Mallory Park, Friday 3rd May. I previously completed my ACU licence at this venue, but the test does not allow for full exploration of the circuit due to limited time out on track. Not a problem today. So, under a moody-looking sky not befitting May, I enjoyed the familiar pleasure of visiting a U.K. race track with my Triumph Street Triple 675 motorcycle, while Sgt Anthony Smith was experiencing his first track day, riding his Yamaha MT-10. The Grassroots event – hosted by the Royal Navy Royal Marines Road Racing Team – was heavily discounted when compared to those attending in a civilian capacity. Pusser even gave us a van for the day! After the mandatory briefing for all riders, we gathered around the garages, watching the intermediate then advanced group head out on track, wishing away the rain that would later douse the tarmac. When the liquid morale did eventually descend, we had already built some pace in the dry, so headed on to the circuit with a modicum of confidence that led to Smudge and I sliding the rear tyre on a few occasions but managing to keep our bikes upright. Later, when the intermediate and advanced groups had dried the track, each novice rider was followed around for a session by a member of the team. Dave White was our instructor. Dave assessed Smudge and myself, then offered hints, tips, and tricks to find more speed, and we spent the rest of the day putting these into practice. By the final session of the day, it was clear to see that all riders attending the Grassroots event had improved their pace massively when compared to the first session in the morning – especially Ellis Kent on his BMW S1000RR superbike, on his very first track day. Personally, it was my favourite track day to date because of the community the team had assembled. A really positive atmosphere and some very fast, safe riding displayed by all riders. As a look forward, a personal race I hope to win is getting my Triumph ready for round five at Donington Park …
Cpl Dave White and I travelled up to Mallory on the Thursday night with the extra team bike and 3 of our bikes in our van, to ensure we would be ready and raring to go first thing Friday. After a short delay we were allowed to move down into the garages within the Paddock and unload the van ready for the mornings early start.
Up early ready to sign on and get our brief with the weather undecided on its delivery for the day, we signed on and got prepared to start our sessions, these were all at the novice level, thankfully as with the damp weather, there was no way I was going to go as fast as the two previous sessions had done. Then the call for the novices went out to make our way to pit lane. A rush of excitement and panic went through the paddock as a vast variety of motorbikes were started up and moved out on to pit lane the moment of truth had arrived.
Under strict control the riders were released onto the circuit, this was managed by a few lead sighting laps, before being allowed to carry on at our own pace, obviously with the instructions given about overtaking and courtesy to other riders in mind. I was relieved as I was worried before hand about my old V twin not being able to compete against the smaller lighter sports bikes, however this was not the case and I was able to overtake a few riders, this allowed me to settle down in my riding and enjoy the first session, with the damp track in the back of my mind.
The second session was upon me before I realised, and we were herded once again onto pit lane into the sighting laps, this time with a dry line starting to appear around the circuit, this was going to get better. As before the different levels of experience allowed for others to advance their riding under good instruction and coaching by the team, as the session went on the dry line grew bigger, with this the confidence grew and the times improved. And before I knew it the session was over, obviously I was enjoying myself far too much to realise how much time had passed.
The third session like the second was upon us again, after having deep discussions with my coach I set off on my sighting laps, the sun had dried the circuit out and I was excited to think I could start to work my tyre to the edge, the session got to three laps in just as my tyres were starting to warm, before it was red flagged as a rider had come off. Back in to pit lane whilst we waited for the restart, the heavens decided to open up and reduce the track to wet and slippery, gutted is an understatement, however as proven during the rest of the days sessions, I managed to gain some valuable experience on what my road tyres were capable of in the wet, giving more confidence for future riding.
Lunch was pay as you dine from the café in the centre of the circuit, or eat what you brought, and as the rest of the day had been, it was over before you knew it, back to preparing for the next session, fuelling etc, and back onto the track. Three sessions in the afternoon, all as successful as the previous, unfortunately in damp conditions, but still so enjoyable and valuable in experience.
At the end of the day, the group got together for a debrief from the team, who were impressed with all who attended, and more importantly kept the name of the team and RN RM in a good place. This was followed by a couple of photos, before a manic panic session of packing away and clearing up to get clear of the circuit before the evening’s triathletes were allowed onto the circuit.
I should add that the team’s photographers who were there all day, at there own expense did a fantastic job supporting the day and taking loads of awesome phots for the lads to enjoy through the social media sight.
Although I have been riding motorbikes for several years, I have always been keen to improve my abilities wherever possible, partly for safety reasons and also to have a greater understanding about what modern machines and tyres are capable of. Like may other bikers, I have favourite bits of road where there are no drain covers, sweeping bends and good visibility to explore these limitations, but given the chance to take part in a track day with guidance about cornering provided by regular racers was far better than hoping for green lights all the way around Marsh Mills roundabout. My aims of the day were to not throw my bike down the road and to gain some scrubbing of the tyre edges for car-park kudos, both of which initially looked in doubt with the heavy rain forecast. However, although the day started a bit damp, this helped to keep speeds down a bit whilst learning the track. As it dried out, and with a few hints from the RNRM team, each 20 minute session became faster than the last, and soon we were comparing tyre wear and still not falling off. Although I have no desire to race motorbikes as falling off hurts, I highly recommend taking part in track days whenever possible. I had a fantastic time, learnt a lot about what my bike can do, and as a bonus can get around Marsh Mills roundabout 10 seconds quicker than previously.
Upon arrival at Mallory park circuit we met a few of the royal navy guys and moved down to the pit area. We began setting out the garages for the following day before taking a track walk as the sun was setting over the lake. This allowed the guys who arrived early the chance to chat with some of the rnrmrrt lads about lines and the track layout.
As the light faded the guys who had arrived the evening before sat around chatting and having some good banter. A couple of guys who had never ridden on track before seemed a little apprehensive but all in good spirits. The night came to a close and we all settled to sleep ready for the 7am start for sign on and breakfast.
Once the formalities of the track day organiser safety briefs where complete we moved back to our allocated pits and dressed into our small groups with our days tutor/mentor. Received a separate brief on our plans for the day with mentors showing then shadowing with a debrief at the end of a session.
Then the time came for our first session on track, it was wet having rained during the early hours so the pace was steady and the 3 sighting laps soon passed. On completion of the sighting laps one of the lads was a little over keen on the throttle and had a slow accident having lost the rear through Edwina’s. The over keen royal navy guy picked his bike up and with not so much trouble was back out on track after a bit of group banter.
As the day progressed the track became dryer the lads became smoother therefore quicker. The confidence and all round smiles from session to session from all those taking part was clear to see. The mentors seemed to gauge the levels really well from the total novice to the lads that have completed a couple of track days in their free time. As the day pushed towards the late afternoon and the last session on track was approaching quickly, everyone seemed very happy. To finish the day we had the chance to chat again with the team and mentors about everything we had learnt and how we can move forward on improving and making everyone ride to a better standard. We then began to tidy up, pack things away and say our goodbyes before making our way back to our relative units.