Suddenly a very loud alarm starts going berserk. I notice the smoke everywhere. The pork chops my friend Jacob is cooking on the stove are almost coal black. Cooking isn’t his key quality, I think to myself, as the owner of the Airbnb we are staying at charges into the room, startled and panicking. “What.. What.. What is going on?” We are in Sweden. More precisely, we are about 10 km away from an amazing racetrack called Knutstorp. Tomorrow is D-day for Jacob and me. We are going to Knutten, as the locals call it, to lose our virginity. It’s his first time on track with his classic Ducati. It’s my first time doing a proper full track day.
“Not much!” Jacob replies as he fakes a calm expression while he frantically waves his arms to clear the smoke. “We have the situation under control,” he grins. I laugh at the absurdness of the situation. Nothing is under control frankly, but all my mind can think of right now is what will happen tomorrow. We eat the overly done pork and drink our beer, which took a serious effort to find, being Sweden and all. Then we go to bed early.
The next morning rolls around. At 6 am the alarm rings, but I am already wide-awake with excitement. The type I would feel as a child learning to ride a bicycle without support wheels. The type I would feel riding my dad’s moped for the first time. The type I have craved ever since.We pack our sandwiches in my bag, put on the leathers, the gloves, the helmets, and get on the bikes. It’s a calm ride through the picturesque landscape of Skåne with the asphalt interlacing the scenery like a gray ribbon of perfection. The sun is out. My good friend is riding behind me. Spirits our high. Life is good.
The first sign “Knutstorp Racetrack” appears and we follow it. If I was excited before, now I am sky high. We go to the nearest petrol station to the track to brim the petrol tank with fuel. It’ll be a thirsty day for the bikes, so they must arrive on a full belly. We enter the paddock. There are bikes from Denmark, Sweden and even a few from Norway, already lined up in the pit. Everyone is excited and yet calm. A strange combination but you find that quite often with people who drive around fast in circles.
Arriving at the track
First things first. We get registered. I walk up to the lovely lady at the desk with all the papers in front of her. I say my name and she asks me what number I want on the bike. I specifically ask for a sexy number, whatever that might be, in her view. She offers me “24”. It reminds me of Kobe Bryant, who wore 24 on his Laker jersey. “I’ll take it!”I get handed my number and proceed to sticker and tape up the bike. You need to put black tape over the headlights, rear lights, mirrors, and turn signals, which might shatter and leave broken glass/sharp plastic on the track in an event of an accident. By taping it up, it keeps it together. Pretty smart trick, huh?
Also something that for a brief moment illustrates the dangers of what we are about to embark on.
Something else that serves as a reminder is the disclaimer you have to sign when you register. It’s the usual “Please don’t sue us if you die a little bit”, which is a regular thing for every track event or pretty much any other activity that gets the adrenalin going. I don’t imagine they have disclaimer waivers at your local knitting club. But they do here and for a very good reason. Racing is dangerous but like all dangerous things, it’s highly addictive. I sure am addicted to it. That’s why I am here. I am also here because I want to be a better, smoother, more confident, and most importantly, a safer rider. Diamonds are built under pressure. Good riding habits are built on racetracks. I sign the disclaimer and don’t think more about it.
At 7.30 am, we all stand around to get briefed about the rules and expectations of the day. Klavs, the main character in Racing4Fun, is doing the talking. Klavs is well-spoken and has a wit about him, yet he also has an aura of confidence and calmness, the kind true professionals have. I look at my friend Jacob and we have the same impression. We are in good hands. Klavs presents all his “masterkørere” (master riders) who serve as instructors for the day. They all have amazing riding CV’s and the same aura about them. Klavs finishes talking. People clap. We go back to our bikes. It’s on.
Gentlemen, start your engines
I put on the helmet, and make sure it’s seated tight. I start the engine. It settles into a calm idle. So do I, strangely. All nerves go away as I exit the pit and ride onto the track. I signed up to be coached by Klavs, so he is leading the way. Klavs has decades of experience and knows this track like his back yard. We accelerate towards the first corner. I follow his line through it and on to “the snake” – a combination of corners that go right-left-right-left. Fast, awesome corners. By the end of the day, I will be going north of 150 km/h through them, but not right now. Both rider, bike and tires need some heat in them so the first few laps are always slow. You increase the pace gradually and safely throughout each session and generally throughout the day.
