The last trackday I did at Portimao was exceptionally good. The circuit, weather, restaurants and people I rode with were all an absolute pleasure (a group of pilots, A380 through to Chinook Helicopter).
A couple of ‘racers’ were also at the event and they were the only thing that spoiled the perfect experience for me and a few others. Not high level racers but racers who do some lower level championships in the UK and their attitude on and off circuit was not at all like higher level racers.
The first time I came across one of them he was catching my student and I quite quickly. I have mirrors in order to keep the distance between the rider I’m instructing and myself consistent, so I had plenty of warning he was coming, moved wide and waved him through. I then got a perfect view of him passing another three riders over the next four corners before he pulled away. He passed two of these riders by arriving in the middle of the corner at the same time as the rider he was overtaking, forcing the slower rider to stand up and run wide. The real problem for me was that he was doing it at a much higher speed so there was no chance of him aborting the moves. Basically the slower rider had to standup out of the way or there would have been contact. I chased him down over the next 3 corners and overtook him while pointing at him. He pulled into the pits, probably wondering why I was pointing at him. I really was worried he’d cause an accident but it was the best I could do as I was working with my student so it wouldn’t have been fair to stop.
Later that day I saw him doing exactly the same thing to two more riders so I made the effort to find him and talk to him in the garage. I explained that it was me pointing at him and that I’d only seen him twice on circuit and both times he stood more than one rider up in an overtaking move and that if he keeps riding like that he will cause an accident. He was adamant he’d done nothing wrong and said “sometimes you have to decide to go through rather than get held up”. I told him that this is a trackday and not a race, so if you are not sure you can get through without standing a rider up then you must wait. He did not look convinced so I explained to him that I do 70-100 days per year on circuit and a little more than once a year someone gets killed at an event I am at, and that it’s always caused by avoidable shit. To my relief he nodded, seemed to understand and took my hand when I offered it on leaving (not everyone does).
Shortly after a shy, polite young European rider that I know came to talk to me (he is mid-field speed in the fast group at a 3 group trackday / B group at a 4 group trackday). He is very passionate about our sport. He explained that he was on an in-lap while the chequered flag was out when one of the ‘racers’ passed him on the outside, on a fast left, before turning across the front of him. “Simon, I thought .. Oh no, not today, not like this. I really thought I was going to crash”. They missed each other but because the young Euro’s heart was racing he indicated to the ‘racer’ by pointing to his own head, meaning ‘are you crazy?’. Once back in the garage the young guy was putting his tyre warmers on when he was confronted by the much older ‘racer’, who put his forehead to the young guy’s forehead and asked him what his problem was (but wording it less politely). Rather than get his ass kicked the young guy admitted defeat. He sat with me, head in his hands extremely disillusioned. I believe he was on the edge of saying ‘I don’t want to do this any more’. He is one of the most enthusiastic, happy trackday guys I know and it made me sad.
I know, I didn’t see this incident so let’s give this older racer the benefit of the doubt and say that it was actually the young Euro rider’s fault somehow. What is totally unacceptable to me is the older ‘racer’s’ attitude. If he really had good intentions, was at all reasonable, and did not want to scare or harm anyone, he would have reacted like the rest of us and asked what exactly he’d done wrong, maybe argued his case, shake the young guys hand and apologise for scaring him because he really didn’t mean to. The racing rule is ‘the onus is on the overtaker’ and this applies at trackdays too. Everyone was clearly reminded of this at the riders briefing at the start of this event.
I’m not a trackday company so I don’t completely understand their position – so I spoke to a trackday company owner who I know and respect about how he thinks we should handle this problem. This is what he had to say;
“If I was to give trackday riders any advice on this subject I would say… Always switch your video camera on (it’s a great way to identify riders and often shows who’s at fault), don’t complain unless you can identify the rider (it’s pointless if we can’t identify the culprit), always remember that there are 2 sides to every story so think about how your own actions may have contributed to the incident (did you make a mistake or an erratic/unpredictable move prior to the incident for example?), remember that anyone can make a 1-off mistake (it’s not always intentional and we all get it wrong sometimes – it’s the repeat offenders with the overly aggressive attitude we want to find, not the ones that made a genuine mistake with no bad intent) – and above all, if you see a repeat offender, make a mental note of the bike/leathers so we can ID the rider, and then speak to us sooner rather than later (not much point in telling us how bad someone was just as we’re loading up to go home!)”
Enjoy your next event, and stay safe.