In my earlier article What is Rhythm? and in Stage 1 of this series about reading the race circuit, I talk about how one of the most important skills for finding and improving upon your racing performance is being able to read the race circuit effectively. In Stage 1 I gave a brief overview of how we get to know our world and described a way for you to build on what you know by getting different views of the circuit and letting it sink in.
Stage 2 is more about understanding what were you doing and why.
This is the stage where we start to analyse things. I often combine this stage with Stage 1 during a track walk with clients, but it depends on where they're at with their riding and racing.
I have usually found that it is best for racers to begin with just one or two corners on the circuit where they know they struggle. If you don't know of a corner that's causing you a problem, select the one that is most challenging or most focussing for you! Sorting that one out will make the others seem easy.
Before taking you through the steps of this analysis, I'll take you through an example of the process, but first a reminder.
Throughout this process, I really suggest you put any thoughts about what other racers are doing - their lines etc. - out of your mind. At some point it is always useful to get other racers' perspectives but for now you're not interested in what they're doing, this is about you learning to create your own lines independently. It may initially be more challenging to do this but it will reap its rewards many times over. You never know whether someone else's lines really are the right ones anyway. Look at most racers in club racing and you will find that the majority of them will enter corners far too early, hang around in mid-corner no-man's land far too long and end up late on the throttle and/or thrown out too wide. This doesn't provide for much in the way of a fun riding experience, even if it might be exciting (usually for the wrong reasons).
When I go through this process, I have often been told that the tight, early entry is all about protecting position. Maybe so, but when you get down to it, if you find a line that allows you a faster entry, better mid-corner speed and gets you on the throttle ealier than your competitors, you'll forget about that inside line because they can't catch you anyway.
Valentino Rossi, for example, will have several lines to choose from through a corner which he'll use depending on the circumstances and his need to use them. Other top riders will talk about how they found good 'lines' (not just the one).
Another important point is that racers are often far too hung up about 'the' line when in fact it is about an overall rhythm around the entire circuit that matters. Look carefully at the World-class riders in all the classes and you will see variations in their lines. This is usually more clear in the classes like Moto2 and Moto3. A racer I worked with found his key to getting on the podium to be letting go of this idea of 'the' line and trying to ride it. Nowadays he spends most of his time outclassing his competitors. I know it sounds strange and maybe unbelievable given the usual focus on it, but if you are seeking just one line, or even worse if you only have one line, you've handicapped yourself before you're even on the grid.
Lets look at a specific example.
During the 2015 season I helped the riders in Talan Racing. Steve Jones and Louis Bartlett were rookies and Talan Skeels-Piggins was looking to gain his National license. Because they are paralysed, both Talan and Steve have to start from the back of the grid at every race which obviously puts them at a bit of a disadvantage.
We were at Donington Park race circuit and I took them around the circuit. As we started walking (and wheeling in their wheelchairs) round Hollywood I said I'd bet they were hugging the inside from very early on in the corner. They said they were and we discussed why they might be doing this.
At Donington, the focus is often put on Craner Curves. It's such a fantastic section of track, that's not surprising. But, Hollywood is key to getting Craners right of course.
Because of the nature of this corner, when hugging the inside, a rider will see the tyre wall on the outside of the corner and it looks like it is really close to the edge of the circuit (partly because when tight to the inside it hides the full width of the grass run-off area). It makes the rider feel like they have no space. At the same time the circuit drops away and the rider can't see over the crest to how the circuit goes downhill past a second set of rumble strips on the inside and then into Craner Curves. All this leads to uncertainty about where the circuit is going, feeling like there's a lack of space and tightness to the corner. Not really a good recipe for speed..
As we stood on the circuit discussing this and the riders' experience of the corner, I asked why they didn't want to explore the corner a bit wider. Looking at me as if I'd lost my mind, they told me that no way did they want to be any further out because there was no space. They didn't want to get any closer to that tyre wall and crash barrier. I invited them to move just a meter or so out from the inside edge of Hollywood, just to take a look and see. Hey presto, as they saw this new perspective, the whole picture of the corner changes.
In this wider position it's possible to see the circuit snaking down through Craner curves to the Old Hairpin while the tyre wall seems to magically move out, giving lots more space (partly because you now get a sense of the full width of the runoff area). Suddenly the riders found a whole new quality to the corner. They found that their sense of lines was automatically changing, bringing their lines slightly wider at the top of Hollywood with a later apex and a trajectory that brought them more naturally to skimming the later short set of rumble strips (still hidden in the photo below) further down the hill. This naturally gives a better entry and line through Craner Curves.
Donington Park - Hollywood opening out toward Craner Curves. Photo courtesy of MarshallGP
We also followed a similar process around Snetterton 300 and the results were all pretty good. Lap times improved for all of them and they were as much as 8-10 seconds faster the following day. They felt they had not only got better flow but they also had more mental capacity available to them - they were having to think less about were they were versus where the track was. Focussed study of the track gave positive results for all the riders at every circuit they visited during the season. But not only did they achieve better and more consistent lap times, they found they had more space and choice to pass other riders. This worked extremely well for both Talan and Steve as they found themselves able to carve their way through the field early on when it really mattered.
This is the process we're going to follow for Stage 2
Viewing the Circuit Strategically
Obviously I don't want to teach anyone to suck eggs, but the first thing we need to do is make sure we know where we're looking to go with this. There's a couple of things we want to get out of it which means coming at it from slightly different angles.
The first is in finding what looks like an ideal line and the second is in seeking more flexibility in your lines so when (not if) you find yourself off line, you still have a plan and you can find your way again safely.
The reason I say what looks like an ideal line is that you're going to get to test it later and probably change it a bit based on your testing. By the way, you will probably never find the ideal line anyway because of all the compromises you've got to make in the real world.
So now is the time you take another walk and while you're walking the circuit this time, begin to think about what you were doing on your bike when riding the circuit. Look at the lines you were taking, where you were turning in, the braking zones, apex and exit. And in a way that's similar to the process I described with Talan Racing, ask yourself why you might be doing those things and where. Do you now see other choices are available to you? What starts to feel right, or feel better? In the one or two corners you chose to look at, you may need to walk back and forwards through the corner taking lots of different views while also imagining, if you can, different lines taking you through the corner. Try to imagine how those lines might feel on the bike.
Play with it a bit.
In Stage 3 we'll develop it a little bit further.