Ride Like Mackenzie: Track Tactics

Mackenzie passes on his Grand Prix level knowledge on how to get the most out of track riding, and safely

I guess mainly we're talking about trackdays here and we'll start right at the beginning too so even if you've never done one before we'll cover all you could possibly need to know. We'll also get into some more advanced riding techniques while we're at it for all you seasoned trackday veterans or club racers looking to shave those last fractions off your lap times. Basically, whatever level you're at, as long as you want to learn, I promise I can make you faster.

So, track riding then. What's the secret? Well for me it's all about organisation which suits me down to the ground. After all I like everything in my life to be pretty orderly, as my wife Jan will testify. She knows the Mackenzie Wednesday night routine - 7pm and it's by the bed, 7.01, kit off, 7.02, brace yourself love... Aye, I'm an old romantic at heart. Anyway, I've always put the same orderly approach to track riding and racing and it doesn't seem to have done me any harm.

The key to sussing a track and putting together a perfect lap is all about building a picture of the place in your mind with a series of reference points. For each corner you have your braking point, turn in point, apex, and exit and as you build these up around a circuit then a good lap's just a case of stringing them altogether.

But it takes a good few trackdays and experience to build up to this stage so in the tradition of all the best stories, let us begin at the beginning...



Just as it is with racing, preparation is all when it comes to trackdays and the more you get sorted before the day itself, the better.

So, the day before give your bike a wash and once over - make sure there are no loose nuts or bolts, check your chain tension and make sure your tyre pressures are spot on. Now there's a lot of talk about tyre pressures at the track, but the basic rule is to drop 'em three or four psi from normal road pressures if the weather's warm - the extra grief your tyres will get at the track means they'll get hotter than on the road so they'll expand more.

The lower initial pressure accounts for this. But for cooler days road pressures are fine. Run road pressures in the wet too - dropping them only makes the tread pattern close up.

Get yourself a good night's kip the night before, don't get plastered, and have yourself a decent breakfast too. And as well as your bike and leathers, don't forget your driving licence - most tracks need to see one of these before they let you out on track.

There will always be a briefing before the day starts too and no matter how many trackdays you've been to before go to it - different organisers run things differently and just like listening to your millionth airplane safety announcement, it never hurts to be reminded of the basics.

Nearly time to go out now and if you've been here before you'll be gagging for it, but if it's your first trackday you may be a little nervous so here's how to deal with it...


Chances are you'll be worried about one of two things - crashing, or being intimidated by faster riders out on the track.

You can all but remove the risk of crashing by taking the whole day at your own pace. Go as slow as you like and build it up from there. Pressure yourself into going fast before you're ready and you're bound to end up in the gravel.

As for faster riders, there are bound to be some but there will always be slower riders too. Again, do your own thing and it'll all work out just fine.

The Morning Sessions

The Morning Sessions

You can learn all the theory in world, talk to track specialists until you're blue in the face but until you get out on track for yourself it all counts for nothing.

The best way to approach you first trackday or a new track is 'gradually'. Take the first session or two to find out where the track goes and get familiar with it. Don't even think about bringing speed into the equation at this point.

If you apply the basic entry-apex-exit theory to any new track you won't be far off the right lines as you go round. For anyone not familiar with this, see 'The Golden Rule' section on the final page.

Try not to change gear to often too. On anything from a 600 upwards three or four gears for any track is enough to get you round at a good speed. And the less gearchanges you make the smoother you'll be and the more time you'll buy your brain to work on setting up for corners.

And for the first few laps of each session take it extra easy as you let your tyres, suspension, body and mind warm up to the job in hand - tyres won't warm up to maximum grip for four laps and it's no coincidence that most trackday crashes are in the early laps of any session.

Don't put too much expectation on your shoulders your first time at a given track either. You won't even begin to get into the track and start flowing until at least the afternoon sessions anywhere you've not ridden before.
Even if you spend the whole morning pottering about dead steady you'll reap massive rewards in the afternoon because you'll be learning something about the track every lap you put in.

