Flattrack racing is one of those sports that’s on the periphery of mainstream motorcycling, but that hasn’t stopped it from gaining some mainstream attention in recent years, thanks in no small part to the wacky DirtQuake festival and a certain Marc Marquez, who famously flattracks for fun and has filled stadiums in Barcelona with the annual Superprestigio invitational event.
But today there’s no Marc Marquez and no cheering crowds. Instead, we’re in a barn in deepest Lincolnshire, eyeing up the not so mighty Honda CRF100s laid on for us to learn the dark art of flattracking at the Champions Flattrack School.
Flattracking originated in America, with the star riders blasting sideways around quarter mile and full mile ovals on modified Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs. It first came to our consciousness in the 1971 movie documentary On Any Sunday and the skill required to ride these beasts was brought home over the next decade or so as AMA dirtrackers Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey dominated the 500cc road racing world championships. Indeed, Roberts brought flattrack to Europe during his time as a rider and team owner, building a training facility at his ranch on the outskirts of Barcelona to train the Team Roberts Grand Prix riders.
The benefits of flattracking to racers is recognised today, and this rural barn regularly plays host to the great and good of British motorcycle racing over the winter months, as some of our country’s best racers ride the very same little bikes as part of their training regime. Today, though, we have 15 middle aged blokes, all road riders, listening attentively to owner Pete Boast as he gives his briefing.
Pete is the very definition of the term all-round motorcycle racer. Over the years he’s raced at the TT, been a handy speedway rider and ridden pretty much every kind of motorcycle there is to ride. Next week he’s off to race a classic bike at Spa, in Belgium, but his flattrack school is a real labour of love. He’s been fascinated with the sport since watching On Any Sunday and was one of the key players in forming the British scene, which these days consists of a seven round championship as well as the novelty DirtQuake event, where everyday punters go flattracking in fancy dress and on inappropriate motorcycles.
Level One of Pete’s course starts off a bit ABC, or should that be CBT, as you ride the little bikes around cones. It feels like you’ve arrived at the wrong place but, piece by piece, it starts to make sense. As the repositioning of the cones makes them tougher to navigate, you start to adapt to the unique riding position and skills required to race flattrack. Within half an hour we’re going round in circles with absurd angles of lean and ready to hit the oval, figuratively at least.
After lunch at a local pub, the pace steps up in the afternoon. Riding flattrack is something of an alien experience for road riders but its easy to see how the discipline helps top line racers develop their skills. The way in which you have to push the front end of the bike down into the corner really helps build confidence and bike control. In racing parlance, we’re ‘losing the front’ going into the corners and, with a steel shoe on the left boot to help control the bike through the corner (flattrack’s version of the knee slider) it is amazing just how much lean angle you can get going into the corners. In the afternoon there’s a chance to put together all the skills learned in the morning, including using the back brake to get the back end sliding into the corner.
The day ends with Pete and the team setting up a ‘Grand National’ course, a horseshoe shaped circuit with two hairpins and a right hand corner in it, and a chance to try out our ultimate speed in ‘The Chase’ where students start half a lap apart and try to catch and pass each other.
All in all it’s a great fun day out that can teach even the oldest dog a new trick.
The level one course costs £159, with dates and booking details available from http://www.flattrackschool.co.uk/