A very wet, cold, nonetheless glorious season start
It's the 4th of April, a Thursday like many others for most people but not for Design Corse.. This is our official start of the riding season and we have only one objective: having fun!
We will take you through our day while trying to explain (as much as words allow us) the feelings we were going through as well as pretty much everything that was done behind the scenes to prepare ourselves and the bike for this day.
First of all, let's introduce our weapon of choice shall we?
Ladies and gents here's our MV Agusta F3 800 MY2015, with brand new Pirelli Diablo Rosso Corsa II:
Now you'll say: that's no news, we've seen it before! Well, yes you did, but look at it closer and you'll start noticing just how much has been added to it since you last saw it. Let's list these changes as they are mostly oriented to help us and protect us on the track, well of course they also do look pretty cool, we're Design Corse after all ;)
That's a pretty list, not too extreme but also not too shabby! We had all we could ask for in terms of protection and riding comfort (those grippy footpegs are a godsend even when simply mounted of the OEM rearsets), giving us a chance to ride the bike with a more relaxed approach to the "DO NOT FALL" imperative, focusing more instead on everything else such as technique, the track itself, other riders and general enjoyment of the bike's sound and feel.
A PROMISING START?
The alarms are set to 6:30, breakfast roll and a drink is included at the track's bar with the access so no need to take care of that somewhere else, plus the bar offers food and drinks throughout the day to keep energy levels high.
Arriving at the track we were greeted with a pretty sunrise, giving a hint of pink to the already massive sheet of clouds covering the area and therefore a bit of hope for decent weather during the day. As the temperature was just 1°C and the forecast showing a 70% to 100% chance of rain from midday onward, unfortunately, hope is all that was...
THE INFAMOUS NOISE TEST & FUN SAFETY BRIEFING
The track opens at 7:00 and the main obligatory briefing takes place at 8:15, this gave us enough time to have a quick chat with the other riders and making sure the bike was fuelled up and ready to go, one of the crucial points now is to make sure the bike would be under the 105db static noise limit, we warmed up the bike for a good 5 minutes until it reached 4/8 bars of engine temp and then went to the sound check marshal. A very stressful bit as our QD with all the baffles on measured 104 at our office, we hoped our £15 noise measuring tool worked alright. We point out our bike is a 3 cylinder and the marshal asks for a 5.5k rev for a few seconds, quick tap on the shoulder and a thumbs up from the marshal relieves our stress, 104db it was! Just enough to get it done. Now back to our paddock to apply our white number 520 to the headlight of the F3.
As this was the first time on a track for our rider we were placed in the novice (white) group to start with, with the possibility of being moved later on. The safety briefing was fun and it was where we could appreciate just how popular Silverstone circuit is, easily over 200 people were squeezed in paddock 3C to listen to the the wise words of the organisers during this cold and wet Thursday morning. We were given our briefing stickers and sent back to our own paddocks where we would wait about an hour before being allowed on the track, that's after the red (fast) and blue (Intermediate) groups. This is when our heads would be glued to the pits straight fence to hear and see the others fly towards corpse corner, hoping for some pops and bangs from the downshifts (they were there).
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
It's now 9:30 and only 20 minutes are left before the white group would be allowed on the track, the first sessions of the red and blue groups seemed to have removed some of the damp from pit straight, rain hasn't showed up yet but the temperature was still sitting between 2°C and 3°C, since we're mounting the Rosso Corsa II we weren't too worried about not having wet tires but the conditions were definitely far from ideal and we were told the back of the track was pretty much wet still. We dropped the pressure to 3.1 psi in front and 2.8 in the rear and made our peace with the fact that we were going to have to be extra careful.
9:40, the speaker announces the 10 minutes left to our session, everyone falls back from the pit fence and quietly, ecstatically goes to turn on their bikes to warm up a few minutes before the start.
It's a weird feeling, sitting on the saddle of your bike in such an environment knowing you're going to experience something different than what you've always had on the road. Perhaps excitement, doubt, nervousness and curiosity.
9:50, on the pit lane, waiting to be given the ok to proceed.
Green lights, thumbs up, off we go, 2 pace laps behind the instructor at a pretty slow speed, about 50-70mph just to get to see the track, try the brakes, go through a few gears. Nothing too exciting here, we were all just waiting to be pulled in the pits and then let out again for the real deal.
9:55, LET'S PLAY
This is it, it's the moment we were waiting for, after being pulled in the pits we just have to wait for the green light and at this point our only limit would be ourselves.
Going out the pits is different this time, the first laps are careful, the focus is on the tires and on getting heat into them by accelerating and braking hard while also being mindful of others on the track and of the track itself which was a terrible mix of damp, humid, dry but very cold sections, often giving signs of grip only to let you down a coupe of meters ahead.
After a few laps heat is in the tires and we start pushing a bit, trying to make full use of the tires and also putting some effort in technique and braking. We had a chance to have clear track ahead a few times which did for some great corner exit fun, according to our rider the most fun was when passing a Ducati Panigale V4 on the outside, purely because this caused him to literally go on and over the outside curb of the Woodcote corner, a wet, cold curb, at over 100mph, it was an Italian standoff!!
