Racing queen revisited

Blog post posted on 09/12/21 |
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Eddy Lambah-Stoate, passionate IAM RoadSmart member, motorbike enthusiast and content creator, shares his passion about all things on two wheels. This article retells an experience from 2018.

Let’s suppose that Maria Costello is a racer first and road rider / IAM RoadSmart supporter second, after all she has said that she didn’t have a road bike till a few years ago. I would be happy to say different about me, but the reality is that I am the reverse.

Years ago, I wrote a book about advanced riding – foreword by Dave Shenton – but it wasn’t until 2017 my 70th year on planet earth that I tried my hand at club racing, gingerly wearing my novice bib at NG Road Racing Club (NGRRC).

You may with reason wonder why, well I had been on a considerable number of track days, braved Simon Pavey’s off-road course on the Brecon Beacons, and survived a good few Motorad courses on the Nurburgring, guided by my friend Neil Leigh of AEVentures.

As an IAM Observer I also relished training and mentoring, and generally unpicking a ride to understand what was going on.

The first requirement to race is to get an ACU licence, the simplest of tasks. Part of the entertainment came when I looked over to my neighbour’s paper to see the comparison of his birthday with mine - 2007 compared to 1947. When we came to get on the circuit, I was quicker, and it turned out the same when racing - I was giving away 30 to 40 years most of the time.

IAM Roadsmart’s mission statement is to ‘Improve driver and rider behaviour on the roads’. Throwback to Maria’s her spring/summer 2018 article where she responded to the question, ‘does racing improve road riding?’ with ‘Yes because it heightens control skills’. It is mainly on that platform that I want to dwell.

For many years I have given a talk called ‘Staying on Track’. This looks at crossovers between track days and road riding. One example I use is the chicane. On a track a straight usually follows a chicane so the important thing to grasp is maybe not the speed you make through the chicane but how you set up in terms of balance, speed and gear to make the most of the fastest bit of the track that follows – does that sound a bit like IPSGA! But how often do you find chicanes on the road? Well let’s call them roundabouts and the point is made.

Maria mentions control; the old saying ‘To finish first, first you have to finish’ holds good for all time. In racing you try to compress bends and straighten what you can because the aim is speed. On the road we seek to open out bends and optimise Safety Stability and Vision (SSV) because safety is the overriding aim but see p.150 Roadcraft blue box and the crossover is there. In both spheres, staying upright is a good plan - this means control.

My first race was at Brands Hatch, supported by Jon Taylor, that feted IAM alumni and his wife Kathy. It didn’t take long to realise that on the 40 or so bike grid, comprising new R1s and GSX’s as well as my 18-year-old pre-injection R6, the Clockwork Orange, I was bound to be lapped – pure maths: ability x machine = time.

It was at Donnington that I was severely rear-ended at Craner Curves resulting in me and the machine being lofted into space. I was left with a broken collarbone and a machine that wasn’t happy either, but both repairable.

The registrar told me that was the end of my racing for the year, but I was back riding within 5 weeks and racing in 7. It did however leave me two meetings short of being able to shed my novice bib.

One of the tips encouraged over the years has been; if things go wrong, replay, figure out why and fix it. The Donnington rear-ending was almost certainly the result of my taking a wider road riding line and getting on the gas as soon as I turned in with the guy behind taking a tighter line resulting in us competing for the same space on the apex. That got me thinking about the how and why of that tighter line.

Jon Taylor opened the door with the concept of closed throttle and trail braking cornering. The physics is that the machine will turn tighter with front end loaded – the time in the bend is compressed with often a straighter line being picked up right back on the apex – sit the bike up and fire out. All this requires a whole new rhythm and is also quite physical in its execution, so how does that square with road riding? Well for the most part not much BUT the most used word after an accident is ‘Suddenly’ and when things happen suddenly you need plans A, B and C readily available.

So, can we brake when banked on a corner? Yes, but delicacy and finesse are required and that takes practice. If we find a bend tightening on us, assuming we are in a responsive gear and we roll off the gas the bike’s turn will tighten but we may need to experiment to believe it and feel it. IAM Roadsmart Skills Days encourage exactly that.

If we turn into a bend too early, particularly at race speeds a wide exit is a likely result and that requires a greater lean angle to correct, the very thing we were trying to avoid by the early turn – I involuntarily did it at Redgate the left hander at the end of the straight at Donnington - believe me what I say it’s true!

Finally, as on a circuit, we come back to where we started - control. The ‘system’ is more accurately called the ‘system of motorcycle control’ anything that can enhance control is a positive contribution to road safety and that’s what IAM Roadsmart is about.