Saturday, 21 September 2013

Ron Haslam's Race School Review at Donington Park UK's Ron Haslam Race School Review :

What can I say, - 'do it' and find out yourself, awesome experience for anyone with even just a passing interest in fast bikes and track days, and then pillion rides with the Rocket Ron for those who don't even have a bike and are wondering what all the fuss is about - be prepared to get blown away if you're not used to a fireblade's capability in the right hands !

There was an air of professionalism and organised chaos about the whole place, lots of noise, leathers, flat screens, photos, brisk walking people and of course, motorbikes.

The weather helped enormously, as the gut wrenching tingle in the bottom of every bikers stomach when staring into the
micro cosmic abyss of a water puddle conjures up more that just reflections of distorted clouds dispersed in tiny shock waves surrounding a big stupid David Attenborough head staring back at you, the rain means much more than that for the adventurous thrill seeking biker, it en stills Vietnam type flashbacks from seasoned 'dont try this at home kids' professionals of electrifying 1.21 gigawatts of adrenalin being released from your spinal cord 0.03secs after the shock of a snappy breakaway.

A good buzz for 1.21 secs while you see kerb, clouds, grass, clouds, scratched visor and the shrilling sound of pegs on tarmac, crunched bones, ambulance noises, people telling you you're ok when it's clearly not the case and then asking 'what happened' followed by a lengthy period of wound-licking while sitting around like a bollox with your arm in a sling and only able to move 2 fingers, if you're lucky.

Even for 'smooth' riders, the rain dictates a monotonous upright riding position where you don't take liberties with a throttle or upset a bikes natural flowing progression all that much, it's a high pressure starry eyed concentration of lines, kerb avoidance, obstacle avoidance (adrenalin junkies on their hole) judge judy determination of available adhesion on the brakes and anti-spin powering out of corners, being as smooth as a wasp in syrup while still going fast and calculating at 1.21 Ghz per second a risk-reward analysis spreadsheet of how much it will cost you if thing go wrong, and then reigning in the horns and exercising self restraint,- a lot of stuff, so thankfully it didn't rain and the Sun gods were on our side.

Some of us had to be beaten into one piece suits with a sledge hammer (no need to bring your own gear) and with the belly's in and leathers zipped up, squeaked our way into the Haslam briefing room. Straight forward stuff here, flags, safety, and don't do anything stupid, wish I'd listened to that bit, anyway after being assigned race instructors and paired up with a Greek Supermodel #10, we set off around the track at a moderate pace while I checked out her lines from the rear.

After protesting about being distracted on track, Adrian then assigned me to Chris and took her under his wing in a solo one to one session, much to the dismay of other instructors that had been circling like vultures. Burgess was proper quick, clipping apexes, late braking and running out to the edges of most corners on exit while the 600rr screamed its head off trying to keep up.

The back section of track is exhilarating, with yellow cones at each apex that's especially useful if you're running too hot into a blind right hander, but the large sweeping concave down into craner curve and gravity assisted braking into the old harpin are absolutely ace when you get them spot on,. the S's are okay, a little bit straight both into and out and both hairpins are safe, if uneventful for knee down action.

The fun really starts at the end of the main straight after Melbourne, where you basically hang off the bike into a downhill right hander until you feel your face cheeks being planted southward like a painting which moved while Picaso was blindfolded and in my case, still looked pretty good anyway, but the next right hander gets a little tighter and has the impression of somewhere that had previously been widened by a few feet on exit due to around 7 million off road expeditions at that particular spot but grip was plentiful and it's a real advantage to follow someone experienced on the circuit who simply upps the Monty whenever you get close and guides you around the quickest route.

Back in for some red-bull, debriefing about lines, body position, throttle control (wish I'd listened to this bit) and got paired up with Tom, a bike racer from Mayo who was a likeable sort with a devious looking head on 'em. We set off behind a new fireblade which clearly had the legs on our supersport machines on anything even resembling a straight, but whether thru -400cc agility, instructor policy or just sympathy were able to match on the twisty stuff, the pace was a little higher and found ourselves overtaking other groups and getting well used to the Hondas ABS braking capability into corners and I was pushing hard on most corner exits which made the rear tyre squirm 'im not comfortable with this' waves of protestation in the tarmac but it made for good fun and went some way towards minimising the 'blades advantage.