Being Overtaken

Being Overtaken

It's a simple fact there will always be someone faster than you at any trackday so you're going to get passed at some point. The main thing is not to bother about it. Take your mirrors off and ignore what's behind you - all you have to concentrate on is what's ahead and it's up to anyone approaching from behind to make a clean pass. And if you are being passed don't take avoiding action - no matter how close the other rider is they'll be gone in an instant anyway, and if you do suddenly move you may swing into someone else's path or run off the track yourself which really isn't the plan.

The Afternoon Sessions

The Afternoon Sessions

Lunch is over, the bike's running sweetly and you even know where the track goes so now, with your fear all but gone from the morning, it's time to turn that wick up.

Having taken your time to take in what's going on with the track in those early sessions you should now be getting an idea of where things like surface changes, bumps, major cambers are and as well as absorbing this lot you can now start adding reference points like braking markers.

These will be different for everybody depending on bike and ability so don't rely on other people's.

Most tracks have 300, 200 and 100m countdown boards on the way into every corner and these are a good start. Either way, pick recognisable braking markers that aren't too last minute for all the major braking points and work at hitting them every lap so you're finished braking there in time to turn in.

Most people tend to turn in too early because it feels safer, but although it's easy to get sucked into going as fast as possible into a corner and shaving a tenth of your entry to apex time, the biggest gains are to be had from apex to exit. You won't get them if you're on the apex, still on the brakes and not in a position to make the best possible drive from there to the exit though - a slightly later, slightly slower entry can pay massive dividends.

Talking of getting back on the gas from the apex, be careful not to get back onto it too hard too soon, tempting as it may be. Losing the back because of this is the most common trackday crash, so try and make the transition from cranked right over and off the power to upright with the throttle wide open as gradual as possible.

When I was racing I'd be opening the throttle as I was picking it up but if the back end started to slide I'd back off a touch, pick it up some more and then open up again and I'd constantly be making these tiny adjustments to balance drive and slide on the way out of fast corners.

A lot of race schools teach you never to close the throttle mid-corner because they say it risks you losing the front by overloading it, but I don't think it needs to be as black and white as that - if you need to come off the gas mid-corner because you're running wide then do it. Just do it gradually. Don't touch that front brake though...

To Rear Brake or Not to Rear Brake?

To Rear Brake or Not to Rear Brake?

An age-old question this one, and there's no right answer. If you like to use the back brake on track, then do, but if you find it easier to concentrate on just the front then that's fine too.

Personally I hardly ever use the rear brake even when I was racing. Only time I'd really go for it would be if I was running a bit wide in a left-hander to pull the bike back onto a line (in right-handers you can't get to the brake lever anyway), or to keep the front down over crests rather than shutting off the throttle and unsettling the bike.

Using the rear brake can ultimately be hard on pads - racers who use it a lot like Walker and Bayliss get through a set every race where mine would last half a season, but doesn't do any harm otherwise. It's all a matter of personal choice.



Always a good one this, especially if you're stuffing one of your mates or someone on a faster bike, but doing it right can make all the difference between hero and zero.

If you're catching someone, follow them for a couple of corners and see where you could cleanly make a pass - you'll find some riders are slow in some corners and faster in others.

Make sure you give them plenty of space and have a back-up plan that doesn't involve ramming anyone off the track if your overtake isn't panning out.

The best places to overtake are up the inside on the brakes into slower corners, our down longer straights - hang back from intended victim a touch the corner before, concentrate on maximum drive out of the corner and slingshot past them before the next corner looms into view. Lovely.

Disaster Management

Disaster Management

You're bound to make mistakes on any track session - I'd always try and scare myself a few times in race practice just to prove I was trying - but how you deal with them can make all the difference between staying shiny side up and wearing your bike in a tyre wall.

So if you're running wide in a corner, don't panic. As long as you're not about to run off onto the grass or gravel just shut off gently, look to the exit where you want to be and let the bike pull itself round. Whatever you do, stay off the brakes in case you lose the front and you'll come back into the turn.

