My First Trackday - Pembrey 13 October 2001

Pembrey*

I finally booked a trackday (with Bike2Track.com) and got a chance to find out what the FZR was really like. As with collecting the bike I asked my better halfs dad (Mervyn) if he could get hold of their family friends (Richard and Val Coles) trailer again. I didn’t want to ride the FZR to the track for a number of reasons, mainly tiredness, not being able to carry tools and because I wanted to be able rant the danglies off of it without the worries of how to get it/me home if it all went tits up. For the record, 4 bikes went down on the day:
1999 CBR600 off at woodlands, flipped a bit, frame bent and rider broke his ankle, very likely written off.
The other three were a Ducati 996, A GSXR750 and an R1 (highside out of Hatchets) and I don't think any of them were too badly damaged.

It turned out the FZR was perfect for the twisty circuit. There were cones out for braking points/turn in points and apex points so it was just a case of aiming for the cones and progressively getting faster. I met three other guys who were on a Ducati 748 (Lawrence), an RGV250 (Greg) and a new 955i (James). The 955i only had 850 miles on the clock and James said he was going to take it steady, which he did.

My aim for the day was to get my knee down and to try and lap faster than 1 min 30. I want to race in the Streetstocks in 2002 and I know that whilst the quick guys do 1:04's, the 15th/16th places are more like 1:12. So I thought 1min 30 would be a good place to start.

After the first session I hadn't got my knee down but was told that my quickest lap was 1:26. Pretty chuffed I can tell you. In the second session I scraped my boot, and the noise made me momentarily close the throtle until I figured out what it was. I kept going and eventually touched my knee down coming out of Hatchets. Very chuffed, apart from the fact that my slider was in the wrong place and I'd put a small hole in the top layer of my leathers. I moved the slider so far to one side that some of the velcro bits weren't attached to anything, as that's where the hole was. My best lap time was 1.24.

Third session, got my right knee down on a few corners, enough to make me need to swap the sliders over from one knee to the other in the interval as one was getting trashed and the other was still shiney. I over-heard one of the instructors say that you only needed to brake in two places on the circuit, both of the hairpins, so I gave that a go. I was braking from 120mph in 6th down to ? mph in 1st to take Hatchets and the front was vibrating so hard I though the headlight was going to fall off. When I came in I had a word with an instructor (Russell) and he advised me to put some cable ties around the forks as he thought they might be bottoming out.

Fourth session, I was getting my right knee down everywhere and I finally managed to get my left down around Dibeni and Paddock. I felt like I was seriously flying now and I seemed to be over-taking most of the others in the corners and only being caught by some of the bigger bikes (the two R1’s and a ZX9r in our novice group for a start) down the straights. When I came in my times had come down to consistant 1.20’s, but I still had the front end problem. I found Russell and another instructor and they started bouncing the bike up and down and looking at the forks. It seems that one fork leg was set as hard as possible (screws on the top being twiddled here) and the other one was slightly less. Russell changed them to 5 clicks off max - no, I’ve no idea what this means but the fact that both forks would now be even was a step in the right direction. I asked Russell if he would lead me for a few laps in the next session as my laps times weren’t getting any quicker and he agreed, but made me promise to take it steady for the first half to get used to the new settings.

Fifth session, I was really flying now. I could stay in front of the slower R1 everywhere except the start finish straight where he’d just blast past me, I’d outbrake him and go inside at Hatchets and stay in front for most of the lap only for him to catch and pass me on the start/finish straight again. I learned that I could keep tucked right in around woodlands and then drop a gear to take Honda curve. I had my knee down around Honda curve, 5th gear and hammering it so I guess my speed through there would be in the region of 100mph. Keeping tucked in I could carry the speed and keep up with a ZX6r down the straight, slam on the brakes and go inside him at Hatchets in first, up to second for spitfires, up to 3rd for dibeni, sometimes changing to 4th for paddock, then 5th and 6th, back to 5th for the esses (hitting the rumble strips after drifting a bit wide - very scary moment) back to 6th before braking hard and coming back down to 2nd at Brooklands, back up to 6th before dropping to 5th for Honda and doing it again. Russell caught me and I followed him for a few laps. Coming out of corners he would look over his shoulder to the outside for me and I’d be coming through on the inside. We overtook another instructor and he repassed me (probably thinking ‘cheeky git’) and we took off for a fast lap. Russell seemed to go wide at Hatchets, I thought offering me to go through, so I did. He then wheelied past me before the next bend. He was on a race 600 after all. When we came in I was really chuffed. Apparenty Rusell hadn’t moved over to let me through, it was just the speed I was going. He said “you are carrying some serious corner speed” - thanks Russ, I’ll treasure that. My sliders were now seriously scraped and I had to turn them upside down for the last session. Lawrence, the guy on the 748, was lapping at about the same speed as me, this time our best was 1:17.

