“I’m currently second in the British Supersport Championship”, says the 22-year-old Aussie, Benjamin Currie, about to teach me to ride around Donington Park today at the Carole Nash-backed Honda Ron Haslam Race School.
Without sounding like an old man, (I’m ‘only’ 41-years-old), I’ve been riding round Donington Park since 1995, or as long as my instructor has been alive!
After years testing bikes around the world, it’s fair to say I know my way round the track by now. But, you can never stop learning. And one thing’s for sure, I definitely don’t have the speed or talent of the guy about to lead me round. He’s won races in British Supersport, one of the fiercest 600cc championships in the UK. No mean feat.
And then there’s the guy who runs the school – Ron Haslam himself. A man who still can’t stay off a motorcycle in the wet or dry. He’s a bonafide Grand Prix hero, TT winner and British racing legend, racing in 110 Grands Prix, plus he’s a multiple British Champion.
If there was a hall of fame dinner for British racers, Ron would be sat at the head of the table.
Ron himself usually teaches the Elite course, using the new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblades and he can’t stay off a bike. His wife, Anne, keeps the school running smoothly, and son Leon Haslam, currently leading the British Superbike Championship and a Carole Nash ambassador, is often around to instruct kids and new riders on 125s and 250s. It’s a proper family affair.
But today, I’m doing the CBR600RR Premier package. That means a briefing, a track-prepped bike, tuition, three sessions on track and a bag of goodies and a certificate to show your mum/wife/kids/husband. They’ll even loan you head-to-toe kit if you need it. A Ron Haslam Premier 600 course is a £299 day out, and worth every single penny.
He rolls out on a Honda VFR800 complete with heated grips, and I’m assigned my Honda CBR600RR for the day. Bike 5. It’s a bike I feel at home with, having done a few Ron Haslam Schools over the years. But today is lashing down, and I just hope the Dunlop RoadSmart 3 tyres are feeling more confident in the water than me.
Ben asks about my experience round here, and I play it down, and then he says: “We’ll just have a look around, take it easy, the conditions are pretty bad, so let’s just got for a ride.”
The conditions are pretty bad, so we have a wobble out, take it easy and get our eye in on and get used to the bike, the tyres, the ABS system, and the track. From the fast flowing Craner Curves to the second gear Melbourne Loop, Donington Park Grand Prix circuit is still one of the best tracks to ride in the world.
Ben Currie gives me some advice on riding position, and teaches me a better body position where I can use my shoulders to tighten up my line on the bike and move the bike towards the apex. There’s a lesson on a better foot position when hanging off too, and moving across the bike on a chicane to get more leverage.
We put it in to play, pick the pace up and start passing groups or riders. Ron’s school uses a system where the instructors pull over to the side of the track and put their arms in the air to signal that you can come past. It means the whole experience is relaxed and there’s no stress in out braking other riders to get past.
The tips Ben has given me are working and I feel more confident about making the second apex at the fast Coppice corner, before winding on the power.
After an off-track Q&A session, we head out for a third and final go. The pace is slightly faster, the tyres are getting to the point where they feel like they’re floating on the standing water, but for road tyres they’re impressive. Ben Currie is so incredibly smooth it gives me good confidence to follow in his tyre tracks, avoid the big standing water, and really go out for a play. The CBR600RR is easy to ride fast and a great way to find your way round Donington Park, plus, it’s someone else’s bike should it all go wrong!
By the time we get back to the pits, my gloves weigh about a kilo each with the water they have taken on and I’m soaked to the bone too, but can’t stop grinning.
If you want to try the Honda Ron Haslam Race School for yourself, go to: https://www.haslamraceschool.com