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My First Track Day

January 14, 2009

Probably the best way to start this blog would be to write about the decision making process.  What prompted a guy who’s had a 25 year break from motorcycle ownership to “ease back into it” by buying a 134Hp watercooled Italian superbike?

I’ll get to that eventually.  Needless to say, I bought the bike, a red Ducati 848, and soon afterwards thought, “I really should do at least one track day on this, just to see what it can do…”

I talked to the local Ducati dealer, and found that people could book themselves in to doing track days at Eastern Creek, a world-class track in the western suburbs of Sydney.  A bit of research, and I then booked in via the Eastern Creek Ride Days website.  (http://www.easterncreekridedays.com.au/)  I read up on the different groups you could book in to (A group, B1, B2 and C).  I decided to go for the C group, given that I was a track virgin, and had been off bikes for so long!

Preparation

Given that I was just new back to motorcycling, I hadn’t yet bought leathers.  I had  a good textile jacket, some leather boots, some leather gloves, and a decent Arai helmet.  One of the requirements for a track day is a full leather suit – either a one piece racing suit, or zip-together leather jacket and leather pants.  Given that I hadn’t yet invested in these, I decided to tick the “hire gear” box, and for $55, rent them for the day.  I also chose the lunch option, not knowing what was going to be available on the day.

Getting there

An issue for consideration was “how to get to the track?”  I live in Newcastle, NSW, which is a good 2 hour ride from Sydney.  The instructions were that I had to get to the track by 7:45am, one hour before the comulsory briefing at 8:45am.  That meant leaving by no later than 5:45am.  I decided to set the target for 5:30am, give or take a few minutes.

Another issue was fuel.  I’d read on a few forums that you could get fuel near the track, but that there was no fuel available for purchase whilst there.  Apparently you can leave the circuit, ride to the nearest fuel station, then ride back, without missing a session.  I decided that I’d fuel up just before arriving, and see how I went during the day.  Suck it and see…

I booked in to the session on 11 April 2008.  April is usually great weather in Sydney – not too hot, just cooling off, and generally dry.  I woke up on the morning at 4:45, and chowed down on a breakfast of muesli, bananas and strong black coffee.  I packed a backpack (I’ve got a great light-weight pack that I use when cycling to work) with nut bars, Powerade, bananas, spare ear plugs, sunscreen, a camera, and a notebook.  At 5:30am, I hit the road.

Arrival

I arrived in plenty of time.  The only hiccup was that the closest fuel station to Eastern Creek Raceway had run out of premium unleaded fuel!  I had to backtrack a kilometre or two, and fill up at a station just down the road.  I took the opportunity to buy a couple of chocolate bars, “just in case”.

The next step was to find a garage.  I realise now that I was fairly early – most people tended to arrive after 8:00am.  The guy at the gate told me to find any pit garage that didn’t have a sign on it, after checking my bike in to scruitineering.  The scruitineering process was fairly painless – I guess with a newish bike, it was going to be straightforward.  They checked the brakepads, checked for oil leaks, checked the throttle action, checked tyres, and checked chain tension.  There may have been a few other checks there, but I missed them if there were!

Eastern Creek Scruitineering

Eastern Creek Scruitineering

As luck would have it, one of the very first garages didn’t have a sign, so I entered, and parked up the front, right next to a guy with an all-carbon-fibre Ducati 999R.  He was giving his bike one final shine with a spray-on polish, and was parked just in front of a Ducati 749.  Turns out that the 749 was his “spare” bike…   It also turned out that the garage I’d parked in was normally reserved for the “Trackstars” group – they must have been late in putting up their “reserved” signs!

999R

999R

My 848, First Track Day!

My 848, First Track Day!

Given that I had plenty of time before the briefing, I wandered off, found the cafe, and ordered a bacon and egg roll with BBQ sauce.  Just the thing to replenish the reserves after my two hour ride from Newcastle!

Briefing

Briefing was compulsory for all riders, spectators and staff.  During briefing, they explained the passing rules (approx 2 metres space between bikes at all times), and explained the flags (yellow, red and checkered), and a few other rules (two wheels on the ground at all times – no wheelies, no stoppies, no burnouts).  They also told all new riders to gather after briefing to head out for a track familiarisation with an instructor from the Californian Superbike School (yes, they’re in Sydney too!)

Rider Briefing

Rider Briefing

First Laps – familiarisation and OOPS!