When it was time to line up for the last session I got directly behind Lawrence, who was behind the instructor at the start of the line. When we started it took me a while to catch him as he was quicker in the first two tire warm up laps. Eventually I caught and passed him at Brooklands but he blasted straight back past me down the straight. I managed to get him again at Hatchets and this time I passed an R1 as well. Coming through Dibeni we had caught up with the group in front. I moved from the inside, between a ZX6r and a Laverda 750 to the outside and hammered it towards the Esses. Heading into Brooklands I went inside about 5 bikes, braked really, really late and scraped my boots, pegs & knee and managed to get around. Keeping tucked right in I carried on for another lap and then we came in under a red flag (Ducati 996 had gone down). Last lap was 1:14. Seriously impressed. Lawrence said that he had got stuck behind the R1, couldn’t get past him on the straights and didn’t want to risk it in the bends. Beautiful bike like he’s got I wouldn’t have risked it either. At the end of the day I went to thank the organisers and Russell for the day. One of the instructors said “you got a lot quicker as the day went on, didn’t you?” and Russell said “I saw you in my mirrors in the last session and thought ‘he’ll pass me soon’, next thing I know you f***ing flew past me into Brooklands and I thought ‘he ain’t gonna make it’ and you just sailed round. Excellent”.

For a first track day I thought it was excellent. I seem to have damaged the clutch though. By the end of the 3rd session I couldn’t find neutral with the engine running and the springy lever action had been replaced with a gooey feeling. After the 1 hour 40 minutes break between lunch and my next session it had recovered a bit but by the end of the day it was gooey again. I also need a new pair of sliders and the toe slider on my right boot could do with replacing. D'you think I care? No chance, what a cracking day. Next time will be tougher though as I will go in the next group up and I think the FZR's lack of straight line speed will keep the over-taking manoeuvres to a minimum. Probably.

*Pembrey track image nicked from ngroadracing.org

Supplemental - added Jan 2002

Since October I have discovered a number of things that were wrong with the bike and I thought that it's time to bring this page up to date. The problem with the clutch was due to the push lever assembly and ball screw housing (I think sometimes called the 'mushroom'?). Anyway, one part has a load of bearings in it and these bearings roll up and down a 'helter-skelter' groove in the other part. This pushes the clutch rod in which disengages the clutch plates. When I looked at it after Pembrey, there were only 3 or 4 bearings in there, where there should have been 16. So when I pulled the clutch lever this mechanism was skewing and therefore not activating the clutch properly. However, things were much worse. Here's a list of things that were defective on the bike that day:

  • In the rear tyre I thought I had 30 psi. I must have read the gauge wrong as when I checked later, it had 40 psi in it.
  • The headstock bearings were both loose and dry. I re-greased and re-tightened them properly with the help of a friend who explained that you do up the nuts under the triple clamp, not just the big nut on top. Ahem.
  • The air filter was filthy and needed replacing.
  • The fuel filter was filthy and needed replacing.
  • The Carbone Lorraine brake pads were terrible, Vesrah budget pads transformed the braking.
  • The brake discs were warped.
    and my personal favourite
  • The Exup cables were attached the wrong way round. This meant that the exup valve was giving maximum restriction at all revs, as opposed to maximum power (thanks to Darren Hill for rectifying this).

    So there you have it. If you know stuff all, a badly prepared, slow, awful handling bike can still seem to be the business. The EBC Pro-lite discs and HH pads are on order, as is the air filter. The rest is done. I can't wait to get to Pembrey again to see how much difference this all makes. When I do, I'll post an update on lap times below here.

    And my new top tip is: If you've bought a bike in bits and put it together yourself get somone who knows what they are doing to take a look at it before you do your first track day. Obvious one really.


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