Clemmie's Qatar Adventure - Part 2.
“I’m back and survived my first FIM training camp! So, last Sunday morning I packed my luggage into my car and headed for Heathrow Airport straight from the last round of the BSB at Brands Hatch. Unfortunately, I was one of those people whose flight was delayed by an hour and a quarter, but nothing was going to dampen my spirits for the exciting week ahead. After landing in Abu Dhabi at 2am I nearly missed my connection to Doha, my luggage was not so lucky and never made the connection – it arrived at 7pm the next day!
“The first morning in Qatar I met some of the other riders over breakfast. It was great to meet so many other like-minded women who had travelled from all over Europe – many of whom are successful racers. With a whole day to settle in, what else would a whole group of women do than head for the largest shopping mall in Doha? The main attraction was the air conditioning (which was a welcome relief while I was still acclimatising to the 36-degree C heat), the 370 stores over five levels complete with an ice skating rink went down well too…
“The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing by the rooftop pool and taking in the stunning scenery of Doha’s city skyline.
“The Fit 2 Ride program was taken by Carolin Juretko and included some general cardio, strength work and coordination exercises specifically tailored to track riding on a motorcycle – followed by a cool down in the roof top pool. The Fit 2 Ride programme was really useful and included plenty of exercises I can continue to use over the winter.
“We had an interesting journey in a slightly crammed mini-bus to the circuit (turns out the driver had no idea where he was going), which is approximately 30 minutes from the city of Doha. I headed straight for the air conditioned changing rooms, which would prove to be a frequent place to visit after each track session to reduce body temperature and take a break from the heat outside.
“Losail Circuit has a vast lighting system with lights that are specially positioned not to blind the rider. It’s so effective that you barely notice you are riding at night, I rode in my light smoke visor and had absolutely no problems with visibility at all. The lights on the circuit are enough to light a residential road from Doha to Moscow – a massive 3,600km!
“I arrived to find all the bikes lined up in the pit box – the red number 44 was to be my ride for the three days. Blue bikes were for the instructors, black bikes had reverse gear shift and red bikes were normal.
“Up first, Jurgen Fuchs (former GP rider) ran us through the electronics of the S 1000 RR. They’re incredibly sophisticated but very easy to use and understand. We would start the first session in ‘Sport’ mode and during the three days we could move up to ‘Race’ mode, if we felt we needed too.
“Just as the sun was setting the track opened. The first session acted as ‘sighting laps’ as none of us had ever ridden on the circuit before. I was part of a group of three being led by Nina Prinz. Nina competes in the Qatar Superbike Championship, so I couldn’t have had a better person to show me the perfect lines around Losail for the first time. I stayed in this group for a couple more sessions – the circuit is very flat with very few landmarks so it can be challenging to pick out markers for braking and turning. Also, all the right corners in particular look very similar on entry so it is very easy to get ‘lost’ – there is a double apex, then a late apex one and a triple right-hander so it is crucial you can remember the sequence and prepare appropriately for the various corners.
“There was various talk on the best way to find your way on the circuit – some people count corners, others count the sequence of gears they are in for each corner. For me the easiest way was to visualise the circuit map (I spent a good portion of my seven-hour flight looking at it!). This really helped and I only got mixed up a couple of times – a mistake I’m putting down to the high temperatures. Nina also told us to make sure we were relaxed on the straight (over 1km in length) as this provides a small break both physically and mentally.
“I immediately felt very at ease on the S 1000 RR. It’s an amazing feeling to have such a huge amount of power underneath you and by a twist of the throttle it accelerates so easily (and of course very quickly). It is also so easy and light to tip into corners which was a really reassuring feeling having moved up from a much smaller bike.
“After each session we had a debrief where our instructor would run us through parts of the circuit and also answer any questions that we had – having immediate feedback on your performance and being able to ask questions while they are still fresh in your mind is a crucial part of being able to improve. The fifth session of the evening ended at 11pm, and by this time I was feeling happy on the bike, and with my way around the circuit. I was very keen to get back out on the track the following day.
