Thruxton IAM RoadSmart Skills Days
Hawk Inn nearby in Amport. The village that the Inn was in was very peaceful and stunning, thatched cottages and a field of horses chomping at the grass. My bedroom was lovely and I have to say the food was pretty damn good too. I discovered salted caramel ice cream. Oh lordy. Comfy bed and a good night’s sleep.
Monday morning; an early breakfast of fruit salad and toast, which was really good of the hotel staff, breakfast didn’t normally start until 7.30, however, I had to be at Thruxton at that time. It was cool and cloudy to start and then it warmed up a bit. I only had a few miles on the bike to get to the racing circuit.
Instructors had their briefing at 8am, going through the set up for the day and also the essential safety guide and what all the different flags meant – including the ‘plane about to do an emergency landing’ flag. After that, it was on to the track for sighting laps. Luckily most of the other instructors had been on the track for previous Skills Days so I tagged behind Gina to see the lines. It’s a weird feeling going on an unfamiliar track for the first time. It’s a good reminder that the customers of the day were not only unfamiliar with the track but would also be very nervous. My first impression of the track was ‘fun’ and in particular the wee chicanes that the organisers had placed on two of the straights! The second was how strange it was having small planes fly over the track to land on the airstrip in the middle. Wouldn’t want to get that wrong. It was a ladies day, which was a first for IAM RoadSmart holding a gender specific event. After 3 sighting laps, back into the pits. The customers by this time were having their safety briefing and then it was the ‘sorting hat’ time, where the ladies categorised themselves by ability. The C group: novices and those lacking confidence in their ability. B group, surer of their ability and a bit more confident and the A group for those who were a bit faster and had probably been on a Skills Day before and are generally more experienced.
50% of the ladies there were non-IAM members, so it was going to be an interesting day.
I was instructing in the C group, which I am very happy to do. It’s always great being able to start slowly and gently, gradually helping them gain confidence and a belief in their machine and their own ability. Only one of my group was a current Associate, so I had my work cut out for the day. My group were Angela, Lorraine, Hayleigh and Fiona. Group C started off with a braking exercise off the main track, which was a good warm up for them and gave them a feel of progressive braking whilst group A went out on track and group B had their theory input.
The first theory session which was presented by Gina, gave a general introduction to what was going to happen during the day. Gina was excellent and particularly liked her comment, “You are not here to prove something, you are here to improve something”. Then, before my team knew it, we were on to the bikes and off round the track. Fiona was the most nervous of the group, so I had her following me to begin with. Each member of my group did a lap behind me, learning where the cones are indicating tipping in point, apex and for some of the corners an exit cone. Complex corners didn’t have exit cones. It’s a game of join-the-dots really.
When we got back to the pits after about 6 laps, there were a lot of smiling faces. So far so good. I asked them how they got on. Fiona pipes up, “That was great. 40mph, that speed will suit me for the day.” I was careful with my reply, not wanting to scare her, just suggested that as the day went on the pace would pick up somewhat, but not to worry about it, that it happens naturally as they progress their skills.
A short break before the next theory input and then we were back out on the track again. I picked the pace up a bit. This time, once they had a lap with me in front, to remind them of the lines and warm their tyres up again, the trainees took it in turns going in front. Each trainee got a chance to show me what their skill level was so I could then give them some coaching to help them enhance their skills.
There were three sessions before lunch, the third session is started to rain. By this time though, they had gained in confidence and their machine control was improving every lap. When the rain started, we had a chat about tyre grip, luckily, the girls had been doing a great job of following the cones and were doing a grand job of ‘look, lean, roll’. Rain? What rain, they just got on with it. Shaun, who was in charge in the pits and running it with military precision, said at the de-brief at the end, that the ladies just didn’t slow down, if anything, speed was continuing to increase even with the damp conditions. I was a very proud instructor indeed! What was even better, the three non-members of my group signed up for the Advanced Riding course on the day. I know that Hayleigh found the day very helpful for her on-going training.
They all had a ball, and Fiona definitely managed to get above 40mph! The feedback session with all the ladies at the end went very well too, with some good comments and ideas for future Skills Days.
Back to the hotel. I had booked a slightly earlier dinner. I was tired, so goodness knows how my group felt at the end of their day. Content, satisfied but tired I hope!
