Earlier this year, Marc and Andy had spent 3 days at Aragon circuit in Spain and both had had instruction from GP legend Simon Crafar. Having listened to how much they had enjoyed it and learnt, I was really keen to have a days instruction too. It was a happy co-incidence that he was going to be at Hockenheim during the days we’d booked in July, so I quickly tried to book, but found that Marc F had already booked him for both days for the group we were all riding in, which left Andy and I with little choice but to change groups if we wanted some instruction. Andy had no problem moving up a group, he’s pretty quick anyway, but I would have to drop a group and duke it out in the debutants/rookies group.
We’d already met Simon the night before, and I have to say it would be harder to find a more likeable, humble, or better guy with whom to either spend time drinking a beer with, or to instruct you. After a short chat with him after the morning briefing about what form the instruction would take, it was back to the pitbox and wait for my first session.
Unusual sight around the track over the two days was this guy making a promotional film in 3D for Suzuki
Andy was first of the day for the mornings coaching
Full of anticipation ( me not Simon), we readied for the off,
but oh my god!, once out on track I started to wonder about what I’d done by dropping a group? The debutant/rookies was a seemingly huge mass of riders who seemed to share a common theme in not knowing where they were going, taking the weirdest lines ever, and generally being on every line on track you wanted, at the wrong time and going 20-30kph slower than we were!
Overtaking continual groups of riders it was difficult to find the best flow, but following Simon’s lines, and clear hand signals for braking markers, apexes and when to accelerate harder, allowed me to ride faster than I’d managed the previous day. I had some good feedback back in the pits in a quick debrief, seems I’m doing ok, not afraid to “give it a go” in the corners, and he’s sure we’re going to have a good time and make progress, but that the size of the group and it’s general level of abilities is going to be an issue.
Session 2, and we swop places several times as Simon continued to show me the lines, and amazingly is able to turn round on the bike and watch me facing backwards! Seeing his throttle hand off the bars pointing down to the right hand apex into the Mercedes complex section is amazing, how the hell does he manage that at these speeds?
The only time the camera worked that day was when facing backwards, so here are some screen shots of Simon in action
In the debrief I’m warned about diving down the inside of traffic at the end of the back straight, and told not to move around so much on the seat, and to try and stay on one side or the other, rather than constantly try and centralise myself. Additionally he tells me to be more aggressive on acceleration down the straight and to brake earlier before the hairpin at the end of it, which sacrifices speed into the corner for exit speed coming out. This quickly reaped rewards, as did his tip to accelerate briefly in the grandstand section before the start finish straight, which gives you a chance to accelerate harder down the straight.
The groups dynamics continued to play havoc with lines and speed, constantly riders were on line going SO much slower than me, that I had problems holding my chosen line. I remember a guy on a BMW K1300S bimbling in the centre of the track, and having a small run on avoiding someone else elsewhere, and in one section of film, you can clearly see two groups of riders on total opposite sides of the track, how the hell they all crossed to the correct side without crashing into each other I’ll never know!
Progress was still being made though, and despite the traffic, I’d already beaten my best ever time set there on my old ZX-10R. The real upside was that Simon was enabling me to ride quickly, but without the feeling it was fast, and they say if it doesn’t feel fast it is, and that was exactly what was happening, speed, but controlled and without “stress”, ACE!
Andy who was also going great guns and enjoying his track time was listening to Simons feedback, and hearing that I’d already beaten my best time, in traffic, very generously offered to give up his place in the final session in his group, so that I could ride in a smaller and faster group to get some clear track.
There was a small technical hitch in the afternoon the afternoon when fitting the tyre warmers led to a loud spark as the wiring in the plug had become twisted and shorted, tripping the breaker in the pitbox. Nothing too difficult to fix though, and a quick play with a screwdriver and 5 minutes saw the plug rewired and the warmers working again
Full of confidence, I started the afternoon session in high spirits, the problem again being though, the speed of the others in the group. I was really trying into the left hander in front of the Mercedes grandstand but went in too hot and too deep. Seeing the rumble strip fast approaching I made what I instantly knew was a mistake, in going for the brakes. Whoa!!! The front end tucked instantly but instinct made me let go of the lever in a millisecond and I recovered it!
Captured on Simons camera and subsequently added to Marc F’s film of the days riding, check out the tuck as it happened at the 11 minute 55 second mark. Click on link to view.
Simon, who had seen the whole thing hung back as I got myself and thoughts back together and we returned to the pits where he slapped me on the back and told me what a great save it had been and that 9/10 riders would have dumped it!
Once he was sure I was OK to go again we looked for a gap in the traffic and it was off again. I’d been “lucky” not to have crashed, but seems this afternoon I was riding my luck too hard. Into the Mobil1 curve a couple of laps later and I was carrying probably more speed than I had at any time over the two days, and suddenly there was another bike directly in front of me, on the racing line, but going SOOOO much slower than me I had nowhere to go. It was impossible to cut back underneath him, and no chance to go round him as he was drifting to the outside edge. With NO options, I straightened the bike up, hit the brakes and ran over the rumble strip. Unfortunately we had now passed the tarmac run off area, and all that was left in front of me was a very large gravel trap! I let off the brakes, and let the bike take it’s course. Initially I thought I could ride it out, speed seemed to be slowing, but then the rear started to fishtail, and having ridden it for as long as I could, I finally had to tip over as the gravel forced the wheels to a halt. As I lay there on my side with the bike on top of me, with my right leg trapped under it, I was aware of the marshals running over to me. It took two of them to lift the bike but once assured I was ok they sent me to rest behind the tyre wall. Unfortunately they couldn’t move the bike, so I returned to it, started it in first gear and inched it slowly out of the gravel, then when the session finished, over the track and back into the pitlane 30m away.
For some reason I was only able to reach the end of the pitlane before the bike stopped and wouldn’t move at all. Andy and Marc came down to check I was ok, and Andy did his good Samaritan act for the day and wheeled the bike back to the pitbox for me, THANKS!
I’ve ridden on track now for over 12 years, and incredibly this was my first proper off! I’ve run on loads of times but never actually been on the floor. Surprisingly too, I was quite calm and collected about it all. Not sure I would have been if it had been my old RC45, but I was ok, the bike seemed to run, there was no apparent damage other than cosmetic gravel rash, so I’d been lucky.
For some reason Marc suggested I smile, here’s the somewhat demented looking result
The real bummer though was that I missed the remaining two sessions with Simon, but it took a while to remove all the gravel from the multitude of places it managed to work its way into, and I guess it was sensible to stop and not go back out and perhaps over ride again?
We had a debrief at the end of the days sessions where Simon ran though our films picking up a few pointers for us to work on.
I take loads of pics for my blog, here Marc captures me taking yet another one!
With the bikes on the trailer and ready for the homeward trek
it’s time for an end of day/event photo with the ever accommodating Simon before the journey home.
Here I am the next day with MotoVudu t-shirt
and with signed and soon to be framed poster, great memories from a great day!
Check out my blog post entitled ” A DAY WITH SIMON CRAFAR- COACHING AT HOCKENHEIM” for more details of this great days instruction