Our journey to Circuit of the Americas (COTA) began on Thursday, 10/25/18, a little before 4 PM. The club members who made the trip included Greg McDaniel, Dave Jenkins, Chris Gibson and myself (John Lang). After Greg picked up Chris and I, along with our bikes and gear, our last stop before hitting the road was to pick up Dave and his gear at a truck stop at I-70 & SR-39. We made it to Miner, MO before stopping for dinner at little after 7 PM local time. We ate at a Mexican restaurant – El Nopalito Grill. Nothing too fancy, but the food was great and there was plenty of it!
We continued on and spent the night at Forest City, AR, arriving at our hotel a little before 10:45 PM. Anil Doppalapudi, from DRILL, arrived at the hotel later that night and we met him on Friday morning before leaving a little after 8 AM. In order to “make good time”, we didn’t stop for lunch on Friday, but enjoyed the ham and turkey sandwiches that Greg packed in his cooler. We continued to enjoy those sandwiches throughout the weekend! Hauling a trailer with four bikes made it necessary to stop frequently for fuel (unlike Anil in his diesel car pulling a U-Haul motorcycle trailer, who had a range of well over 300 miles). We strategically chose to stop at Buc-ee’s in Temple, TX around 4:45 pm on Friday. Bill Carr had mentioned Buc-ee’s to Greg during the 2017 trip to COTA, but timing did not permit them to stop there. For this trip; however, we made it happen. Buc-ee’s is a Texas convenience store chain that boasts 60,000 SF stores with 84 gas pumps and “world famous” restrooms that could easily accommodate an entire NFL team roster with no waiting. They have everything! I was even able to pick up a 5-gallon “track day respectable” VP Racing gas can. We joked about how we could have done our Christmas shopping there. Buc-ee’s was definitely worth the visit for the humor value alone that it provided for the rest of the trip.
We made it to COTA around 6:45 pm and got everything set up in our garage. We were able to get through registration and tech inspection so that we wouldn’t have to do that the next morning. Once everything was set up, we got a group photo in garage # 17. Dave Kaler was also in the garage with us.
We left COTA a little before 8:30 PM and headed to the north side of Austin for some BBQ at Stiles Switch. There’s nothing like Texas BBQ to finish out a long day. We were all very happy!
We made it back to the Airbnb that Dave Jenkins had secured for us a little after 10 PM. It is located a mere 3 minutes from COTA! Greg joked that perhaps next year, Dave could get us a place with a simpler route – one that didn’t require two 90 degree turns to get to the track!
The place was great, but we all laughed at the fact that the code to get into the house was very simple while the code to connect to the Wi-Fi was a 16-digit alphanumeric code that typically required multiple attempts to gain access. Kudos to Dave for getting us such a great place to stay in Austin!
On Saturday morning, 10/27/18, we arrived at the track a little before 7 AM. We brought plenty of bottled water with us because there was a water boil notice in effect for most of the weekend due to recent flooding in the Austin area. We proceeded to the riders meeting, which started at 7:15. Dave Wonders, owner of RideSmart, led the meeting. He is quite a character and full of wit, so he got the day off to a great start. He announced that MotoAmerica Superbike rider Josh Herrin, who finished third overall in the 2018 season, would be riding with the Level 3 group throughout the weekend and would also be available for an autograph session late in the day on Saturday. Level 3 (Advanced) would hit the track at 8 AM, followed by levels 2A at 8:20 & 2B at 8:40 (Intermediate), with levels 1 and 1.5 (Novice) taking the track at 9 AM. It was emphasized that RideSmart is a track day school with mandatory classes preceding each riding session for the lower riding levels. Stickers were distributed during the classes that must be placed on the front of the bikes to gain access to the track for each of the sessions. With a one-hour lunch break, each group had six 20-minute riding sessions each day. As an aid to riders new to the track, “X’s” were placed on the track to mark apexes and other general line guides to help riders learn the racing line. Our visit to COTA was just one week after the F1 race, so crews were still busy tearing down tents in front of the garages. We were informed of the F1 qualifying track record of 1:32.237 that was just set the week before by Lewis Hamilton. Marc Marquez set the motorcycle track record of 2:02.741 in the 2017 MotoGP qualifying session with a top speed of 207 mph on the 0.74-mile straight between turn 11 and turn 12. A track map was included in many of the class sessions that illustrated the speeds that are achieved by the F1 cars. Per Randy Joy, one of the lead RideSmart instructors, a lap time of 2:55 or better is required for riders to qualify for a Level 3 (Advanced) classification and a pace of approximately 3:10 or better is expected for Level 2 riders (Intermediate). After the riders meeting, we were all anxious to see what we would experience on this world class, F1/MotoGP course that is 3.41 miles long, has 20 turns and over 130’ of elevation change!
