The art of riding a motorcycle quickly around a racetrack is a process that includes processing a large quantity of information. One of the beauties of our sport is that there is seemingly no end to the areas in which we can improve. For example, just for starters, riders can work on entrance speed, mid-corner roll speed, or acceleration each corner. At a racetrack that has 12 corners, that’s 36 things to consider before we have even considered anything else (body position, braking technique, etc…). While riders can take in an incredible amount of information on the track, experience has shown that riders can only effectively make changes in one to two areas at a time. Any attempt to do more than this tends to be more change than the average person can implement with any degree of effectiveness. With this in mind, one of the first jobs of a rider who wants to lower lap times is to establish priorities that allow for improvement in the most important areas first.
Riders often tend to focus on the corners in which they feel least comfortable. Many times, these “uncomfortable” corners are tight or oddly shaped corners that present challenges in picking a good line or carrying mid-corner speed. In teaching the Penguin School for many years at Loudon, a common problem spot that riders complain about is the middle of Turn 3. This is a slow (35-40mph) corner that is both long and bumpy and riders tend to feel slow there. Understandably, they want to get rid of this “slow” feeling (racers always do). While riders can certainly benefit from dialing in this corner, the difference in speed between the fastest and slowest riders at the apex is pretty minimal in terms of outright mph. This poses the important question, “Is this where we should spend our effort?”
In order to establish the importance of the entrance, mid-corner, or exit of a given corner, the acid test is actually very simple. Riders simply need to make their best assessment of where the biggest differential in mph exists between the fast riders and the slow riders. In general, these differences are the highest where the outright speed is the greatest. The faster the section of the racetrack, the more important it tends to be. Entrances matter most on corners that have the longest braking zones. Mid corner speed is the most important in the fastest sweepers. Acceleration makes the biggest difference in those corners that lead to the longest straights.
In the study of GPS data that shows precise speed all the way around the track, the largest differences in mph often show up at the point of peak speed in the fastest sweeping corners. Since carrying speed in fast sweepers requires an exceptionally high degree of precision and focus, this is typically where I encourage riders to start. The relief of stress that comes when these fast corners are mastered often frees up room in your mind to conquer other important areas of the track. Most tracks have at least one or two fast sweeping sections (as a baseline, turns taken in 4th gear or higher) and these corners are critical to not only good lap times but also to overall confidence. Riders need to not only establish a sharp, precise turn point but also need to assess their throttle re-application point when working to maximize speed in these areas.
Perhaps the most important areas of focus when it comes to lowering lap times are drives that lead to long straights. The primary reason that a strong drive is so critical is that extra speed generated from early acceleration will last all the way down the ensuing straight. If you compare the benefits in terms of “duration of advantage”, then it is pretty easy to see why long drives can rank in importance above big braking zones or high roll speed corners. The sections of track that precede long straights are typically drive-focused, meaning that riders will often sacrifice a little entrance speed in order to make a sharper turn input that allows the bike to get back on the center of the tire to allow earlier throttle application. The keys in these areas are to minimize the downtime between turning and acceleration and to “steer with the throttle” as opposed to the bars in using all the exit pavement.
Once the major drives and fastest turns have been conquered, the next order of priority is to maximize entrance speed in the longest braking zones. Since we have established that it is most important to focus on the fast areas of the track, it only stands to reason that sustaining peak velocity at the end of a straightaway is critical to fast lap times. The study of GPS data has shown speed differentials in these areas that are four to five times greater than those previously discussed in the Loudon Turn 3 example. However, since braking zones tend to be much shorter than acceleration zones, we should make them a #3 on our priority list after we have mastered the fast sweepers and the longest drives. Developing proper braking technique and evaluating entrance speed velocity are the important focal points when working in this area.
In the end, clarity of focus is key to improvement. When riders focus on carrying speed in the fastest sweepers, sustaining entrance speed in the longest braking zone, and creating optimum drives onto the longest straights, they are able to take the original list of 36 things to consider and identify the 6-8 segments that are the most important. Once this list is compiled, riders can then attack the racetrack and work on the areas that will provide the biggest benefits first. After these riders conquer the critical areas of the track, they will be faster than a large majority of their peers at any event they attend.
This philosophy even applies to the highest levels of racing. When the field is full of talented riders, the competitors who end up winning are the ones who excel in the fastest areas of the track. It only stands to reason that there is much more to gain in the sections where the differential in speed is the greatest. Since we can only effectively focus on making changes in a couple of areas at once, the time taken to evaluate where you are dedicating your efforts is always time well spent. With this clarity of focus, riders start by making sure that they have placed the major turn effort (the slowest point in each corner) in the proper place to align with each of these priorities, developing their techniques in accordance with the goals they have set, and making progress in the most important areas first. The cycle of improvement continues, feeding the addiction that many of us find to be the most fulfilling sport on the planet.
Until next time… Ride fast. Ride safe.