What’s it like to take part in a track day with COVID-19 restrictions?

We went along to Donington Park to take part our first track day since COVID-19 restrictions came in. Here’s how we got on

Visordown post-COVID-19 track day

WITH COVID-19 placing pretty much every motorcycle leisure activity on hold for most of 2020, Visordown’s chief bike wrangler, Toad, was as eager as everybody else to get back out on track.

But with track days selling out quicker than Glastonbury tickets, we had to wait a little longer than we’d hoped before confirming the date. Thankfully, we managed to secure a place at Donington Park for Focused Events Sunday session on the full and flowing GP circuit.

Here’s how Toad got on.

With so much demand for track time since COVID-19 restrictions on England started to ease, it’s really no surprise that a slot on track at one of Europe’s best motorcycle venues was in high demand. In fact, I’m pretty sure the packed paddock and full but not overcrowded sessions pointed to the event selling out.

The first major change is to the sign-on and briefing of the day, and it’s something that I actually hope track day companies continue doing. Instead of the usual scrum that amasses at the signing on table, the riders are queued up with barriers at the top of the paddock. Here, a small cabin becomes the signing on table, with staff inside giving out wristbands and bike stickers. It’s a nice change and gives people a bit of space thanks to clearly laid out 2m markers on the ground.

It also didn’t seem to take any longer to get signed on, as everyone was queuing up neatly instead of just arriving at the desk like a multi-limbed blob.

My top tip here is to head straight for the signing on desk after you’ve secured a parking space or garage as soon as it opens. You’ll save time in the long run and once you bike and kit is unloaded, you’ll be eating breakfast while the rest of the paddock is still queueing for the sign on desk!

Another positive change that we have Coronavirus to thank is the lack of a morning briefing, instead, the safety and track information comes in the form of an audio message on the MSV website. I’ve don’t a lot of track days and love riding on the track, but to some, it could be their first time, they're probably nervous and might actually want to listen to the organisers. What they don’t need in that scenario is Dangerous Dave who’s lapped Misano quicker than Scott Redding (or so he says) chatting away to his mate at the front about how many sets of elbow sliders he’s brought with him because he’s that much of a hero. The online briefing does away with all that, and because you read and hear the information, it all actually sinks in!

After the morning’s paperwork is out of the way, it’s on to the track for sighting laps. Our day was running to a 1,2,3 schedule, with group 1 (novice) heading out on track for their sighting laps first, then group 2 (inters), then group 3 (fast). Once the fast group completed their sighting laps, the 20m sessions could begin.

So, a quick recap from our morning so far: Signing on is stress-free, the morning briefing is clear and easy to understand, there was no queue for breakfast at the café…

This is all going well now, isn’t it?!

And then, the first problem arises, and it’s nothing to do with Focussed Events, MSV, the weather gods or anything else. On the out-lap from the pits for our second session, it looks as though two riders have come together on the exit of Old Hairpin, no doubt they were both either looking at the same bit of track or they really desperately need to ‘win’ that out-lap. The net result for us is a slow and steady ride back to the pits while we wait for the crews to clear the track and make it safe for the session to restart.

Look, I get it; crashes happen – but on the out-lap, really? It’s not a race, there are no prizes. And no, race teams do not have spotters waiting to sign you up because you’re that good. All you do is ride around in circles, waste some petrol and have fun.

Okay, mark that down to rusty riders and overzealous overtaking, we lost three minutes and are now ready to go. Three laps later and I’m starting to get into my groove and the Speed Triple RS is beginning to feel like the bike I fell in love with while riding on the road last summer.

Annnnnnd another red flag. This time at Foggy’s Esses, only one rider involved and he looked to be fine and was up and thankfully on his feet. Long and the short of it, we lost the rest of that session, and then it was back to the pits for a brew and a bite to eat.

For the remainder of the day, the sessions were a mixture of red flags and restarts and longer pauses on track as riders started to pick up the pace and find the limit. Enjoyable, yes, frustrating, absolutely. The number of red flags and restarts was noticeable higher than any other track day I’d been to, and I’m pretty sure, in most cases, they could have been avoided by just calming it down a bit. Again, nothing more FE could have done, at the beginning of every session they were chacking wristbands and asking riders to keep it chilled! 

Good bits about a post-COVID-19 track day:

  • Signing on is stress-free
  • The online briefing is great and something I think should stay
  • The café was open and serving takeaway
  • There aren’t hoards of kids on BMXs wheelieing around the paddock trying to crash into you as you ride to the pits
  • After three months of crap it’s just nice to get out on track again

Not so good bits about a post-COVID-19 track day:

  • Some people forgot that there are no prizes at track days
  • Riding standards on track seem to have dropped over the lockdown
  • As the café is take away only sitting in the warm is not possible, unless you have a car/van
  • The demand is so high at the moment, events are selling out like hot cakes

Toad’s top tip to bag some track time:

With folks getting eager and booking up spaces for any event they could get their hands on, many spaces are for sale on the various track day Facebook groups. These mostly sell at face value, although there are occasionally some reduced slots and last-minute changes. If you aren’t bothered where you ride or what the weather is going to be doing, buying somebody’s unwanted track day from them might be the best way to go.