Novice riders who had not done a track day with RidSmart were placed in Level I while those who had completed one or more track days with RideSmart were placed in Level 1.5. After attending class, Level I riders followed control riders in the first session for the purpose of learning the racing line. Rotations took place to allow riders a chance to follow directly behind a coach. The racing line was the emphasis in the early sessions. Subsequent class topics included body position, passing, braking, and some relevant lessons for street riding. Opportunities were provided for more individual instruction and evaluation from the coaches. After the lunch break, more passing options were made available to the Level I riders. Chris and I were both in this group, while Dave and Anil were in the Level 2 groups. On the second day, Anil participated in the Advanced Rider Course (ARC), which is a class with more personal instruction that prepares riders for Level 3. Greg rode in Level 3 both days. For Chris and I, the afternoon sessions proved to be an exciting time. Because of some confusion about the timing, we both reported to hot pit at the time that we understood to be the starting time for the next session for Level 1. They let us out on the track, but the session seemed to be somewhat limited. Still, we were able to get in a few laps at a good pace. When I got back to the garage, Greg advised me that they had just announced that Level I riders were getting ready to go again. I proceeded back to the starting point and I was informed that Chris and I had just been out in Level 2B! That was encouraging as I had felt comfortable at that pace and later realized that I had turned my quickest lap of the day. I finished the last two sessions in Level 1, and I felt like I had definitely made some progress in terms of becoming more familiar with the track and improving my pace. At the end of session 6, I headed back to the garage, got everything set for the next day, including registration, and then the five of us returned to the Airbnb to get cleaned up before going to dinner. It was a little after 6:30 PM when we left the track, all of us having big smiles on our faces!
Sara Cole, president of the Houston Ducati Club, arranged a dinner for all of the Ducati Clubs that were in town for the RideSmart event. In addition to Sara, there were several other Ducatisti at the dinner who were riding in Level 2 or Level 3. We traveled to the Rainey Street Historic District in downtown Austin, which is a very lively and festive area of the city. Because it was just a few days before Halloween, there were lots of people in the area in costumes. The most creative was with a group that re-created the “running of the bulls of Pamplona”, complete with a couple of “bulls” (which required two or three people each), along with numerous “runners” dressed in the traditional Spanish apparel. One of the bulls saw Dave Jenkins in his bright red Ducati T-shirt and actually gored him! The whole atmosphere was fantastic. Our dinner was at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden and we arrived around 7:45. We had a great time conversing with the other Ducati Club members and our waiter kept us entertained throughout the evening. The food was terrific and we all had a great time celebrating our first day at COTA.
We got back to the house a little before 10:45pm. Greg started watching the qualifying runs for the next day’s MotoGP race, but we all soon realized that we needed to get some sleep so that we would be ready for our second day at the track. It would be hard to top the day we had just enjoyed!
On Sunday, 10/28/18, we arrived at the track a little after 7:00 am. We proceeded to the riders meeting that started it 7:15 and covered much of the same material that had been presented on Saturday. Many of the riders that were there for Sunday had not been there the day before. The Level 3 riders were dismissed early, consistent with the Saturday protocol, so that they could get ready to hit the track at 8:00 AM. The rest of us proceeded to our first classes. Having completed our first COTA track day on Saturday, Chris and I were placed in the Level 1.5 group. After the first class, we went back to the garage to get ready for our first session of the day. Similar to the Saturday schedule, the first couple of sessions in the lower levels emphasized the racing line with limited passing opportunities. The later sessions gave us more opportunity to practice our skills at a quicker pace, especially after having spent the previous day familiarizing ourselves with the 20 turn COTA track. A lot of emphasis was placed on track vision, highlighting the primary focus of where you are going on the track, as well as the use of peripheral vision. Other topics included lower body and core emphasis when moving around on the bike, as well as throttle control and allowing speed taken into the corners to guide the rider into using the whole track. This factor is related to the racing line, but provides a somewhat different perspective on understanding how to identify the appropriate line to take. The later sessions also allowed riders to be placed in small groups with coaches to get more individualized instruction. Chris and I both took advantage of this opportunity and got paired up with coaches that allowed us to follow them for a lap before they subsequently followed us for a lap, recording the session with a GoPro camera so that we could review it during the next class. One of the coaches, Mike Legato, worked with me and reviewed the video lap, pointing out areas that I needed to work on, while also acknowledging the things I was doing right. It certainly gave me some areas to focus on in the remaining sessions. For anyone going to a RideSmart track day, or any other track day for that matter, I would highly recommend seeking out this type of instruction. If you can get someone to record your session, it can provide a very valuable tool for learning. As is often the case, some riders elect not to ride all of the sessions. This can make the last session of the day less congested, opening up the opportunity for a somewhat quicker pace. At the same time, I generally don’t want to “push it” in the later sessions, reasoning that if I have made it this far without any incidents, I certainly don’t want to do anything stupid now! Nevertheless, I had a great time in the last couple of sessions, thoroughly enjoying the two days I got to spend on this awesome track. After returning to the garage, it was time to pack up and get ready for the return trip. Before loading everything up, we took time to take one group photo in front of the garages.
Article written by John Lang, iDESMO Member and Track Day Enthusiast