Motorcycle Track Guides

Motorcycle Track Guide: Donington Park

Learn the flow of Donington Park from a man who has a podium there at GP level, Niall Mackenzie

Donington Park may have lost MotoGP but believe me this is still one of the safest and most challenging circuits in the world. Four-time 500cc World Champion Eddie Lawson may have moaned that the Melbourne Loop section was like a ‘parking lot’ but seven-time champ Valentino Rossi rates Donny as one of his favourite circuits, so he wins this particular argument. Personally, I have always loved the place and no one can argue with the close and exciting races it has given us over the years. The proposed new layout is on hold for now but money is still being spent on refreshing one of the best motor racing circuits in the world.

I could write pages on favourite races I’ve either watched or been involved in at Donington but Rossi lapping three seconds faster than anyone in the rain while wearing a dark visor has to be the most impressive of his Derbyshire victories. While not quite in Rossi’s league my Donington success story started back in 1983 with a Yamaha Pro Am world Cup victory that led to my first professional contract. Through the eighties and nineties I managed a fair few 250cc, 350cc and Superbike victories before retiring there in the autumn of 2000. I had a bitter sweet victory beating my great mate Whitham to take my first BSB title in '96 however my best moments have to leading the 500cc British GP on the Marlboro Yamaha in 1989 and then climbing onto the podium behind Cadalora and Rainey after the 1993 race.  

With little time to rest between corners Donington Park is one of the most physically demanding circuits. Added to this it will test your brakes and suspension to the limit. There is no feeling like getting Craner Curves just right, however there is also no feeling like getting it wrong. Most top racers have joined the infamous ‘Craner Club’ which involves losing the front while flicking left at 100mph then sliding for 300 metres across the grass on your bum. Interestingly most riders (including me) only do this once. The blind right of Coppice is another amazing corner that takes time to perfect but is better than sex when you finally pull it off. (aye, pun intended)

Late entries and apexes for Redgate, Old Hairpin, Melbourne and Goddards are important at Donington as is using all the track on most corner entries and exits. Make Craner, Schwantz and Coppice one long corner as opposed to several and a ‘firmish’ suspension set up front and rear is also advisable. If you ride this one aggressively you’ll most likely hit a wall when it comes to lap times so it is better to relax and let it flow.

Start finish to Old Hairpin

Start finish to Old Hairpin

Start finish to Old Hairpin

From the finish line you gradually cross to the left of the track in readiness for braking along the stripped paint of the pit lane exit. Some racers cross this line but please don’t do this on a track day or you’ll wipe out anyone attempting to enter the track.

Changing back from fifth to third, try to turn in late, keeping the throttle closed until the right kerb comes back to you. As Redgate turns back on itself if you head for the apex early you’ll spend way too much time with the bike leant over, run wide and have no speed as you exit. 

Once at your late apex you should aim for where the paint ends on the left hand side of the track way out of the corner, shift up to fourth then continue wide so you make the run down through the fast right in one long arc only returning to the right hand edge where the white line straightens out.

At this point you should be pushing your body weight over to the left while rolling back the throttle slightly as this will load the front suspension and avoid instant access to the ‘Craner Club’. Once heading safely to the left apex a gentle squeeze on the throttle will send you back into the middle of the track and then it’s instantly back to the left and the downhill run into the Old Hairpin.

Old Hairpin to Coppice

Old Hairpin to Coppice

Old Hairpin to Coppice

Back one gear to third for this one and as wide as you dare before turning into the right hand Old Hairpin. Having this wide approach means your exit point will be further up the track so you will be more upright and can accelerate harder. 

After kissing the white paint near where the kerb ends you should short shift to fourth gear and get into the middle of the track to line yourself up for the first left apex of Schwantz curve. Gradually winding the throttle open is best here as I’ve seen riders high siding into another county as they lean over at high speed. 

The best line once again involves making one continuous arc out to the right hand edge and then back to the second left apex. Once past this point you should click back to third gear and remain in the middle of the track as you scrub off speed into the right hander of McLeans. You can brake hard here if necessary but wait until you are vertical during the left to right flick for maximum safety.  

I hold a fairly conventional line through McLeans however my tyres are right on the edge of the paint and my knee well over the kerb to maximise the circuit width. Mid-corner I’m quickly back to the throttle and simultaneously lifting the bike upright for a fast and safe run up to Coppice.

Coppice to Melbourne Hairpin

Coppice to Melbourne Hairpin

Coppice to Melbourne Hairpin

I stay on the white line all the way up the hill and only tip in when the painted kerb appears on the right. Some riders make Coppice a three apex corner but I’ve always preferred to clip the first kerb then position myself mid track and then build momentum while changing through fourth and fifth gear onto the back straight. This line is easier on tyres and normally results in a higher top speed under the now missing Dunlop Bridge.

If you have a 1000cc bike or bigger the crest is less severe on the left so staying to this side can help prevent unexpected wheelies. Hard braking from high speed comes next and a nice wide white line entry is best for the Esses as you go all the way back to second gear.

Slow-in and fast-out is the best technique but you also must muscle your bike from left to right if you want to make time up here. This section opens up nicely now so high sides are less likely. As soon as you have flicked right you should immediately pick the bike up and head to the outside of the track accelerating hard down the hill.

When I’m instructing this tiny section of track loses riders the most time as they give their bike no encouragement to change direction. After the exit it’s up to third or fourth as I simply follow the white line on the left down the short straight before more hard braking into the Melbourne Hairpin.   

Melbourne Hairpin to Start Finish

Melbourne Hairpin to Start Finish

Melbourne Hairpin to Start Finish

Turning in late and patiently waiting for the apex to reappear is the fastest line round this tight second gear right hander however a more defensive approach would be necessary should you be racing.

Squaring it off slightly you should use the entire track on the exit and then hold third gear as you head diagonally to the right side of the track on the way up to the final 180 degree Goddards corner. Once again your apex point should be two thirds of the way round as this tricky slightly off camber corner is notorious for catching out even the best of riders just when the finish line is in sight. Try to use all the track on the exit as this will make you stand the bike up earlier and will also help your top speed over the start finish.

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