If do leave the track, again don't touch the brakes and try and steer away from any approaching barriers as you slow down. Gravel traps slow you down very quickly, but as with being on the grass - stay off the brakes.

If you miss a gear on the way into a corner always change up to select another one - accidentally slotting into first on the way into a second gear corner is a problem, whereas being in third isn't nearly so bad...

And if you hit a false neutral anywhere and can hear that clicking sound from the motor as the gearbox tries to engage get the clutch in fast and sort it out- you never know when it might catch and lock your back wheel.



Ah, the subject whose name must not be mentioned, but crashing does happen at trackdays. You're still far safer on track than you are filtering through traffic going to work but even so, if the worst happens here's how to handle it:

Once you realise you're off the bike, relax (easier said than done), try to stop your arms and legs flailing too much and wait to slither to a halt. You've paid good money for your leathers so you might as well let them do their job while you enjoy the ride. And don't even think about getting up until you're sure you've stopped sliding - getting up at 30mph and taking a moonwalk across the track before falling flat on your face again is very undignified.

And if someone crashes in front of you try and do nothing. Try avoiding them and you'll probably cause more problems. They're very unlikely to stay on line so chill, roll off gently at most and they should bobble out of your way. Countless times in situations like these I've saved myself by minding my own business.

And don't stop for anyone who's crashed, even your mates - that's what the marshals and ambulance teams are there for. Stopping is only likely to cause another accident.

What About Going Faster?

What About Going Faster?

So you're now a trackday legend. Fast, confident and smooth but you just can't seem to go any faster. How do you break through to the next level?

Track familiarity is all - it's no coincidence that Jocks rule at Knockhill, and so on. But this rule applies at all levels and the more laps you get in at any circuit, the faster you'll get.

If you're lucky enough to be at the track in question the day before take a look around as much of it as you can. A walk round is ideal because you can see so many more nuances of the track at walking pace, but it's rarely possible away from race meetings. Still, watching BSB races or 'racing' the circuits yourself on computer games (Touring Car for the Playstation has most UK circuits and is an office favorite) can help build your circuit knowledge.

A bit of mental practice can pay dividends too, and is also great because it's free and carries no risk of injury! Seriously though, I've found this one worth a second a lap at times.

So, what you need to do is take in some virtual laps in your head. Run though through a full lap with every gearchange, braking marker, and corner in full detail and then imagine how it would feel to brake a touch later in places and get on the gas a fraction earlier in others.

You'll need to do a few laps over and over and you do need to be very familiar with the track in question but the rewards are that when you do go out again you're mentally prepared to up your pace and have already predicted what it's going to feel like.

Alternatively you could grab an instructor to see if they can speed you up a bit, or follow a faster rider - anyone who seems slightly quicker but is still smooth is worth tagging onto the back of.

And it could be that is none of this lot works then you're at the limits of your bike, tyres and suspension so it's time for a new bike or some set-up changes but we'd fill up a whole new chapter on those alone...

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule

The entry-apex-exit system is the essence of fast track cornering. For the purposes of this demonstration I'm using Donington's Melbourne Loop hairpin but the principles are the same for every corner at every track in the world. Here's how it works:

  1. Entry: the start of your turn. By now you want to be in the correct gear for the corner and have your braking out of the way too. All that's left is to concentrate on is getting through the turn as fast and smooth as possible. For left handers get as far to the right as you can, vice versa for right handers, preferably to the outside kerb if possible - this gives you the maximum space to make the corner into a single, flowing arc.
  2. Apex: from your entry, you're headed to the apex. This is the mid-point of the corner and the tightest point of your turn, right on the inside kerb. Get the apex right, and as soon as it's passed you can get back on the power. Apexes can be earlier or later in a corner depending on how tight it is - in this case it's slightly late (ie: beyond halfway though the turn) so I can get on the power immediately after for the hardest drive out of the corner, on my way to the...
  3. Exit: exactly what it says on the tin, this is the shortest, fastest line out of the corner and onto the following straight as you fire out of the apex. Your exit line will be wider the faster you go which is why the superbike and GP boys are always right out on the rumble strips for pretty much every corner.