How to Lower Lap Times While Reducing Risk

Two tips that will make you quicker and safer on the track.

Go Faster Safer illustration

Risk tolerance, aversion to pain, and monetary budgets. These are probably three of the biggest reasons you don't go faster around a track and why you don't just run it in there, throw it on its side, and grab a handful. Too risky, yet you want to go quicker. Let's discuss two proven techniques to lowering your lap times while actually reducing risk.

1) Where are you coasting?

Where have you closed the throttle and not used the brakes or let go of the brakes and not picked up the throttle? You should be able to answer those two questions right now about the tracks you ride. Think of coasting as inefficient, and increasing efficiency almost always leads to better performance.

If you close the throttle and don’t need the brakes yet make the corner just fine, think about carrying the throttle longer, and when you close it, squeeze on the brakes. Longer throttle and more throttle, offset by more braking. Think of the corners you are entering sans brakes, closing the throttle early and letting the compression braking slow you down. Extremely inefficient and not adjustable.

Two years ago my instructor Ken Hill and I worked with an insanely fast rider on a Triumph Daytona 675 racebike at Carolina Motorsports Park. He was entering the right-hander before the downhill back straight without brakes. We got him to accelerate longer into the corner and squeeze on a little brake; he was able to drop seven-tenths of a second on a track he had ridden for years. That is a massive improvement for a guy that quick.

You’ve let go of the brakes but aren’t at a point in the corner to pick up the throttle? You’re probably thinking you need to brake later. That’s possible, but how about this: You need to brake lighter, longer. Pull the brakes on at your desired point (where you get scared), but don’t squeeze them so hard. Your speed will stay higher for longer, but you will be “in control” of your speed and the bike’s geometry (due to fork dive). As you work within this proven technique, you will be using the brakes longer, reducing your coasting time, increasing efficiency, and improving lap times. Your tire loading will be more consistent, and your risk will diminish.

“Keep this simple equation in mind: RADIUS EQUALS SPEED. That will get you thinking about lines, opening up entrances, maximizing exits, and getting right up against the apex curbing.

2) Where do you have track left over?

That means early (tight) entrances, missed apexes, low (tight) exits. Think this is a nonissue? My instructors at the Yamaha Champions Riding School (ridelikeachampion.com) estimate that eight out of 10 trackday riders do not use the track correctly and are off line at some point during each lap. Keep this simple equation in mind: Radius equals speed. That will get you thinking about lines, opening up entrances, maximizing exits, and getting right up against the apex curbing. Watch MotoGP, WSBK, or AMA Superbike, and apply what you see and learn to your local track.

Let’s change that equation: Radius equals safety. The more radius you can run, the less lean angle you need, and then you can use more throttle and brakes, taking into account that a tire only has 100 percent (100 points) of grip available. Points of grip is what this sport is about, and your “bad” lines are eating up your 100 points, yet you are not setting record times. A low (tight) entry forces you to add lean angle quicker, and that means you must trail off braking points quicker. Open up this entrance and you can turn in more gradually and use more brake points longer. Tight-entry lines force the rider to do one of two things: lean over farther or slow down. That means more risk and a worse lap time. We want to be faster and safer, not slower and riskier.

A low (tight) exit eats up lean angle points, and that means fewer acceleration points are available. You will spin the rear tire (and eventually highside) sooner than the rider who maximizes the exit. You need to get your eyes up off the apex sooner and stand the bike up earlier—as you take away lean angle points, you get to add throttle points. You will be faster and safer.

Missing apexes puts you on a narrower track than those who nail theirs, and that means you have to run more lean angle for a given lap time. Riders hitting apexes are running quicker lap times with less risk.

Start thinking about your next trackday now. Get out your notebook and draw the corners; make notes regarding these two proven techniques to lowering your lap time. Get efficient in your control and track use to become faster and safer. Read more of my tips at fastersafer.com.