A Day At Silverstone's New Bike Track Day Experience
So is this just the Ron Haslam Race School then? No. It most certainly isn’t. These days are first and foremost trackdays but they are trackdays with sprinkles on. In the fine print you’ll see that Ron rides around in the top group only, however it is his team of instructors who pepper every group offering free advice (tuition is probably misleading) all day long. You can’t book these instructors as such, but equally you don’t pay for them so sharing seems fair.
There are 7 sessions in the day, each 15-20mins long (depending on class) and the Ultimate group gets trackside tuition in the form of seminars from Ron and special guests like John Reynolds.
Silverstone promise to limit numbers so there would be less bikes on track than a typical “pack’em in” style track day which should provide a safer environment but could lead to disappointment unless you book early.
Then there’s the track, actually there’s the whole circuit. Silverstone has had its critics in the past but after the recent regeneration programme this is the most prestigious and impressive circuit in the land. These trackdays are based around the International circuit, so a fairly small and thus easy to learn lap which allows you to make the most of the sessions. Then there’s the facilities which are pretty much brand spanking new but are also the actual ones you would use! None of this “oh, this isn’t where I saw Crutchlow hanging around” as you gaze around some forgotten shed and the back of the circuit! No, you will be front and centre in the actual pit area as used in the top flight racing hosted by Silverstone.
Oh, and there’s free tea and coffee all day.
Silverstone had an inaugural day at the end of July and LB is very proud to have been invited along, and there is also a day on the 12th of October. The programme kicks off in full early in 2013 so you’ve plenty of time to save up and get booked on.
LB's Shane and Frogga (Kev) went along to see whether the day could live up to the rather tasty promise, partly because they would be in different classes (Shane not the most experienced track day rider whereas Kev is) and partly because they heard it had sprinkles on.
Here’s their account of the day.
The instant you arrive you are assigned a pukka garage where you will be based; a garage complete with toilet facilities every 40 feet or so and vast amounts of power points for pre-track equipment. The different groups are not segregated into different garages either so you will get the chance to talk to those with different experience levels, which is great!
These world class standard garages have a huge amount of elbow room available to work in but not so much as to alienate you from other riders. So those less familiar with track days didn’t get in the way of those busy with their bikes and gear, yet everyone was within talking distance which helps the general good feeling and can ease the nerves of the nervous.
Signing on was literally done on your doorstep. Just at the end of our assigned garage was a very nice young lady who quickly took my details and gave me the relevant stickers and information with absolutely no queuing necessary. (Editor’s note: this contrasts well against some of my experiences with only one signing-on desk and the inevitable queue of riders who’ve climbed out of bed early to be there.)
The signing-on pack included a full time table (strictly adhered to), a mini booklet of the flags, cones, and corners which I’d be seeing throughout the day.
She then showed me the beverage area, where tea / coffee / and drinking water is supplied free of charge and showed me a bag of ear plugs for use during the day .I found this a great value for money and set the general tone of the day. Hydration is very important to concentration which Silverstone recognise and are keen to support. A very nice addition to the whole experience one which will be coppers to them yet can mean a day without crashes due to noise fatigue or dehydration.
INTRO AND SAFTEY BRIEFING
These are very much standard across all track days, and unlike most track days I have been to it was NOT bogged down with patronising rules of what you can and can’t do. The senior instructor introduced very clearly all the flags and their definitions, cone colours and their definitions and all other relative information you would need track side.
It was quite clear from the onset that the emphasis of the day was to make this a fantastic experience for the rider. I found this very encouraging as I had elected to be in the novice group with some who were participating in their first track day and unsure of what to expect.
The Silverstone track is nothing short of spectacular. You instantly get a sense of why it is our national Grand Prix Circuit – this is a very well maintained track with seamless textures. Coned off areas were instantly visible to keep everyone on the right part of the huge complex, sweeping right-handers are complimented with tighter technical corners which don’t frighten the novices but also give a challenge to the most experienced track day junkies who chose a faster pace.
Apex and braking cones won’t be a new concept to race school pupils but aren’t a staple on every track day – this is where the blend of Haslam’s tuition experience shows in this fairly standard format track day.
The huge area is almost spotless with the staff constantly watching for spills and being there to help clean up. The constant walk-arounds were a very nice touch in the day as someone was always on hand in case of any problems (Editor’s note: something very valuable to especially the novices I would think).
When I was in the garage between our sessions I observed the instructors who were always interacting with people talking about the previous time out. Although the instructors started blurring together by the end of the day I was pretty sure that our instructors sat out when we were off the track – they didn’t give you a quick debrief and rush out to the next session.
All of which helped the day feel more like a track school rather than a track day which is more bang for your buck in my experience. Some race schools get criticised as being too intense with not enough track time, here you seem to get a lot of the benefits but with all the typical track day time on circuit.
I know I’ve mentioned them in the last paragraph but they are hand-picked (by Haslam) and thus know their trade.
For instance, out on track an instructor would find a safe place to overtake, look around, give the thumbs up, tap his tail (the standard “follow me” sign), and lead you in to his perfect lines.
It’s very nice to follow them knowing they will never take you out of your comfort zone and that you aren’t going to end up out braking yourself or generally having to panic! If at any time you do feel uncomfortable, you can just break away with no pressure at all.
I found this not only giving me confidence as a rider on an alien track, but helped me enjoy what I was doing there in the first place. I haven’t got one thing bad to say about the instructors, and I’m usually a tough cookie!
In my opinion even the most nervous rider committing to their first track day would feel comfortable in their capable hands.
