IAM Skills Evening at Knockhill

I went to the IAM Skills Evening at Knockhill last night – NOT a track day, but a chance to practise cornering technique using the track as a closed, one way road, with no hazards (other than yourself!)

troops gathering

The troops gather

I begged off work early, fuelled the bike and got to the circuit around 3:30. There were already 20 or so bikes there, and there were plenty more still to come. After saying hello to a few familiar faces it was time to get my driving licence checked over, and hand in the signed forms that declare you are well aware you may be about to die horribly, and absolve everyone but yourself of any blame. And then the true horror – my group was down to be wearing orange bibs, but they didn’t have any, so we got PINK ones instead – VERY pink bibs!! Oh, the shame!

We were also asked by the Knockhill staff to let them check our licence, and issued with a green wrist band to indicate that check had been done – quite how necessary that was I have no idea as no-one ever checked whether you had your green band on or not….

After a bit more general hanging about, just after 5pm was the briefing. The rules were simple really, stay in your group, behave, ride within your limits, no overtaking unless sanctioned by your instructor, and a brief coverage of the course rules about flags, and some common sense advice on what to do in the event of a mechanical failure.

We were split into groups of 4, each group with an instructor, 10 groups in total. 5 groups would be out on the track at any one time, and there was a strict no overtaking rule, to makes sure the groups stayed together.

After the briefing we rode our bikes down to the pit lane and the garages there, and removed all luggage etc. Since we were the IAM, and riding in structured groups, with instructors at all times, some of the normal track rules were relaxed – for example, road riding gear, goretex kit etc, was fine, as was having video cameras mounted on bikes and helmets – a practice I understand is often discouraged or even forbidden on track days. However, as the chief marshal had pointed out, he would be EXTREMELY disappointed to have to speak to anyone in our group after the briefing – clearly best behaviour was expected.

The pink team

The pink team

We got 4 track sessions, each one consisting of at least 10 laps. Every 2 laps the leader of the group would change, so every rider would get at least 2 laps per session leading and setting the pace.

Heading out onto the track for the first time was, to put it mildly, terrifying. Suddenly you’re on a race track, with no speed limits, and you become immediately aware there is huge scope here for making some big mistakes…. at least that was what was running through my mind as we followed our instructor for the first two sighting laps. Then it was time to change the lead, and the rider first behind the instructor moved to the front, with the instructor behind them. Two laps later that lead rider would move to the side, the rider behind the instructor would move to the front, and the chap who had been in the lead would rejoin at the tail end of the group. That all happened very quickly.

on the track

Following my instructor, Martin

That first session was very interesting – I struggled through the twistier bits – I just didn’t have the bottle to push the bike any harder. As the laps went in I started to find the right lines more often, and (sometimes) get the braking right.

There is the old combination of confidence and competence. The bike and tyres are for more competent than I am. Fact. What I had to do, was ensure my confidence never exceeded my competence.

I never went above 3rd gear, even on the straights, often hitting over 100mph on the back straight. I probably did marginally better through the twisties on some laps leaving the bike in 2nd for the majority of the time – certainly the engine braking was sufficient for some of the downhill entries to bends, although the hairpin before the start/finish straight was always going to be 2nd gear (I bet the racers take it in 1st!!!) . Trying a few laps in 3rd, it was fine for most of the bends, but didn’t provide enough engine braking for others, leaving me late on the brakes to compensate – NOT the smooth progression we were looking for….

There was the odd holdup as faster groups caught up with slower groups, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had thought it might be – trick was to back off on the straights to create a bit of space ahead of you, then hit the corners as fast as you dare J

I’ve uploaded a vid of the last two laps – probably the cleanest of the laps – only because I was following the instructor the entire time!!

Brilliant event, without the madness of a track day type event. No incidents, no accidents, all terribly well behaved, but even so, I’ve got no chicken strips left on the right of the tyres (there’s only one left hand bend!) and I have never taken corners quite as fast as that before!

Reviewing the footage, my wife declared that it ‘looked slow’ – just proves that we’re so used to seeing mental on board footage from the world’s top riders, and us mere mortals will never be anywhere close to them! It was quite fast enough for my comfort, thank you very much!