How to shave time off at a new track.

This is not a riding guide as such, this is a tyre review. If you’re expecting to learn how to shave time off at a track you’ve never ridden, read on, but do so knowing that you might have to spend some money on new tyres along the way. Also, Michelin haven’t paid for this piece, they simply provided the bikes, tyres and circuit during the launch of their new Hypersport tyre range.

Mugello is a stone cold peach of a racetrack. I’d never been there before the tyre launch that this piece is based around. If you’re not sure which one it is, it’s the one where you hear commentators shouting about Arabbiata one and two, it’s the one where Rossi had a leg breaking crash a in 2010 during practice. It’s very fast, has more ups and downs than a care home stair lift and, it turns out, is incredible to ride.

Our first laps of the track were actually in a bus. Fifty odd journalists, in one-piece leathers on a tour of the track, narrated by Manuel Poggiali. Aside from highlighting stuff in general, there was no extra detail to be had in crawling round the track in a bus like a bunch of excitable children. Our first session would be on the Michelin Power Supersport EVO tyre. This is the tyre that Michelin say will suit the regular road rider that gets the chance to get out on track now and then, it’s their 50/50 tyre. By that they mean it’s the one designed to cope with both road riding and track riding in equal measure. Expect mileage and wet weather grip thanks to the 2CT (dual compound technology), you can also expect to feel the ACT in effect. ACT is Adaptive Casing Technology, watch this video rather than listen to me droning on.


I took a BMW HP4 for the first session. I’ve ridden the HP4 on numerous occasions on both road and track, it’s the perfect litre sized partner if you don’t know where you’re going. When I was rolling on and off the gas trying to figure out where to turn in for the second gear turn one, the bike fueled perfectly. When I was panic braking my way into turn two, again the bike remained rock solid. I did my best to focus on the system that I use for learning a new track. It’s back to basics stuff that I was taught years ago. Let the track come to you. Don’t charge up to corners you have no idea about, roll through them, it’s much easier to find an apex if you have time to see it. You may find that you could have gone much, much quicker on the exit, make a note and you’ll know for next time round. What I’m getting at is, don’t feel like you’ve wasted a session or two if you’re not flat out within minutes of getting out there.

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With a few laps under my belt, I began to get a feel for the circuit. It’s a fast one, even the slowest corners are second gear with full gas exits. The downhill right left that is Casanova and Savelli are massive fun. No matter how fast I come out of the left-hander, I always feel that I could have gone quicker. My conkers prevent me from doing much more, all day I stick to coming out in the top of third gear, watching the traction control light flash and trying to get set up for Arabiatta 1.

I run two sessions on the Supersport EVO. By the end of the second session, I get the feeling that I like the rear more than the front. I have plenty of confidence in the front, but I’d have liked a little more feel. I guess that’s the compromise you have to pay for pushing a road tyre hard on track. Eventually you’re going to find either your limit or the tyres. In my case, I know the tyre is capable of more as some of the quicker guys are getting away from me on the same rubber. It’s what I can feel that’s preventing me from going much quicker. I also experienced some mild headshake while changing gear on the HP4 down the start finish straight. When I changed bikes to a 2015 S1000RR the feeling disappeared and I put it down to the bike’s quick shifter being a bit of a brute. In the pits I grab the chance to sit down with a track map while the Michelin men stick the next tyre in the new range in the same bike.

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The Michelin Power Cup EVO may look the same as the Supersport EVO, but the feel and performance are both improved. Although road legal, the Power Cup EVO is a cut version of Michelin’s Power slick EVO. Durability is reduced in favour of out and out grip and the feeling I get from the bike (the same one I rode earlier) is improved, particularly the front-end confidence. By now I’ve done three sessions around Mugello. It’s not particularly hard to piece together, obviously it’s hard to nail the perfect lap we all search for, but on the Cup EVO I find the lines coming a lot easier than earlier. With more faith in both front and rear, I’m able to concentrate on the areas of the track I feel I’m struggling in most. This is another key point to improving your lap time at a new track. It’s too easy to jut push where you’re happy, I find the best thing to do is to work harder on the sections I struggle with. At Mugello, it’s Correntaio. A long right-hander with a downhill entry and a late apex, I find it sucks me in too early every lap. It’s only when I’m overtaken by a Michelin test rider on the way in that I get to see where I’m going wrong. The guy squares the corner off, braking deep into it, he looks like he’s over shot the apex before he squares the thing off and absolutely flies off the corner. I’d been railing round the inside of it, tip toeing along on the edge of the tyre waiting for my chance to get back on the gas. If you’re struggling through a particular section, ask an instructor to show you a line and get some proper advice. This is something that most men (and women) struggle to do on track days. It’s like there’s a barrier when it comes to asking for help and guys that get paid to help you make the most of your day end up sat around watching you make the same mistakes all day. Go and ask for some tips, you’ll benefit from it way more than you think. If you can’t bring yourself to ask for help, in between sessions, walk out to whichever section you’re struggling the most at and watch how other people are riding it. Even if it’s a slower group, watching other people ride it will help show you the right and the wrong line to take.

