up your brainpower for riding in the following sessions.
5. Ask For Help
Following someone who knows the lines can be a huge help, but make sure you ask someone to show you around. That way, they'll be sure to ride smoothly, predictably and at a pace that will be safe for you. Pay attention to where they're braking, where they turn in and where they get on the throttle. If your helper is particularly nice, they'll start easy, then pick up the pace lap after lap, towing you up to speed.
6. Leave A Margin For Error
Don't commit to a corner at 100 percent until you're 100 percent sure you're doing it right. That will take some time, maybe even multiple visits to the track across several seasons. With a little kept in reserve, you'll be able to alter your lines, run wide in safety if you need to or just respond to the unexpected. And the unexpected can and does happen. On my first visit to Beaver Run, some hero tried to out brake me into Turn 10. Should have been fine, since I was poking around during my first session of the day, but the trouble was I was on a well-built SV650 race bike — on slicks — while he was riding a stock version of the same motorcycle on road tires. The inevitable happened and he low sided while inside me on the corner, sliding across the track. Because I was trail braking and had plenty of grip in reserve, I was able to shed speed and avoid his tumbling body by mere inches. Don't be that guy.
7. Don't be Intimidated
No matter where you are, a track is still a track and a corner is still a corner. The vast majority of the same practices apply to all of them. Start wide, hit the apex, then accelerate out, using the full width of the track. Sure, there's some variations on that theme, but it is the same theme, anywhere you go.
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