I couldn’t wait to get my contact lenses out. My eyes were tired and itchy. Right one – plop, out it came. Left one? Don’t have a clue. I have never found it. The more I poked my eyeball, the redder it became and I must have nipped my eyeball trying to guddle around trying to locate it. Eventually, with any eye looking like an ordnance survey map, I got one of the staff to have a look to check it wasn’t wedged in a corner of my eye. By this time I was getting a bit concerned. Was it still in there? I must have howked it out. Eventually my eye calmed down… I kept waiting to find it attached to my boot or something. In the meantime, getting back to my room, I had left the tap running in the sink….. with the plug still in. Oops. Thank goodness for an overflow pipe – no flooding. Phew. Continuing on the vein of evidence that I was knackered, I had a wee sauce pot with my main course at dinner. Sauce pot slipped out my hand and landed on the table, with the most amazing SPLOOF as the sauce exploded over the top of the jug and spread over the table surface. Oops. For once it didn’t end up down my boobs. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have another scoop of that salted caramel ice cream then. Staggered to bed by 9.15pm. So rock and roll.
Day two. Up at the sparrow’s fart again. Jeez oh, I don’t get up this early for my work in the morning. I realise now that there are actually two 7 o’clocks in one day, I tend to forget that, given I normally fall out my bed at 8am and in work for 8.30. If I get up at silly-o’clock, it generally involves getting on a motorbike! Back off to Thruxton for another Skills Day. This time I knew it would be mainly men. There were maybe about 10 women (if that) out of about 80 attending. Shaun’s control of the pit lane would be even more important.
My group this time consisted of a very nervous Amanda, Hartley (like the jam), Paul and Oleg (Russian). I have to say, without looking for a fight, it’s easier to suggest to the women to try out a different technique or an alternative approach to improving or learning new skills. Day two I had to use much more measured coaching skills. After the first session, Oleg said, “It’s too slow.” Well, sorry about that, but it needs to be to start with. After the second session, there were broad grins of all my group’s faces, including Amanda who was gaining in confidence.
My challenge with this group was the cones. There were two of my group that didn’t see the logic and one even said, “I’m not going fast enough to find the cone positions useful.” Ok. So, what happens when the speed picks up later on and your machine is out of balance because you’re not on the right line? All the way through the theory sessions, Gina had stressed every time about riding to the cones. I had to stamp my size 4 feet at two of the men in my group. What part of ‘ride to the cones’ don’t you understand? After session 3, they were all much improved. The penny had dropped and the first question they were all asked was, “How was that session then?” I managed to keep the grin off my face until they ALL admitted that it was much better, smoother and cornering was much easier and (shock, horror) faster. Then I gave them all a high-5. Phew. That made the afternoon much more enjoyable, where they were able to overtake after they had ridden in front of me. Off you go and have fun. They did indeed have fun. So did I. Both days were very different and had different challenges to face and quite frankly some can’t be mentioned here, but very satisfying indeed seeing people’s confidence increasing as the day went on.
The IAM RoadSmart team worked very hard indeed. Shaun’s job in the pits was fantastic, after all, he had to co-ordinate a lot of people to get them to the pits, helmets on, ready to rock and roll on time, every time. Well done. Gina worked so hard too, presenting the theory sessions and also instructing on track. I finished my two days following Gina round for the final lap too, which was great fun, just chilling after a tiring couple of days. Thanks also to Anthony who was kind enough on the second morning to demonstrate the entry into Club, which I’d struggled with the day before, given my lack of experience on this track. His time was really appreciated and I made a much more tidy job of the set up to the corner on the second day, you see, I want to learn too! It was great to meet instructors from the South. I highly recommend these Skills Days, they are so beneficial no matter what standard of rider you are. You will learn something, guaranteed, even if it is honing your cornering ability it’s a transferable skill. Don’t go if you are wanting a track day. That’s something different entirely. It’s about precision and learning in a controlled environment with no on-coming traffic, and no road furniture. Be precise, patient and try new techniques, just refresh your knowledge or renew your confidence. You can’t fail to make better progress in corners when you get back to real life on the open road. Just stay safe and remember, ride at a speed that you can safely stop within the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road. Stay between the hedges and don’t take stupid risks.