After the briefing, I joined the rest of the new riders.  We headed off for one slow lap of the circuit with the instructor, who pointed out all of the flag marshals.  Then, on the second lap, he sped up a little, and showed us the proper racing lines for the track.  I was third in line; instructor, another rider, then me.  After the second lap, the instructor peeled off, an we were on our own.

I decided to tuck in behind the first rider, and we accellerated down the straight.  Such speed!  Turn 1 came up so quickly – a fast left hander, followed by a short straight, and into another left-hander – sharper, and a lot slower.   Halfway around this corner… the rider in front of me dropped his bike!  Yikes!  A nice low-side, right in front of me.  I can still remember the noise of fiberglass and aluminium scraping down the track, and can visualise the rider sliding along after his bike…

That scared me.  First “real” lap, and the guy in front of me dropped it (and I was going just as fast as him at the time!!!)

Anyhow, I slowed down a little, for a lap or two… but just a lap or two!

One impression I had was how fast things were happening!  Straight out of Turn 2, coping with Turn 3, then into Turn 4, and before you knew it, Turn 5 was upon you!  I couldn’t keep up with the pace of it all.  After what seemed like a very short time, the first 20 minute session was over, and we were flagged off the course.

Cornering School and “A” Graders

After the first session, my name was called to join the “first timer’s cornering school”.  This was a session held by the trainer from CSS, and was held on a quiet section of road away from the track.  I found this very helpful – learning how to position on the bike, relax the arms, and focus on counter-steering.  After a while, the instructor asked, “Which group were you in?”

“White (C Grade)”, I replied.

“Well, you’d better hurry up and join them – they’ve just called your group on to the track!”

Ready for the next session!

Ready for the next session!

I headed off, and straight down pit lane.  Brimming with confidence, and keen to try out my new-found cornering skills, I was waved on to the track, and headed straight down to Turn 2… where I was passed by a bike going at a great rate of knots.

“Not to worry…” I thought to myself, “he was quick, but I’ll settle in, and will catch him soon…”

That didn’t happen.  What happened was that bike after bike zipped by me.  I’d try and hang on to them, but after a corner or two, I’d be left in their wake, only to be overtaken by more bikes.  I didn’t pass anyone!  By mid-way through the session, I was seriously depressed.  “What the hell do you think you were thinking – buying a bike after a 25 year break, and going to a track day!  These guys are all so much better than you – you’d best head back, pack up your gear, and head home!”  These were the thoughts that were going through my mind.

When I pulled back in to the garage, I noticed that my mate with the 999R wasn’t there.  He arrived just after me.  We pulled off our helmets, and he looked at me and said, “Gee, first track day, and you’ve moved up from white (C) to red (A)!”  I’d gone out with the wrong group!

Settling In

The rest of the day was fan-bloody-tastic.  I felt like a big sponge, soaking up information and tips from the guys in the garage, learning the track, and just having a ball.

Rear Tyre, after first track day ever!

Rear Tyre, after first track day ever!

At the end of the day, I had a big grin on my face, and a new-found appreciation for this superbike that I’d bought.

The only problem that I now had was the two hour ride home…

The Aftermath

When I finally made it home, I realised that I was SORE.  I had sore thighs, sore shoulders, a sore neck, sore arms, sore chest…  I was tired and sore all over.  I grabbed a quick bite to eat, gave the missus a quick peck on the cheek, took two panadols, and had the soundest sleep I think I’ve ever had!

Little was I to know – I was now well and truly hooked on track days…

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. vegasbrianc permalink
    February 18, 2009 11:08 am

    Great article. Great to see that you are enjoying your Ducati and track days. All I can say is track days are the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

    Brian

    • spotcom permalink*
      February 18, 2009 5:29 pm

      Thanks Brian! Yes, I agree. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that “too much fun is barely enough”, then track days are for you!

      I have another one this weekend. Would love to mount a video cam on the bike, but the track operator forbids it. 😦

  2. John permalink
    June 4, 2009 8:58 pm

    Jeez, your experience sounds like one I’m contemplating embarking on. ie 25 years away from 2 wheels, love my dukes and giving ownership some serious thought.
    I go to the Duke race days at the Creek as a spectator, wander around the pits, talk with the guys, check their machines out…
    Love your tales and wish you happy & safe riding

    • spotcom permalink*
      June 4, 2009 11:02 pm

      Yes, I highly recommend track days. I must update this blog – there’s been a few good trackdays since then. I’m hoping to do another day at the end of July 2009 (won’t get there before then, unfortunately). If you’re at the Creek then, make sure to look me up!

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