A 40 min lunch break halved the day and we were directed to the hospitality area only a few minutes away where hot food was on offer as well as soft drinks and other nibbles. Although prices reflected that of any race circuit in the UK, the food was very tasty and did not break the bank. The awe-inspiring view of the start and finish line from where we were seated gave food for thought as you are reminded of all the great names in the past have graced that bit of tarmac. This is also complimented by huge prints of the likes of Barry sheen, Aryton Senna and Nigal Mansell dotted about the walls. I felt very honoured just to be there let alone participating in the track event itself. (My favourite was Damon Hill’s Williams picture btw)
A great touch to this track day was the stand set up by the Bike Safe team from the Warwickshire Police Force. It was a great addition to the day and although a bit unusual, I absolutely got why they were there. If you have ever done a Bike safe course, you’ll know that the Police aren’t there to scrutinise your bike, they are there to guide you around some of the UK’s best roads as safely as possible at progressive speeds. PC Neil Charge and colleague were very approachable, gave some great advice, and were prepared to take riders out (on neighbouring roads I hasten to add) free of charge if you didn’t mind missing out on a session. I felt this is an absolute must if you have never been on one and if they are at further Silverstone events, you would be wise to vist them.
After lunch, I ran into a friend of mine Maria Costello MBE who after a great chat reckoned that “the new track day format gets a double thumbs-up from me.”
I don’t usually like asking people for quotes but as this was a huge event for Silverstone, I thought it only apt to get an honest opinion from one of the most influential female racers of our time. I would like to thank her very much for taking the time to talk to us, especially after my team beat her’s on Dave’s Driving Wars.
Other comments from around the garage were:
“First time at Silverstone, would recommend the day. Even my wife who weren’t riding got treated well." Cerry Philips, First ever Track day
“The Instructors were really friendly, would totally recommend the day and glad I came.” Arron, First ever Track day
“Instructors tended to stick with me and showed me lines. It was also great them riding past and giving me me the thumbs up – they seemed to be having as much fun as I was having..!” Jake Philips, Second track day
I’m a more experienced track day rider than Shane, he probably hates me saying so but there you go! So I headed for the intermediate level group – the Street Sport 2 group.
I took to the track in my usual “balls-out” (queue Editor slapping his own head) riding style. I went past one of the group’s two instructors and he stayed behind me for a lap or so picking up on the flaws in my riding. With the session over and back in the pits the same instructor approached me (which felt weird as on any other normal track-day you approach the instructor).
He was really helpful in a non-condescending manner –he said I was carrying too much corner speed so the bike was on its side for too long. Because I'm riding a 1000cc bike and not a 600 I needed to hang off more to keep the fatter part of the tyre in contact with the Tarmac thus enabling me to get on the power earlier and harder. I felt this was quite detailed analysis to receive on a track-day and very welcome it was too.
With this advice taken onboard I lined up on pit lane ready to put it into practise. Out on track I'm hanging off the bike like a gibbon, getting the bike stood up getting on the gas harder than the previous session. I felt more comfortable on the bike; letting it do more of the work instead of fighting it.
After lunch and a sprinkling of rain (is this what the Editor meant?)the 2nd instructor of our group leads us out on track for the usual 2 sighting laps. He shows us where the course is still slippery then on the start/finish straight waves us through. I'm still trying to put the 1st instructors advice into practise when the 2nd instructor goes past me like I was standing still (Editors’ Note - still I think the best experience of all track riding), gives me the thumbs up and taps the tail of his bike “follow me”.....
WTF!! I felt like I was riding the pants off my bike and he goes and does that. Amazing.
Session over and back in the pits the same instructor approaches me as I'm downloading the footage from the last session. He points out that I'm miles away from the apex and that I'm not using all of the track. He goes onto say that my body positioning and technique are spot on, he tells me to follow him round at a nice easy pace and he'll show me the racing line.
Final session of the day and I'm knackered we leave the pits do a couple sighting laps behind the instructor before we set off. I'm concentrating more on my lines rather than going fast and I feel more relaxed and comfortable on the bike. I'm hitting apexes, taking the bike to the edge of the circuit and generally having fun.
After the sessions ended I talked to some other people from the group. Turns out we all had received advice from the instructors and we all felt like our riding had improved.
I can sum this day up pretty neatly.
This has been by far the best track-day I've ever been on.
And I've been on a few
So the proof is in the pudding. This event was one of the most thought-out track events I have ever attended.
- The staff were excellent and the instructors knew what they were talking about.
- Everyone I had talked to thoroughly enjoyed the day with absolutely no complaints.
- The police being there to offer road riding tips was a fantastic idea that I think most track day companies should adopt.
- Free tea and coffee / water is a cheap yet vital perk.
- The facility was clean and tidy at all times thanks to the staff.
- Staff made a conscious effort to interact with its customers.
- The schedule was on the ball with timings.
- 2 warm up laps each session fronted by the instructors made for less urgent “must go quick asap” and good heat in the tyres on flying laps.
- Briefings’ were clear, well thought out, and not condescending.
- Staff created a comfortable fun welcoming atmosphere.
- Garages were clean and tidy at all times
- Plenty of toilets and power points all in arms reach.
- Silverstone has set a benchmark in track day formats
Novice only days are in the pipeline too which sound to us very much like the safest way to introduce yourself to track riding.
Many thanks to Silverstone to inviting us along and they should be proud of bringing something new to a well worn idea. More details can be found of course on their website.
Official footage of the circuit used is here: