Are you itching to take your bike for a spin at the Donington Park circuit?
After the venue hosting this year’s World Superbike championship, and with the recent news that it will be welcoming the return of the MotoGP championship in 2015, you might just be.
If you’ve never ridden the circuit before you’re in for a treat – and perhaps a surprise or two, as well. As far as circuits go Donington’s got a fair share of pretty much everything you’d want from a racetrack: fast straights, dramatic sweeps, blinds, and not to mention the infamous Craner Curves.
Needless to say, the track rewards riders who have optimal control of their machine; and who have the ability to ride smoothly and apply all their concentration to the track.
Donington Park is essentially two circuits in one: the Grand Prix Circuit includes the Melbourne Loop (two extra straights creating two hairpins), is 2.487 miles in length and has 12 turns. The National Circuit, on the other hand, doesn’t include the Melbourne Loop, is shorter at 1.979 miles and has 10 turns. If you book yourself in for a track day then you’re likely to be riding the longer Grand Prix circuit.
Back in 2011, retried motorbike road racer Niall Mackenzie told Visor Down that Donington Park is one of the most physically demanding circuits to race, and one that will test your bike’s suspension and brakes to the limit.
If you’re considering a race around Donington Park, here’s a quick lowdown on the different elements of the circuit:
Redgate is the circuit’s first corner and turns through at over 90 degrees (it’s tighter than it first appears). The corner’s apex is much later than many riders first anticipate, making early throttle release vital for a quick sprint to Hollywood; the upcoming, gentle right-hander.
After attacking Hollywood you’ll be faced with the infamous Craner Curves. Note that many professional riders joined the ‘Craner Club’ by losing their front following a quick left flick onto the short downhill approach to the right hander, which results in them sliding across the grass on the infield.
The trick to Craner Curves is to keep your bike parallel with the right hand side curb before entry. Good judgement is needed to tackle Craner Curves – an early entry will slow your approach to the upcoming Old Hairpin (which is really just a reasonably sharp 90 degree right hander). With the mix of bends and gradient changes it is even more important than normal to tackle his stretch at slower speed initially while gradually increase your skill.
After cornering through the Old Hairpin, riding through Starkeys Bridge and the left-hand Schwantz Curve, next up is McLeans. If you were on a race day as opposed to a track day, where timing and racing is not permitted, McLeans would provide the perfect overtaking opportunity, but you would need to ensure you carry the speed through from Schwantz in order to do this and be prepared to for what is a relatively tight right hander. Overconfidence will result in a wide exit, even on a regular track day, so be careful.
Coppice is a tricky corner and is one that will take a couple of attempts to get right. You’ll make a blind approach to Coppice with the apex nowhere in sight until you reach the turning-in point. The recommended way of taking on Coppice is to clip the initial apex, let the bike run into the centre of the track, and then apply the throttle on the corner’s exit as you see Starkeys Straight open up in front of you. It’s a deceptively fast corner if taken correctly.
The Fogarty Esses are a later addition and were incorporated to add length to the track. This is an equally testing part of the circuit; it’s a heavy-braking area which demands both strength and confidence throughout, particularly on entry where you’ve gained considerable speed down the straight. It requires a flick from left to right which takes a while to master, but unlike the Craners this is all on the flat so there are no gradient changes to worry about and you can see the track in front of you for miles.
Melbourne Hairpin (Grand Prix circuit)
This is by far the slowest part of the track and would be another great opportunity for overtaking. How successful you handle this right handed hairpin will depend on how you control your braking on entrance, and acceleration on exit. Again, it’s all flat, visibility is great and the track is wide on the exit.
Goddards is a similar corner to Melbourne (left hairpin as opposed to right) wherein your track position will be determined by your braking ability. There is a gentle crest and a slight deviation to the right on your approach to the braking zone which shouldn’t cause too many problems. Get this right, and you’ll be in a great position for the upcoming straight into Redgate.