When it comes to Donnington park, you’re going to struggle to find somebody who has done more laps around the track than Rocket Ron Haslam. First lapping the track in the early 70’s, it would be a safe bet to say he has the largest tally of anybody. With his fantastic working relationship with Honda, it was only natural to open his race school with Honda at Donington. Helping develop many racers including his son Leon, but also James Haydon, and also the late BSB and road racer, Karl Harris. This knowledge of Ron’s is passed down to the instructors who are all at a very high standard of riding themselves, with many club and national racers imparting their wisdom to newbies like me. I was booked onto the Haslam race school based at Donington Park, widely regarded by many as one of the best tracks in the UK with a good combination of fast and low-speed corners, and also lots of undulation in the track itself.
Riding on track is completely alien to me, I have only ever rode on UK roads, and the closest I have come to be on track is a little bit of karting here and there. I have met many people that track ride, some ride on the roads also, however some only ride on the track and prefer to do a few track days a month instead of riding on the road. For me, I love to ride as often as possible so having to wait for ages for the next time wouldn’t agree with me. My dad used to race back in the black and white days, and ever since I passed my test he has always said that I would really enjoy riding on the track.
The day started with getting kitted out, I felt quite happy and comfortable wearing my own gear however if you don’t have a 1 piece suit then the school can provide all the gear including helmets, leathers gloves and boots. Meeting the rest of the students on the course with me, some of which I had met before, so the day really felt like a group of mates just having a laugh whilst still being competitive with each other. We had an initial briefing explaining the format of the day, a brief outline of the track and what the various flag signals mean.
The school has a fleet of bikes including CBR1000R fireblades, CBR600’s and also CBR125’s for the first riding experiences. The structure of the course means that no matter what level you are, your first on-track experience has to be on the 600, then you can progress onto the blade. For me, I really enjoyed going back to basics. It was good to get away from the endless grunt and technology on the R1, and going back to what felt like a pretty agricultural CBR600. No quick-shifter, no autoblipper, and no adjustable rider modes, just no-nonsense motorcycling.
Having never been on track before, I found it quite daunting at first, I was out of my comfort zone. The first session was at a brisk pace, getting used the bike but also understanding the layout of the track. Out in pairs, the instructor signalled halfway through to switch places with the other pupil. At the end of the first riding session, there’s a lesson in the pits with the instructor. His eagle eyes watching in the first session gives a wealth of tips and feedback on how to improve, all based around my own goals for the day, which were to help improve my cornering confidence, and of course that bucket list item of getting both knees down! Using a bike on stands he showed me better body positioning techniques and tips to help loosen me up on the bike, as he said I looked stiff.
The second session was about putting these techniques into practice and once back out on track it all made sense, cornering was easier and I could feel myself carrying more speed through the corners. I didn’t want this session to end, but it did, and back to the classroom for another masterclass from the instructors, this time on improving lines through corners. I was struggling with Coppice, an important corner as carrying good speed through it is critical as it leads onto the long back straight. It’s also an uphill blind entry corner and this was what I didn’t like. I was given tips on this and it really helped in the final session.
The final session was my best yet, braking late, and carrying speed through the corners allowed me to get both knees down, left on the final hairpin and right on the first corner. I was so happy!
The pace increased massively in the final session, I was getting faster on corner exit and braking later and I just didn’t want it to end, but soon enough the flags came out and we headed back to the pits, we had a final debrief from the instructors where certificates and prizes were given out. I spent the afternoon watching other groups come and go out of the pits and observing out on track.
Overall I the whole day as fantastic, the event was extremely well run and everything ran like clockwork, as you would expect with the school running these days for so long. The instructors were spot on with tuition and feedback, and I left the day feeling a lot more confident and a much better rider, with photos to prove it.
I have had quite a few people ask about the cost of the day, and the honest answer is to say that there are cheaper ways to get on track. Of course you can rock up to an ordinary track day (anywhere from £120+) and have a full day on track with your own bike, however, consumables soon add up, plus there is added extras such as tyre warmers and paddock stands. At the race school you just turn up, no worries about the bike, it’s fully fuelled and ready to go, you don’t have to worry about getting it home again if something bad happens. You get top quality instruction, from instructors who know what they are talking about and are genuinely there to try and help you become a better rider. They keep nice distances between other groups to give you acres of space to play with, so with all that being said, I think the price is spot on, and well worth the money.
I’d like to thank the Ron Haslam Race school for having me on the day, and also Carole Nash Inside bikes for organising it. Please check out their websites below.