Klavs and I reach some slower riders on the last part of the track, which they call “the pot”. It’s uphill and then all of a sudden downhill, so I feel my breakfast from this morning. Then it’s a right hander that tightens towards the late apex. It’s a hard corner to get right. I mess it up. I am not good with pots in general. Klavs made over 20 meters on me just through that one corner. This is where my lack of experience, and his spades of it, comes in. But I study him. And each lap I follow him, I’m losing less and less. Granted, Klavs is cruising, thinking about existential dilemmas, but in my mind, we are racing. I need that competitive element to sharpen my focus and senses.
The last corner of the track is a tight left corner, over a small creek protected by a metal barrier. You try and cut the corner as tight on the inside as you can so it opens up the straight for you. The sooner you get on the throttle the better. Each km/h extra on the exit of the corner is worth 4-5 km/h at the end of the straight. I mess that one up too, the first few times, but I can get away with it. I point the bike straight, and give it the beans. The back tire complains a tad and the electronic traction control steps in. The front tire wants to go up as all the weight transfers to the back. I lean more over the front to keep it down. Now I can really go full throttle. 3rd gear. 4th. 11,500 rpm. The engine bellows down the straight and I see 200 km/h on the dash. Into 5th gear. 208, 210, 212… Turn 1 is fast approaching and I nail the brakes. I feel the ABS kicking in and get the bike stopped just in time. Roll off the brakes gently, turn in, kiss the apex of turn 1, and throttle out to attack “the snake”. That’s one lap of Knutstorp done with. Lots more to go.
What a ride. What a thrill. I am grinning ear to ear behind my dark visor.
Life begins just outside your comfort zone
Throughout the day I ride with some different instructors and get some good feedback from them. What I am doing right, and what I need to do a little better. I increase my pace slowly during the sessions and feel my confidence grow. The sun is shining. No wind. Perfect conditions. Jacob is having an amazing time in his own slower class. He calls me over all proud and happy. “Look at the tire!” he points. The tires are a good indicator of how well you are riding. The wear and tear tells all your secrets. If you are slow, fast, not aggressive enough, too aggressive, afraid to lean, not afraid… It is all there in plain view. The rear tire of Jacobs Ducati shows that he has come a long way in just half a day. In fact, everyone in the paddock is exchanging grins. They are all improving and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. People stepping out of their comfort zones and achieving something they didn’t think they could.
Which brings me to one of the final points of this blog. The people and the community. Race fans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. I needed a little mechanical assistance for the bike and suddenly I had 5-6 random people I had never met, sourcing tools and helping me. I was also running low on fuel at the end of the day and some person just gave me petrol. He insisted that I shouldn’t pay him anything. The racing community is truly one big family looking out for one another.
The day ends and we are knackered. Exhausted. Mentally and physically. I feel like I gave it my all. I can’t stop smiling. While the bike ticks itself cool, I speak to Klavs. He tells me “You know how to ride a motorbike”. What I hear is “You are a riding God”. We share a good talk about my progress through the day, and I can’t wait to do it all over again. On the way home, I feel the safest I ever have. I trust the bike and I have good flow. I am relaxed and loose on the bike. I am enjoying the ride more than ever. This is exactly the feeling of humble confidence that I was craving.
My biggest surprise about the day was how safe it actually all is! I promise you, I was at more risk riding home to Copenhagen on the public highways than I was in all of the racing around the track. First, you have the track itself. Beautiful smooth asphalt, well maintained, wide, with lots of run-off area, should it go wrong. No gravel and potholes. No wild animals crossing the road. Second, you have the “flow of traffic”. It’s all going in one direction so no risk of oncoming traffic like on public roads.
Lastly, and most importantly, you have the Racing4Fun people themselves, who do a very good job of keeping all us newbies safe from ourselves. Some people come here and are too afraid to push it a bit. They stiffen up and make errors based on their fear. Others come here thinking they are Valentino Rossi when they really are not. The instructors notice both of those types and guide them. They do it exceptionally well.
There was no need for my initial nerves that I had in the beginning of the day. It was all handled very professionally and everyone went home to their families, happy and safe.
Tip of the hat to Klavs and his wolf pack. Thank you for what you do.