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The Road to Racetrack: How Honda’s Academy Changed the Way I Ride

Ever wondered how could you be a racer? Or how does one become one of those riders that scrape their knees at every corner?

Manav Sinha | News18.com@manav_sinha

Updated:August 8, 2017, 12:09 PM IST
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The Road to Racetrack: How Honda’s Academy Changed the Way I Ride
The Honda Riding Academy can help you improve your riding a lot more than you would expect. (Photo: Srinivasa Krishnan/Honda)
If I had to sum up what happens when you undertake Honda’s riding academy – the Honda Ten10 Racing Academy – in one picture, then it would have to be the one you see on top. Note any difference?

The left half of the image was clicked when I had a chance to ride Honda’s race-spec CBR 150R at Coimbatore’s Kari Motor Speedway racetrack in early June 2017. The one on the right, we'll just get to. It was not a very long session though, as all I could clock was about 5 laps of the 2.1-kilometre race track.

But what that experience showed me was that the world of track riding is a completely different ballgame and go way beyond the cubic capacity (cc) of an engine and their power or torque outputs. There are so many more dimensions to it like the racing line the rider takes, the point of braking before the corner, the riding position, and the list goes on. It’s not as if I wasn’t aware of these points as I knew most of them, theoretically at least, but nothing can prepare you for the practical application of these practices in the first go.

And that is where Honda Riding Academy comes in.

The venue was the FIA Grade 2 certified, 3.71 kilometres long Madras Motor Race Track, or, MMRT in short. It consists of 12 turns in total and three straights, with the longest one being 250 metres in length.

Honda-Race-ManavWe got a chance to attend the Honda Riding Academy at MMRT racetrack. (Photo: Srinivasa Krishnan/Honda

There are two parts as to how the Academy teaches you to ride – in the classroom and on the track. The best part about all of it is that both of these are mixed together. You start within the classroom where you are taught the necessities of racing – like the rules, regulations and flags. Followed by the basics one has to follow while riding on the track. Then, the applicants are sent out on the track on motorcycles to apply all these points and after a while, the session ends and the riders come back to pits and then the classroom where the next set of learnings are taught. This goes on one after the other and as a result, the riders get a break between riding sessions and can apply their learnings right away.

What differentiates this academy from other academies, though, is the level of personalisation that is offered. Since the number of seats for the academy is limited, every rider gets ample attention from the coach and individual tips on how to better their riding style. This, interestingly, is not limited to the walls of the classroom.

Honda-Race-TeachingA participant being taught on how to improve their body posture during cornering. (Photo: Srinivasa Krishnan/Honda)

The best moment during the academy, and what made it so brilliant, was when professional Honda racers like S. Sarath Kumar and Vinoth Kannan joined us on the racetrack to help us out while we were on the motorcycles. For me, I was a bit intimidated of running close to the kerb stones as I was concerned over losing traction at the rear tyre while being over it. This was spotted by Vinoth following which he joined the session and started riding in front of me and signalled me to follow his bike. Slowly, I started riding closer and closer to the kerb stone and eventually over it too, and realised that it’s not as scary as I thought it to be. This induced a lot of confidence and, in turn, improved my racing line and lap times too.

Once back in the pits, we could interact with these riders and our coach Ramji Govindarajan and start the process of heading back to the track and implementing the changes all over again.

During the learning session, our bikes didn’t have transponders on them which actually measure lap times. But I believe my first few laps were going way over 3 minutes and 20 seconds mark. To put it in perspective, novice category Honda racers consider a lap time of 2:16-2:17 a decent time.

The next day was when the race weekend began. It started with the practice session and this time, our bikes had transponders on them. I rode as fast as I could and the quickest lap time I could clock was 2:28.312. This was the third fastest lap time among the lot and it was way quicker than I could have ever anticipated. The next day was the qualifier to the upcoming media race organised by Honda which had automotive journalists from different publications racing against each other. During the qualifier, I clocked my best lap time of 2:27.6 – which gave me a start position of fifth on the grid.

Honda-Racing-Manav-3The Honda Riding Academy resulted in way faster lap times than one would imagine. (Photo: Parakram Hazarika/Honda)

Now, it was race time. Time to apply everything one has learned and put it to test, push ourselves and the motorcycle as hard as we can and do our best. Making things interesting were the number of race laps, which were just four. This meant the riders have to give it their best the moment the race starts and there’s no time to make mistakes, let alone recovering from them. At that moment when you are on the grid, waiting for the start lights to go off, then there are no publications, city of origins or anything under the sun that defines you – it is just the rider and the motorcycle. Yes, that’s a cliché but it is an experience that can only be felt and does it feel good.

The race began and I managed a good start which gave me the jump to the third position by the first turn. Then it was a battle for the third spot for me as the first two riders were way quick and were gathering bigger and bigger lead after every lap.

In between the race, at corner one, which is a long right hander and can be taken at a very high speed, I realised just how much improvement I had achieved. The reason was simple, I was carrying way more speed than what I was doing in the first few laps I had taken at the track. The speedometers on race bikes are set to zero so I can’t tell you how fast it was exactly, but it is the mere sensation of speed, the feedback from the motorcycle and everything in peripheral vision going just so fast that gives you the feeling of improvement.

At the end of the race, I secured the fourth position with my fastest lap time being 2:25.1. A full one minute faster than what I believe I was doing on the first day of the track and it was only the third day!

Honda-Race-ResultsThe result of the race. (Photo: Srinivasa Krishnan/Honda)

And that is the whole idea of undertaking a racing academy, isn’t it? You learn how to ride fast and more importantly, learn how to ride safely while being more confident than the last lap. Speed is just a by-product.

Honda-Race-Manav-2The Honda Riding Academy helps in riding a lot more confidently at a race track. (Photo: Srinivasa Krishnan/Honda)

And when you leave the track and look back at the memories, you realise that suddenly you have gone from the rider in the left half of the top most image – to the one on the right.

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