Almeria circuit trackday report (part two)

Following on from yesterday's post, here is part two of Brendan Kelly's Almeria experience...

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Day two

No-one else has been at the cheese platter since yesterday - it must be just for me. A great start to the day. And so, to the track once more.

It was beginning to niggle that some people on 600s were really moving on. Their corner speeds were getting higher and I was doing nothing to make up for it elsewhere, despite being on a thou'. Subliminally, Mr Cobby's words seemed to be sinking in though. I dropped down a gear compared to day one, using second instead of third nearly everywhere, dropping to first now in a couple of places, and nailing it hard on the long back straight, changing up only as I bounced off the limiter. This more spirited riding required more aggressive use of the brakes too, and now the chassis was really moving about. I started to feel the benefits of still being on a trailing front brake at turn-in time. The bike was digging in hard at either end, but felt stable regardless of which end was dug in and which end was barely kissing the tarmac.

My confidence grew and by the end of day two I'd surprised myself. I felt I was giving the bike a lot more of what it deserved. Mid-corner speeds were still lagging behind the 600s, but now I was making up for it all over the place, blasting and braking on the shortest of straights (not just on the long back straight), and charging uphill in a way the nothing else seemed to match.

My mate's confidence on the Fazer was growing too and a session with Mr Cobby had him using "more revs, less gears, more brakes" too.

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But oh, that long back straight! After the chicane, turns 11 and 12 open up onto a huge 900m straight. Half way through turn 12 the in second the revs are well over 8000 rpm and the motor's getting ready to bite, so I roll on the throttle cautiously until we're a bit more upright. Then, right cheek still hanging off, I drop lower and reach forward as I wind it full on.

The front is light, but not aerial, until, in the blink of an eye, the 13,750rpm limit (that's 124mph) arrives. Nailed wide open, third is disposed of in next to no time too, and at around 148mph it's time for fourth, and now there's time to think. At this point I already seemed to be going faster than any of the other bikes, but I was still charging hard and didn't plan to stop just yet. When my nerve held I could just hit the rev limit in fourth (that's 170mph) before braking for all it's worth became an absolute priority, with just a couple of hundred metres to shed at least 120mph and settle it for the uphill right hander.

The gixxer's brakes come in for some stick in the press, but I couldn't fault them. During day two I'd dialled up an extra notch of reach on the lever to firm it up under such extreme loading, but the stopping power was awesome and was never in any doubt. Too many times the back wheel was in the air making downshifts trickier to slot in.

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The back straight experience will remain an outstanding memory of the trip. It's the fastest I'd ever been on two or four wheels, and by some margin. I've had my speed fix. Somehow it doesn't matter anymore that the bike could do 186, in a straight line on an endless expanse, where's the fun in that? When you've had it to 170, throttle nailed open, other bikes whizzing back past you like Sunday drivers, and a 100° tight up hill right hander looming large, then you've learned something of what the beast can do. The butterflies are forgotten and risking my own bike in this venture was so very worth it.

On the last lap of the last session the rubbered track started to glisten at the chicane and a few drops of rain appeared on my visor. I'd seen the clouds coming for a while but they'd held off just long enough.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

The end of day two was adrenalin overload time. I was absolutely buzzing. Would I ever sleep again? Maybe I should have skipped the goats' cheese at tea? Sleep brought with it dreams of getting hopelessly lost in a crazy in-field maze with 9" vertical kerbs - could this be a reference to the spectacular fall of the day? Yes, these were track days, and there had been "incidents", but only one had been "spectacular" and even that had resulted in nothing more serious than a torn ligament or two – though the bike came off rather worse...

Day three

I still have 2mm chicken strips on the rear tyre. As day three progresses I'm getting faster, but mid-turn I'm still in my comfort zone. Confidence has continued to rise though and I'm accelerating harder, earlier and braking harder, later. And I'm doing both everywhere; every glide across the bike is now just about squeezed in between a blast of throttle and a handful of brakes, and as a result I'm passing people, as I should be, given what I'm riding. All manner of 600s, 750s and 848s are going backwards.

At lunch a couple of guys from our group inform me that my rear tyre left a big black banana shaped stripe in front of them exiting turn 12 into that long back straight. This bothered me as I hadn't thought I was trying that hard. I could remember one clumsy exit so maybe that was it? A garage mate said the 1000s do that all the time and you don't even realise: I surely hadn't...

After lunch the fear of big black bananas seemed to tame my right hand a tad, and after nearly three days I'm beginning to feel ready to wind down.

The last laps

The return to the airport was beckoning, and the day's penultimate session would have to be our last. My mate and I were agreed – we'd done well so far, so no time to tempt fate. We'd take it steadier, wind down gently and savour the last moments. If only...

My fuel light was becoming more and more insistent (let's just stay out a couple more laps) when a rider who'd been bugging one or two other guys with his "dives up the inside" came steaming up my inside on the big loopy left hander. I'd left the door open because (a) we weren't racing, and (b) half way across the track was the right line at that point. If he really wanted to pass he could have shown his skill by riding around the outside. What happened next was a little more point and shoot to stay with him through the tight stuff, and a determination to pass him back, preferably as rudely as possible. Not very grown up, I know.

As we hit the big back straight there was a gaggle in front, so I let him pass them all before diving past and out-braking myself right in front of him to the point of just making the turn, but non-the-less blasting onto the finish straight "victorious". I didn't know quite where that came from but it was definitely time to call it a day. One more lap to cool down (myself as much as the bike!) and it was back into the pit lane for the last time.

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How it all held up

I'd covered just about 300 miles in sixteen twenty-minute sessions. That's a normal two weeks' commuting done in half the time and in just three days. If I counted right, I'd used just four lots of ten litres of petrol, meaning a slightly surprising okay 33mpg – did I count right? The oil though, just 400 miles old and a nice clear yellow at the start, was now a very dirty grey. This was disconcerting, as the previous fill had stayed clear and yellow for a full 3500 miles – fresh oil and filter required! The front discs had changed colour too, turning deep dappled blue – very cool but I'm sure it'll wear off.

The left hand engine mounting bolt, carefully torqued in and its' R&G aero bobbin, had worked loose and been re-tightened, but the left hand bar-end had leapt clean off into the unknown, never to be seen again. The rear tyre had gone from nearly new to nearly shot, and I've probably knocked a couple of thousand miles off the front tyre too, but they held up better than I expected and look properly used.

In short

A fantastic time. There was a brilliant atmosphere and we were really well looked after from start to finish. It was everything I could have hoped for, the guys from Track Sense were great and Ryan's amazing action shots are a great memento. The suspension tweaks had transformed my bike and, with three days to go at it, I had learned so much about what the bike, and with its' stock BT015s, can do, and how to make it them do it, not to mention just how physical it can be.

I'm glad I did it on my own bike this time, given that you can't hire the full-on 1000cc experience, but if I go again I'll probably hire a school R6 to advance my cornering skills and maybe get my knee down.

All in all, thoroughly recommended.

Brendan Kelly (bbstrikesagain)