A Rookie’s Guide to His/Her First Track-day

If you think you are the fastest guy out there on the street and have never visited a track, prepare to be humbled the very moment you exit that pit lane. If this statement alone has stoked your ego and got you thinking about making a visit, you sure should. The TVS One Make Championship and training school is a great point to start within India. It’s a great platform for newbie aspirants, providing them access to an entire season of racing for a nominal fee. Before you head out though, here are some of the basics which should help.

Safety gear

Before you head to a track, get a high quality, certified helmet that fits like it has been glued to your head even if you shake your neck violently. You will have to invest in a leather racing suit, matching gloves, riding boots, and knee sliders. You will be uncomfortable at first, but once you get used to it, you’d feel naked and exposed when riding without it.

Learning the track

The very first thing that you will need once on the racetrack is a brief introduction about the layout of the track. Along with that, you will also need to know about the safety regulations, flag rules, and abide by them at all times. Listed below are the different types of flags which are common to every race track:

  • Green – The starting flag, and the signal to start the race, or if it was interrupted, the signal to resume the race.
  • Yellow – Caution, be careful; something is wrong on the track. This could be an accident, wreckage, oil on the track, a stalled car, weather, or any other unsafe condition
  • Black –  Pull into the pits, your motorcycle is not safe to be on the track, you are not getting up to a fast enough speed, or you have broken a racing rule and are being penalized.
  • Black-&-White Crossed – You are no longer being scored because you did not obey the black flag. Essentially, you are out of the race.
  • Red – Everyone on the track must stop racing and return to the pits. A red flag is often waved because of weather conditions, or a bad accident.
  • Blue – You need to move over and let the faster guy behind pass. Typically waved if you are obstructing the racing line while cruising back to the pits after putting in your times during a qualifying session or are being lapped by the faster guys during a race.
  • Checkered – Waved to at the end of a session and the main race

For the first few laps, you will have to spend the time to learn the track’s characteristics and its layout. Stay off the racing line when a faster machine approaches and keep making mental notes about the specifics of the track. Once you are well acquainted, up the pace gradually rather than trying to burn the time sheets without being aware of the right techniques. If you have enrolled in a program which assigns you a mentor, listen carefully to the things they say and learn. If you are on your own, chat up with regulars. That way you will tap into all the knowledge they have amassed and also make like-minded friends.

Basic techniques

Deploy techniques which will help you go faster, rather than making you look good. Allow your body to be flexible and relaxed on the motorcycle, rather than holding the bars or grabbing the tank with your knees too firmly. Look far ahead and in the direction where you wish to go. It will take time until you figure out the fastest way to enter and exit a corner. Until then, follow marked braking points and be gentle with your inputs on the throttle and those brakes.

Knowing your own and your motorcycle’s limits

As you spend more and more time on the track, you will know about the right gear to be in around a corner and how much throttle your leaned-over motorcycle needs, before you pin it to make a fast exit. Enter too fast, and you’d be heading towards the bushes. Initially, avoid trail braking and get done with the act of shedding speed before you enter the corner. Once you fully understand the power delivery, braking and handling characteristics of your machine, start harnessing its strong points while being careful where it might not be as good. For instance, your motorcycle could be a fast accelerating machine, but its brakes might not be all that great. So you will need to brake early and feed power appropriately to find the fastest and smoothest way around. Remember the word. ‘Smooth’.

Physical and mental fitness

The fitter you are, the easier it will be for your body to absorb the effects of velocity. Although you might not realise this within a couple laps, an extended session will put your muscles to test, ultimately tiring you out. Being fit will allow you to stay on the bike feeling stronger, for longer durations. It will also let you punch in faster lap times as you settle in a flow.

Being relaxed will help you focus and concentrate better. Keeping things cool in your topmost compartment will make things appear slower than they are and allow your mind to grasp the surroundings better. Keep yourself hydrated and take long, deep breaths while you’re on the straights.

Hazards

Most racetracks will be fenced and have marshals all around to warn you about any hazards on the tarmac. But if you are visiting one which isn’t used regularly, watch out for things like snakes, dogs or even a lizard to suddenly come out and run across. If you are among the first ones to circumnavigate a piece of tarmac that hasn’t been used for too long, the surface will offer very less grip initially. Look out for loose gravel, mud, or any such rubbish on the blacktop and allow time for that to be cleared away from the racing line as the session progresses.

Most importantly, be open to learning and do not exceed your own or your machine’s capabilities until you are very certain that you can. Also, prepare yourself for the fact that at one point or the other, you will come off the motorcycle. You’d either be very lucky, the most skilled rider on Earth, or not as fast as you should be if it doesn’t happen to you.

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