Track riding tips from John Mcguinness MBE
At Bike Social day - Donington Park
WRITTEN BY AARON TRAVELL
Last week, we attended a Bennetts Bike Social Track day at the amazing and international race circuit, Donington Park.
We were blessed with incredible weather, a fantastic vibe and some of the best track riding I’ve done.
As part of the Bennetts day, John McGuinness, 23 time Isle of Man TT winner and MBE was on track, riding alongside everyone who attended – wow! We’d seen and spoke to John throughout the day, lent him a tyre pressure gauge 😊 and got a few general tips.
Then in the last session, John actually offered to ride out together, following for part of the session and then to show the right way round for the remainder and give some tips at the end. To say it was an incredible experience is an understatement, following a living racing legend around one of your favourite tracks was a “pinch yourself” moment!
We talked on and off camera and I’ve summarised below the main pointers that John gave me. Obviously, these are non-exhaustive and were based on my riding in that session, but they are applicable to all riders who either would like/ or do ride on track and are based on 30 years of racing experience and countless track days in all conditions, on a variety of machines, circuits and a few crashes along the way. Let’s get into it:
1). Get the fundamentals right, then add speed. Not the other way around.
Off camera, John spoke about sometimes on track people may actually need to slow down a little in order to progress. Slow down, breathe, make it flow!
This would match my own experience being relatively new into it. At first, its so easy to get carried away and start riding outside of your ability. If you are coming from road riding, it’s a culture shock, track riding is so much faster. You can quite quickly get into going really fast on the straights, slamming on the brakes, running out of space, just being a bit out of control. First ever time at Donington Park was in May earlier this year and was my 3rd ever track day – I made a real hash of it… start-stop, missing apex’s, back wheel in the air on braking etc, but generally pretty slow!
I went away pretty gutted that I didn’t ride better and came up with a game plan to try to make the track flow better, concentrating on hitting the apexes (over the paint) and trying to use all of/ or most of the track width. And it worked, by riding smoother and hitting lines better, I found I was less erratic, safer and much faster.
A self-diagnosis on whether you should add or remove speed from your track riding could include the following questions:
Are you hitting or missing every/most apex’s?
Are your lines consistent? Braking points fairly consistent, turn in points consistent… or are you just going around the track?
Are your gear patterns consistent? As in do you feel in control of your corner entry or are you scrapping around to get in the right gear in time, sometimes 1st sometime 3rd?
Are you using the full width of the track?
Do you feel in control and safe? Like you are in control of your bike, not the other way around, that you could repeat exactly the same lap time after time all day…
Perhaps if you can answer positively to the above, maybe it’s time to add a bit more speed. If you can’t answer positively to the above, adding speed may just make the issues worse. Slow down a bit and focus on where you are falling short.
Riding with John was amazing, his lines are perfect, he makes it look easy while obviously being a very fast racer. Its easy to imagine that John could have simply added a bit more speed and aggression to his perfect technique at any time and leave me for dead. But it’s the fundamentals that are important to get right first, then add speed!
2). Work on body position.
While an extreme body position may look good on camera and for the Instagram crowd, there is a reason why MotoGp riders hang off the bike. John explained that while I may have felt I was moving a bit on the bike, I was actually quite stiff with my upper body. He said, if I was to hang off a bit more with the top half of my body, I would be able to either reduce my lean angle and therefore be safer, or could hold the same lean angle and carry more speed. I’ve put a picture below to show how I looked on a certain corner in comparison to WSS 400 racer Tom Booth Amos who was also on the same day. We were carrying similar lean angles, but needless to say, Tom was probably carrying another 10+mph corner speed. Hopefully this is as helpful to you as it is to me.
For me, this sort of extreme body positioning doesn’t feel natural, my youth was spent riding and racing MTB’s and it just feels weird. Plus, I’m just stiff anyway… But the point is well and truly taken on board, hanging off the bike more will either reduce my lean angle which is safer, or mean I can carry more speed. I personally like the latter idea! 😊
3). Nice lines, smooth and steady wins the track day.
As stated above, watching and riding with John was incredible. He looks so smooth, in control and safe with it, but equally that he could just plough off into the distance if he so desired. I’m sure if we were on a starting grid together that would be very much be the case.
While there are a few track day providers that also run racing series, which results in them having a lot of racers and even BSB riders on them. But, traditionally and certainly the Bennetts Bike Social track days, are about taking your bike on track and riding it in a way that you wouldn’t be able to on the road and enjoying it as such. Racing is about winning, aggression, beating your competitor to the finish line. Track days are about enjoying your bike, the track, improving your riding and having a laugh with friends or like-minded people. If you ride a track day like you are racing, you are likely to be uber focused, stressed out, get black flagged and risk crashing. If you ride with nice lines, are smooth and steady, the likelihood is you’ll enjoy it much more, won’t crash and will be back for more next month!
4). Ensure you are on good tyres.
You’ll never push a tyre like on track and John recommended that I get some better tyres. I haven’t used race/track only tyres yet and therefore my experience is limited in this regard. But what I can say is that on the last 2 track days I have been running the Pirelli Rosso Corsa 2, and I agree, I need better tyres. Like most things you find when you start to ride faster, you start hitting the limits of things. On this Donington day, I was squirming all over the place, regularly lost both front and rear grip and it was just a mushy experience that isn’t great for the confidence to go faster. These contrast with the Dunlop Sportsmart TT which were rock solid at similar speeds. In any case, tyre choice is very important on track and the faster you go, the more race specific tyres you need. Ill be swapping them out soon for either more Sportsmart TT, or a track/race specific tyre.
5). Don’t crash – But if you do, do it in pitlane! 😊
Just labouring the point here, but crashing is no fun. I am yet to crash on track, but John will have had many and Geoff, Knox MD, had countless ones in his racing career. We also recently had a massive crash on a trackday (details to be revealed soon), but I can confirm that crashing and all that goes with it is anything but fun. Potential injury, finishing your day early, the aftermath and cost of fixing or replacing your bike… all totally suck. Ride in such a way that this is unlikely.
But if you do crash, like me, do it at stand still, get your foot caught on your foot-peg and fall over pathetically in front of everyone in the pitlane! What a ***!
6). Don’t go flying out of the pits on cold tyres.
John laboured this point and I think he did it for good reason. When you move up into the Advanced group, most people (on most track days) are on track/race bikes and are running race tyres with tyre warmers and go fast on the first lap. You can easily get sucked into doing this too, and todays SuperSport tyres (like aforementioned Rosso Corsa 2) will happily oblige. I went pretty quick out of pitlane with John following me, but clearly, John’s experience and wisdom showed that he didn’t want to follow straight away until he’d done a lap or so. He explained that he has seen countless riders crash on the first lap or session, leaving them with a ruined day and destroyed bike – the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. He also explained that he broke his Collar bone at Croft doing something similar years ago so is speaking from hard experience.
What I am taking away from his comments here is that I should go a bit slower on the first lap, and that whatever everyone else is doing around me, not get forced into doing something that’s not right. John McGuinness doesn’t do it and if its good enough for John, I’ll stop doing it too!
I will be applying all of John’s tips in all my future track day riding and I really hope that you find them helpful too! Many thanks to Bennetts Bike Social for putting on an incredible day and for hosting us in such a cool environment. You can find the link to check out how to get on one here – https://www.bennetts.co.uk/landing-pages/bennetts-rewards-events-2021
Let us know what you think in the comments section and we’ll see you next time!
Written by Aaron Travell