2018 saw me take my first laps of a track, by completing the Ron Haslam race school premier experience. After getting over initial nerves about track riding, my main aim was to keep everything tidy and soak up as much information from the instructors as possible.
I found a few corners that I couldn’t seem to grasp. The Melbourne loop felt uncomfortable, as to did Coppice. The latter an uphill blind entry, late apex right-hander with multiple options of racing line to take. Despite struggling with this pair, I left pleased and feeling much more confident in my riding.
I was invited back to Donington to complete the elite course by Carole Nash’s Inside bikes team. The elite is the next level up from the premier course and boasts one to one tuition from highly experienced instructors with access to data logging software. All this gives the best instruction possible with feedback based on both visual and data notes.
With over 20 years running Ron Haslam Race School, the day runs like clockwork.
The format for the elite course does differ from the premier. The premier follows a pattern of a 20 min track session, followed by a 20 min debrief, three times. Featuring two groups, while one group is riding, the other is debriefing. Doing this keeps the bikes warm and ready to go.
On the elite course, it is much more of an open pit lane, where track sessions can be as long or short as needed. Total riding time typically varies between 60 and 90 mins, which is plenty of time to put what you learn in between sessions into practice.
The school provides all protective gear required, just in case you don’t have or don’t want to wear your own gear.
After gearing up, filling in the paperwork, and reading the check sheet reminding of all the flags and hand signals, it was finally time to meet the person tasked with imparting their wisdom onto me.
All of the schools’ instructors have masses of experience with many international and national racers on the books. Ron and Leon are often around, and available for advice too.
World-class instructors, top of the range machinery and fantastic location, what more could you ask for?
My instructor for the afternoon was none other than current World Endurance Championship rider James Westmoreland, AKA Westy. With almost 20 years’ experience on the track, having competed in British Superbike and Supersport, if anybody could teach me a thing or two I am sure it would be him.
My objectives for the day was to build on last years progress. I wanted to improve my confidence on the bike and was also determined to get the two corners I was not too fond of last year, nailed.
Heading out into pit lane, the sun was beaming down onto the track; the weather was perfect. The line of Fireblades sat gleaming in the sun, eagerly waiting to be taken out. Having done a few miles on the SP blade previously, it felt like putting on a pair of old gloves, comfortable and familiar.
Despite being next to an international airport, the Ron Haslam Race school still respects the neighbours!
Firing the engine into life gives the distinctive purr from the Scorpion end can. The stock SP can is louder than the 98db Donnington noise regs, so to keep the neighbours happy the school fits a quieter aftermarket one. Other than that, and the crash protection, the bike is bone stock. Ron and the team have worked the best rider mode settings for the bike, including suspension and engine braking.
Rolling out onto the track bought back the excitement from the premier course last year. We took it easy for the first few laps, to get some temperature into the tyres and brakes, and to get back into the swing of riding on a track. The pace quickly upped, catching up with the other riders on the smaller capacity CB650’s whose instructors courteously ushered them off the racing line to let us through.
Westy showed me a new line through Coppice, the corner I struggled with previously. The new line made the corner much more comfortable, and I felt like I was carrying way more corner speed. Essential as this corner leads onto the long back straight where every MPH helps.
Bin the bike? Don’t worry just get ready for a grilling from Ron!
Everything was going smoothly, and my lap times were dropping, I was settling into a nice rhythm and feeling great. Then suddenly everything changed.
Before I knew it, I was sliding down the track on my backside, watching the bike pirouette away into the distance. People dressed in orange frantically gesticulating and asking me if I was ok.
After apologising profusely to Ron and the team for falling off one of their bikes, they asked if I wanted to go out again. With it being a low side, the crash bung took the brunt of the impact. With it replaced, and after a check ride the bike was cleared for action again.
Lessons in not how to fall off…
Discussing what happened over a cup of tea, the consensus was that I was leaning the bike too much. I came off at Goddards, a left-hand hairpin with strong camber. All this coupled with me being lazy and not hanging off the bike enough caused the footpeg ground out, lifting the wheels off the floor. I was bitterly disappointed in myself for making such an error. Everybody said it was important not to dwell on it and get back out on the track; however, that is easier said than done.
Heading out for session two, I struggled. I felt tight, slow and couldn’t settle into a good rhythm. I was cruising. My confidence had taken a real knock. This session couldn’t end soon enough.
The debrief afterwards proved my suspicions, and the data logging confirmed it. I was consistently in the wrong gear, too early on the brakes, and too late on the throttle with massive gaps between throttle release and brake application. Hardly believable but I added 20 seconds to my best lap time of the first session, not the direction I wanted to go.
This last session felt much better; I got some of my mojo back. While it didn’t feel as fast as the first session, it felt much more controlled. I focused on sorting my gear selection out, minimising the time spent with no throttle or braking effort. Confidence was coming back, just what I wanted, and with that eventually came lap time improvements.
It’s not often you can fall off a bike and still say you had a fantastic day. My head had a bit of a wobble after my oops moment, but Ron, Leon and his team did a great job of getting it back on track, literally.
At least Donington has a nice Medical centre.
With the Ron Haslam school, there is nothing to pay should you dump the bike as I did. You do, however, have to have the parental style ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ speech from Ron. Quite embarrassing.
Priced at £460, the Elite course comes with bike and kit included, the top quality instruction and data logging, refreshments throughout the day and a goodie bag at the end. Whether you are a road rider or seasoned track day veteran, you will leave the day a better rider.
Thank you to both Ron and Ann for the hospitality, Leon for the pep talk, Westy for putting up with me and finally to Carole Nash and the Inside Bikes team for the invitation.