“The second day had the same timetable as day one (a fitness session in the morning and track time in the evening). After arriving at the track we had another workshop – this time taken by Simon Crafar (ex WSBK and 500 GP rider) and covered the ‘Theory of Riding’. Simon’s passion for motorcycle racing and helping others to improve is obvious and he makes even the most complicated and confusing parts of riding on track easy to understand and entertaining.
“I had opted for one-to-one instruction on day two and was thrilled to be instructed by Shelina Moreda. Shelina is an AMA racer and currently competes in the LARRS (Losail Asian Road Racing Series) so also knows the circuit very well. Her energy and enthusiasm is beyond incredible.
“We really picked up the pace from what was quite a steady first day. It was very exciting to be able to start pushing myself with the S 1000 RR and seeing what I could do aboard this fantastic bike. I started to carry a lot more corner speed, so I had to keep my lines in check (beyond the curbs is some very slippery astro-turf that you do not want to cross too often). During each session, I continued to study the circuit map and Shelina suggested I mark every apex and make a dot-to-dot for the line I should be taking on each lap.
“I also had to work on getting on the power earlier as I was losing time on the exit of corners. Being used to a 500cc, I forget just how much power I can put down with the RR – the Dynamic Traction Control is very effective and gives you a lot of confidence to push. The start/finish straight was a fantastic opportunity to unleash the bike – it’s a case of getting out of the last corner and pinning it in every gear. I hit 168 mph on several occasions here which is an incredible feeling – admittedly I am a little way off the 216 mph that some of the MotoGP boys hit!
“Timing the braking into the first corner was crucial (a deceleration of over 100mph!). Shelina helped me out a huge amount with this; initially I was braking too hard too early which was making the suspension compress very quickly – when you come off the brakes the suspension can spring back up too quickly giving you big problems! Shelina suggested I move my braking marker up to start braking earlier but less hard and continue braking into the corner (and easing off on approach to the apex).
“‘Trail braking’ into the corner also helps to improve the steering geometry and helps the bike make a tighter radius in the corner, reducing the need for extreme lean angles and the commonly seen ‘flick’ which can often go so wrong. I managed a time of 2:41.146 on the third session of the night which was my best time over the three days. I have to say a massive thank you to Shelina for improving me so much in just one night, the confidence and advice she gave me was invaluable.
“Day three was a daytime session at the track – with temperatures set for around 34 degrees it was going to be a little more challenging than the average track day in England!
“For several sessions I went out by myself and, although I wasn’t quite able to hook up as good a lap as I had done the day before, it was important that I figured out some things for myself and it made me realise what I still needed to work on. I was lucky enough to be able to go out for a session under the supervision of Simon Crafar. His ability to go round corners with one hand in the air to show me where I could get on the power earlier was astounding – however I’m going to carry on mastering corners with both hands on the bars for a little while longer!
“I think the biggest surprise of the week was the rain that started falling as the last session was about to begin (well, it was nowhere close to what we are used to in England, but for being in the middle of the desert it was a little unexpected) soon accompanied by fork lightning. When the rain falls, it makes the surface incredibly slippery due to the small grains of sand that are on the circuit. During the three days, I had already had over four and a half hours on track, so the fact I missed out on the last 20 minutes was not a problem. We then went back to the hotel to get ready for the farewell party – a Dhow River cruise around the Arabian Gulf and a chance to see the awesome city skyline at night.
“I had such an incredible week out in Qatar and it was an experience I will never forget. I would like to thank the FIM Women in Motorcycling Commission and all the team at Bike Promotion for organising and executing a fantastic event, the mechanics for working so hard to maintain the bikes, and the instructors for being so enthusiastic. Last but not least, the QMMF and Nasser Khalifa al Attiya for supporting the event.”