Motorcycle Track Guide: Cartagena

There are many reasons to visit one of Spain’s top circuits. The track is a 600’s dream with more twists and turns than a mountain pass

There might not be a whole lot of top level racing occurring over the year at Cartagena but this is still one of the busiest and most popular tracks in Europe. British race teams love to test here pre-season in the (usually) warm and settled weather. Almeria can get chilly and at Guadix and Albacete you might even see some of the white stuff. Cartagena is also a great track for setting-up bikes as with around 14 tricky low-speed corners, three medium-speed corners, some good high-speed braking and a decent length of start/finish straight. The surface is first rate with very few bumps as it gently rises and falls round a bowl in what looks very much like a massive disused quarry.

Few Brits have ever raced at Cartagena. However, it’s been popular since 1997 and although the layout has changed very little, the circuit is well maintained with plenty of run-off. It also has decent garages, showers and a great café so spending three or four days here is a fairly civilised experience. Riding the track is very physical. You’ll only get a decent breather on the start/finish straight and it’s important to build up slowly, pace yourself and keep well hydrated. Don’t be afraid sit out the last session as quite often this is when tired riders make costly mistakes.

Sector One: Start/Finish to Turn Five

Sector One: Start/Finish to Turn Five

Once past the pitlane exit get as close to the white line on the left as possible for braking up the rise into the first corner. This is a two part affair with the latter section becoming quite tight. Shift back to third gear as you’re braking towards the first apex then drift back to the outside while clicking 2nd gear and then pull back tight to the second right apex.

This is the part that hooks back so try to stay tight to the right as long as you can, but get your body position ready for a big heave into the awkward tight left. You’ll most likely need to shift back to 1st gear as you’re changing direction otherwise you could get bogged down on the exit.Try to get your bike upright as soon as possible, then short shift up to 2nd while getting right on the white line down the tiny straight to the left/right chicane. This section can be straightened out by going kerb to kerb. Your next marker is the wide kerb on the left that leads onto the next long right-hander.

The key here is building momentum from the previous slow left-hander so try to open the throttle gradually from this point rather than giving big handfuls then shutting off before the track opens out. Once out of the chicane change up to 3rd gear but stay left to give a better line round this long daunting right. I like to start wide, head for the middle of the track halfway round then pick the bike up and move out to the left again for safe upright braking into turn five. This is a 2nd gear right that starts off pretty tight but soon opens out. It is easy to get sucked in early here so force yourself to turn quite late and practice finding a clipping point ¾ way round.

Sector Two: Turn Five to Turn Ten

Sector Two: Turn Five to Turn Ten

I love blasting up through this next fast kink but it can have a sting in its tail so steady as you go especially if you have big horsepower on tap. Once you’ve found your late apex at turn five, stand her up and aim straight to the left-hand side white line and follow this until the next left-hander comes into view. This will be the turn’s midway point and also when you should let yourself drift back out to the right and to set up for some heavy straightline braking.

This section will see you accelerating hard in 3rd gear but as you’re leaning to the left the rear-end can run out of traction, so once again squeezing the throttle gradually is safer than holding it to the stop. During braking shift back to 2nd gear, turn in late to this left and you’ll get a nice line up the hill to the double left. Running wide onto the paint on the exit (shift up to 3rd gear) will help you sweep round this section and also keep you mid-track for the next right flick downhill. A dab on the front brake will steady things up and pull you tighter for the run down the right side of the track to turn nine. This downhill left dips slightly which can upset the front suspension so a cautious entry is best and will benefit your exit.

I find only using ¾ of the track coming out of turn nine leaves me plenty of time to set myself up on the opposite side for braking into turn ten. As this 2nd gear right-hander bends uphill you can brake later than you think as you’ll scrub speed off all the way in. You want to be mid-track for the first half of the corner then progressively pulling back to the right. Once at the paint you should be catching the throttle and driving hard up over the blind rise, arriving on the left-hand line before using the full berries down the other side.

Sector Three: Turn Ten to the Start/Finish

This very fast downhill section will see you swing over to the right then back across the left apex as you stand the bike up for hard braking while changing back to 2nd gear. I aim for some green concrete on the approach to this one which might give you the impression that you’ll turn in too late. But trust me – it’s perfect. Try to stay off the throttle until your knee is over the apex then look for a nice late exit point down the right of the tarmac. Another short straight will see you shift up a gear then back one for the very last right-hander which is a very standard 180-degree affair leading onto the start/finish.

This superb little track will totally wear you out. But, you’ll be constantly honing your riding skills in the process. The trick is to be ahead of the game. As you exit one corner try to get your body position ready for the next. If you wait till you are at the corner you’ll use twice the effort and unsettle the bike. This may feel weird to start with but if you begin with subtle movements, you’ll soon master this technique that works on many sections of many tracks. I guarantee you’ll be tired and sweaty all day long at this one, but that cool San Miguel in the paddock café at 5pm will make it all worthwhile.

More comprehensive track guides from Niall Mackenzie