The Bridgestone T30 (touring spec!) tyre's were being worked hard, corner speed was up, boots and knees were scraping tarmac and if they let go a few times, they did so progressively, but it all went pear-shaped on the exit of the Melbourne hairpin - just as I caught a glimpse of the main straight and was running wide with loads of room to spare and about to straighten up from pretty much full angle lean and wind on the throttle at near 100%, and not a minute too soon mind, I swear... a kitten appeared out of nowhere and ran onto the track ! She was only a few weeks old and stood there shivering with fear from the noisy bikes going past at Mach 10 and right then I knew I had to do something.

You don't have much time to react in these situations, and having performed as a stunt double for Colt Severs in 1986 I knew the game was up for the 3 week old tabby which had begun crying at this stage, so in a selfless act of desperation I dived right off the bike and grasped the little kitten in both hands, held her onto my chest and rolled onto the tyre wall and out of danger of oncoming bikes, bastards who would no doubt have gone thru this defenseless little pet for a shortcut. I returned the frightened feline to it rightful owner, unscathed and didn't expect any thanks because that's the kind of guy I am and the session got red flagged as they wheeled the CBR600 into the intensive care unit.

I told the incident officer exactly what had happened and that both the woman and her kitten were long gone and with not even a paparazzi photographer there to corroborate my story, he recorded the reason as 'ran out of talent', but to be honest, I was just happy that the kitten was safe.

Anyway, I was one of the four who had won a hat draw for the onboard passenger ride with Ron Haslam, so while they set about repairing my bike, I hunted the Rocket down. A cool, assuming character who doesn't blow trumpets yet laps that circuit hundreds of times daily faster than anyone else, while wheelie'in like a madman and backs it into most corners completely sideways - he's got the entire circuit scarred with tyre marks, I apologised for binning one of his bikes and as gracefully as possible.. jump on board and he hits the go button.

I know from bringing pillion riders on my road bike that the best thing you can do if stay completely rigid, like a huge overweight bolt-on accessory to the bike, rather that trying to 'help' the rider into corners with swinging around unpredictably left to right and this made for fast laps times ! Corner speeds were fast and being well used to the CBR1000RR's torquey power band it was no big surprise that the font clawed air, even in 3rd gear, but Ron was able to hold onto those wheelie's a lot longer than most but I suppose the biggest revelation was under braking, late or rather, impossibly late braking after going flat out down a straight was seriously impressive.

Where I would normally be moving arse cheeks into position before a corner and cautiously hovering a couple of fingers over the brake lever scrubbing off speed- he was still accelerating hard, I thought we were fucked more than a few times but were eventually reigned in with what feels like 20g's of eye popping ground anchors behind you. Rather than get intimate with Ron, I was using the bolt on handlebar which was seriously hard on the triceps and I knew how tiny those wee petrol cap bolts were which got me worried about leverage and them breaking with the force and all kinds of scenarios like that but thought, if I can survive a highside at Donington then what's the worst that can happen onboard here.

4 or 5 blistering laps later it's all over and we pull into the pits and have a chat. Meanwhile thanks to fast working mechanics I learn my bike is now repaired and with #25 fairings instead and a hose down, it looks like a completely different bike, so after a brief rest I managed to coax Ron into a few 1 to 1 laps back on track.

This was a special experience and really savoured with my best attempts at being as smooth and pro-like as possible and put everything learned on the day into practice and basically, bursting my balls trying to keep up with the 3 times TT / World Superbike GP champion! learner groups were moved out of the way like Moses departing the Red Sea when Rons blade arrived popping and banging on the overrun and my 600rr was back screaming its head off coming out of corners like a demented banshee yet again and using the increased pace of proper racing lines to sling shoot slower riders who'd lost momentum out of corners.

This was proper racing stuff and he was well on the gas wheeling like a hooligan yet again and this time we were 'on' the kerbs in most places, everything he did - I tried the same and finished off the session with a nice wheelie before coming into the paddock for the final time.

Just as well, I was fucked tired after all that and after shaking hands with one of motor racing's living legends, asked him to honestly answer if he'd even been pushing all that hard; "not really, mate", he said,. "keeping an eye out for kittens"

Huge thanks to Cotters for organising the whole thing, after the rave reviews about their Angelsey's track day - said we'd have to try this and they run around doing everything there while you basically turn up and ride, Thanks to Anne Haslam who made all the Irish lads feel right at home and Frank and the wife for the food, drinks and hospitality ! Ron, Leon and all the Bridgestone guys for the instruction, direction and tyre advice on the day and as I said before at Mondello, those T30's really are a superb tyre and shouldn't really be capable of that kind of abuse on a race circuit - it's amazing how far rubber technology has come on, great bunch of lads on the trip there too and would definitely advise anyone sitting on the fence about the next event, just do it!


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