WHAT MAKES a good track day? For me it’s when something clicks - when I realise I can brake deeper into a corner, open the throttle a bit earlier or turn the bike quicker. It’s when I feel like I’ve ended the day with a better understanding of how I’m riding and what I can do with my bike.
Inevitably, that feeling of progression comes through time spent clicking off the laps and although learning in this way is useful and fun, I wanted to do something with more structure, so I booked myself on to the Ron Haslam Race School.
I opted for the Premier Experience – where three 15-minute track sessions on one of the school’s ABS-equipped Honda CBR600RRs are punctuated with debriefs and time to work with an instructor to get you closer to whatever goals you have for the day.
Or perhaps you have no goals, perhaps you just want to get out on track for the first time on someone else’s track-ready bike, under the guidance of someone who knows what they’re doing. In that case, you’ll be well catered for.
On arrival at Donington Park, the very helpful Ann Haslam was on hand to get me signed on. With paperwork sorted, I shoved my leathers on and went through to the briefing room. Haven’t got your own leathers? No problem. The Ron Haslam school can loan you kit if you need it, so if you feel like turning up wearing nothing more than your pants and a nervous smile, you’ll still be good to ride.
The briefing was as you’d expect from a track day – an introduction to the circuit, instructions on how to stay safe, what the flags and cones mean - all that good stuff. If you’ve never done a track day before, this is where you might start to feel nervous/excited, but the school’s staff make a lot of effort to put everyone at ease.
On top of the briefing, participants also get an explanation of how time at the school works and what to expect from it. It’s all useful and concise stuff and with no filler, after about 15 minutes we moved through to the pits and awaiting bikes.
Instruction happens in small groups; I got paired with another pupil, and we were given BSB rider Lee Costello as our instructor. For the first session we went out with Lee in the middle of us, taking turns to ride in front of him so he could get an idea of our ability. My first session was slightly frustrating as I was riding a lot slower than I comfortably could have but it was a chance to try and learn Donington, which I'd never been to before.
Clear hand signals from the instructors means you always know what to do on circuit, and what your instructor wants you to do.
Once back in the pits, we had a debrief and got told what we could work on or pay attention to – for me it was line selection – which was something I knew I could do with guidance on. Lee also took the time to help us out with body position by demonstrating some good position examples and analysing our positions on a bike in the pits before answering any questions we had. Before I knew it, 15 minutes had passed and we were out again to practice what we’d just been discussing - with a bit more pace this time.
The debried after the second track session followed on from the first, and we analysed our second session with Lee, with him also giving us pointers on how to improve.
The final track session was the quickest of the day, and a chance to try and refine what we’d been taught or had questioned our instructor about and it was the most rewarding of the day. That leads me to a criticism though - a fourth session wouldn't go amiss, especially considering the day costs a quid under £300 and as it stands, gives you 45 minutes of track time. An extra session would definitely help embed what's been learnt on the day.
Like all the instructors, Lee also took the time to find out what we wanted to get out of the day and took it all into account. Time under his tutelage helped me figure out how to improve my corner entry and line selection. By the end of the day I’d discovered that I was turning in a bit early and that I could afford to take wider, more swooping lines and carry more speed through corners.
At the debrief, all participants received a certificate to say that we’d completed the Premier Experience, meaning we’re qualified to come back and do the Elite Experience (£399) on Honda Fireblades.
I didn’t come away from the school feeling as if a switch had been flicked inside me and on my ride home from Donington, I didn't feel that I was suddenly a more accomplished, blisteringly fast rider. Instead, I felt more confident about track riding because I learnt that what I was already doing wasn’t too far off the mark. Importantly, I gained some useful insight into how to refine my riding on circuit, from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
If you’re tempted by the Ron Haslam Race school, then do it but don’t turn up expecting to leave Donington with Rossi-level skills because you’ll be disappointed. Instead, know that the school can equip you with some tools that can help you refine your riding and become more confident and aware of what you’re doing, which are the foundations to getting faster.
I also invited a few colleagues, in the shape of motocross lover and road riding averse Amy Sparrow, plus MX racer Dave Willet, both from sister publication Moto to come along with me. Here’s what they thought:
'I was so nervous beforehand and although I have a full bike licence, I knew this was going to be vastly different to the riding I normally do.
'In my first session I felt out of my depth and uncomfortable even though I did enjoy trying something new. After being shown how we should have our bodies positioned we went out for session two in the rain, which was fine and espite not going as fast as we had been, I felt much comfier on the bike and thanks to what I learnt about body positioning in the debrief, I think my riding improved.
'By the last session the track was drying and I felt like I was getting into it and pushing myself a bit more. I couldn't believe how quickly the session went and loved crouching down and opening the throttle on the straights, which I wasn’t doing so much at the star of the day. Some motocross habits were hard to shake and even by the end of the day, corner entry and exit were still not great as it’s hard to work on everything in one day but I already want to go again and this time get my knee down!
'The instructors taught me so much, it was really handy to have them out on track to follow their lines and see how they move their bodies on the bike at different points. I think I learnt so much just from following them around, which gave me a great confidence.'
'After the briefing, we pretty much got straight into it. When going out onto the circuit it took a little time to adjust. Actually, I thought I’d adjusted well but truthfully I was in a bad shape as my body position wasn’t right - I didn't have my knee out enough and I didn't set myself up for the turns well enough in terms of line choice but more importantly, body position. My use of the gears was fine and the throttle control was good but my foot position was wrong and my technique needed a lot of work.
'What I took from the first session was how little I needed to use the brakes, especially the rear. I didn't use it all day! Also I was covering all the controls like on a motocross bike and even turning it like one. Not ideal, but old habits die hard, and it was something my instructor picked up on and worked to improve.
'After being shown how I should have my body positioned using a stationary bike by my instructor Paul, I was shocked at how wrong I’d been on the bike. It was brilliant info and it surprised me how much he could see in his mirrors as I’d been following him around.
'I was trying to keep my instructor's guidance in my mind as I hit the track for the second session, which was wet but because the pace was much slower, it allowed me to put everything into practice
'By the time the third session came around, I was well up for it as I had my technique much more dialled in. My head and body was hanging off the bike more instead of being central, and with me getting into position earlier I could attack the turns more.
'It’s an experience I will never forget and I would recommend any motorcycle rider to try it at least once. I will be back for sure.'
Tested: Ron Haslam Race School Premier experience
Contact: Ron Haslam Race School