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I spend the rest of the session getting Correntaio right and wrong. When I get it right, I barely get my knee down and it feels like I’m riding towards the far edge of the track but my corner exit speed is huge. When I get it wrong, I seem to spend ages bumping along on my knee, tracking round the inside of the corner on a constant throttle. There’s another tip to be had here, don’t beat yourself up if you’re getting things wrong. As long as you’re not making dangerous mistakes or holding the group up, try and keep your cool when you make a mistake. You’ll know when you’re letting your frustration get the better of you, as you’ll be making mistakes everywhere. If it gets to the stage where you’re riding tracks you don’t know and you’re the fastest in your group, ask the organisers to shift you up a group. If you find yourself at the front of the fast group at a track you haven’t ridden before, do yourself a favour and go racing.

 

I could have happily spent the rest of the day riding round on the Power Cup EVO tyres. Turn in was fast, they tracked the line I’d asked of them perfectly and even when the traction control was doing what it does, the tyres still left me feeling completely confident. Where I’d found my own limit on the previous set mostly due to the front-end feel, on these I had no complaints. A quick look at the timing sheet showed that I’d shaved two seconds a lap off the best time I’d managed on the 50/50 Power Supersport EVO rubber earlier that day. I’m putting some of that down to feeling more relaxed with which way the track went, but it’s clear that the Power Cup EVO is a much more track friendly tyre. It helped me focus on where I was going, rather than what the bike was doing. As obvious as that sounds, your bike could be holding you back if it’s setup incorrectly. If you don’t know what settings your suspension is on, refer to the handbook or a trusted online source for the factory suspension settings. If you have a mate that knows what they’re doing, rope them in to help you. If you’ve got on of those mates that claims he once passed Ron Haslam round the outside at Craner, who then offers to dial in a secret setting for your bike, don’t let him anywhere near it as it’ll no doubt end up even more screwed than it might already be. If your mate is called Wayne Gardner, let him do whatever he likes to your bike and send us some pictures.

It’s important at this stage that you know that none of the tyres we’ve ridden on so far have been anywhere near a tyre warmer. They’re running normal pressures that the motorcycle manufacturer recommends and we’re still on road legal rubber. I’d have no problem at all recommending the Power Cup EVO to anyone that takes their track riding seriously. Stability is probably the key word that stands out in the notes I scribble after each session on this tyre.

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My final session is on the Power Slick Ultimate. This is the one that is aimed directly at racers. Again I waited for them to be fitted to the same S1000RR that I’d been riding all day (apart from that first session on the HP4). The Michelin men made me wait a lap while one of their riders took the shine off them, after that I was away, again no tyre warmers were used. I don’t spend much time riding on slicks, but I clicked with these straight away. By now I was used to the bike doing certain things at certain parts of the track. The Ultimate seemed to iron out any stability issues I’d had all day. Stability on the brakes was fantastic and I had no problem carrying a bit of brake while pushing for apexes if I needed to. Corner exits turned into a bit of a game, I’d dial in as much throttle as I could and each time the tyre would laugh at my efforts. At this point I had more than an hour of Mugello time under my belt and was pretty confident with where I was going. The slick tyre flattered my efforts where it needed to and had my back in a few places when I got a little too big for my boots. All day I’d been pushing myself to run on the stop in top gear until I was under the bridge at the end of the start finish straight, it’s up over 170mph if you get it right. Drive off the last corner was much easier to tap into on this tyre and even when I managed to nail my new marker I still found that I could have carried even more speed into the braking zone for turn one. There’s another point to note here about getting your head around circuits for the first time. By the end of the day I was running seven seconds a lap faster than I was at the start. I didn’t expect to shave off that much time and the effort required to do so felt about the same as what I was putting in at the beginning of the day. That thing about letting the track come to you that I mentioned is key here. If you find your out braking yourself, missing apexes and then running over the curb on exits, it’s probably because you still haven’t worked out your own markers. It’s much better to find them early in the day and adjust them as you become more comfortable with the layout than it is to ignore all the signs and then spend the evening hovering gravel out of your pants. My last session was golden. The bike was faultless, I still felt like I could have gone quicker but I hadn’t made any stupid mistakes. I did run off the track trying to go round the outside of someone before turning into the last corner, but that was my own fault and nothing to do with the tyre or the bike. The range of tyres the Michelin has here is a great one, they’ve taken the confusion out of their old range and made the choice much simpler for you. Click here to find your nearest Michelin dealer, you can put your faith in them to supply you with a tyre that suits exactly your type of bike and riding.

Points to consider if you’re riding a new track.

  • Study a track map before and during the day.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask an instructor for a guided tour.
  • Concentrate on getting the bits you don’t like right, you’ll enjoy the good bits regardless.
  • If you find you’re making small mistakes, slow down and relax rather than screaming at yourself in your helmet.
  • You have the whole day to go fast, let the track come to you.

Points to note about the Michelin Power range

  • There are six tyres to choose from; three road legal tyres, two slicks and a supermoto tyre
  • Adaptive Casing Technology allows varying levels of rigidity from the tyre, dependent on the amount of lean angle you’re carrying. Rigid shoulders increases stability mid corner, a flexible crown allows the bike to track straight.
  • The Power Slick EVO and the Power Slick Ultimate are aimed at different levels of rider, make sure to seek advice before you buy.
  • The most road biased of the range is the PowerSport EVO, the most rack biased but still legal of the range is the Power Cup Ultimate
  • Michelin are planning a series of their own track events worldwide, you can keep up to date with developments on our Facebook page.

Words: JohnatSuperBike Images: Michelin

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