Session one quickly ends due to the first 2 pace laps eating a bit of time (like almost 10 minutes) we're pulled in and everyone so far is very happy about the track not being an absolute puddle, giving some opportunity to use our bikes like we never do on the road.
As we get in the paddock 2 instructors approach us, the fear of having broken the 102db limit on drive by was high, but luckily they were just coming to inform us that we needed to move to the blue (intermediate) group, our pace was considerably quicker than the white (novice) group and so it was a necessary change to make to keep the groups even.
Quick visit to the race control office, new number given and back to the paddock, apply the new stickers and we were ready to join the next intermediate group, we would complete the session in the white group however due to time constraints.
HERE COMES THE RAIN
10:50, second session in the novice group. This was great fun for the half of it, the track dried a bit more (not completely) as no rain has yet hit the track, it still is a chilly 4°C but hey, better than before! The pace difference was pretty noticeable but all riders acted pretty well and getting through the track was pretty effortless even though the occasional turn being slowed down.
Sadly though... As we got to the 10 minutes mark... the skies turned very dark and the first drops fell. During this session unfortunately we started seeing the first crashes and red flags, there were about 5 slides / crushes between the second novice session all the way till lunch.
All these flags definitely worked as a strong warning that the track was changing and not for the best, as soon as the rain came parts of the circuits quickly turned to puddles, we would say that the worst amount and danger in general once water is there is found at the last 2 Maggots, the Vale braking zone and the Brooklands braking zone. Incidentally, this is also where most of the slides happened.
We used the rest of this session to understand the behaviour of the bike in the wet, the Diablo Rosso Corsa II were actually doing a great job at staying relatively warm, one of the biggest assets at this point became the front steering damper from Moto Corse, it really helped on those very squidgy corner exits and helped preventing panic on the curbs (which you shouldn't aim to be on in the wet, ideally)
11:30, start of the third intermediate session, it's time to see how we do in the new group, although once the rain has started we could tell that this is not the group we saw in the first sessions, already a third of the riders have given up hope and started packing up.
This session is where we seriously got a taste of what riding in the rain can be like, between the roaring three cylinder, the rain piercing the leathers while as fast as 140mph and the menacing dark clouds above the Hangar straight, this was an experience that would forever stay in our rider's memory!
Here's a snippet of what the visibility is like from our action cam on the tank, the moment you go reach for the brake:
It's a pretty special feeling, you're no MotoGP rider but the amount of adrenaline that you get is still very considerable: your brain switches to a sort of survival mode but at the same time the excitement is incredibly high, you allow fear but you control it, you're focused yet excruciatingly aware of your limits, you tell your brain it's ok to chase faster turns, later braking, higher speeds but you're not really 100% sure about it. A very fine mix of emotions and a taste of what professional riders constantly go through, an experience that will forever accompany any rider's mind.
Checkered flag, third session over, we can breathe again. Pulling into the pit-lane and into the paddock is a relief as a 20 minutes session with these conditions is definitely more demanding, mostly mentally. It's time for some food, chatting with other riders, taking some pics and restore the energies.
AFTERNOON SESSIONS - DANCING IN THE RAIN
Once the lunch break was over the afternoon sessions started. Now we would love to share with you some awesome pics of the F3 at extreme angles but the rain never ceased and in fact got worse as the afternoon went on, the track turned into a pretty much rain-tire only sort of landmine, but we wouldn't let this stop us from lapping Silverstone and continued with our F3 / Corsa II's, although at definitely limited capability.
The 3 sessions actually felt pretty awesome in general, the conditions were extreme with the constant showers, the occasional ray of light coming through the clouds making the dark sections of the sky stand out even more,the temperature never rising above 6°C and why not let's mention the occasional strong wind which was particularly noticeable on the straights.
At this point we really need to give a special mention to CNC Racing's grippy footpegs, these really helped so much with the stability of our rider on the F3, the OEM footpegs of this bike are seriously slippery specially on the edge where you would place the ball of your foot. The last thing you would want while testing and pushing lower leaning angles is your external foot to slip, shifting weight and destabilising the whole bike, that's asking for trouble! CNC Racing did an excellent job with these pegs which offered amazing grip to our boots even in the most demanding conditions.
As the laps and the sessions went on more and more riders dropped off, by the last session even the marshals were sheltering in their vans, giving us the ok to get on track with a thumbs up following the green pit lights, we thought that was pretty cool and easy-going of them! The last intermediate group session only had about 5 riders on track, who basically rarely encountered one another due to the track being so vast. This really offered some time to our rider to focus on his own rider even more, connecting with the F3 like he's never done before, now getting comfortable pushing the grip of the rear tire via both engine braking in the entrances and via throttle in the exits, the front was stressed too far only once, under heavy braking at the entrance of the Brooklands, it didn't slip enough to make him fall but surely enough to humble him down when it comes to the front brake.
END OF THE DAY & CONCLUSIONS
It's now 16:35 and the last checkered flag has been raised for the intermediate group. Time to pull in for good... At this point our leathers were completely soaked and our hands so cold that we only had one thing in our mind, getting home, quickly!
While preparing to leave we had some time to salute the other riders and collect our photos from the Picman (official Silverstone photographer). While looking for the photographer we also found out that the offical Yamaha garage which was renting bikes out through the day has a pretty large heater in their paddock, we would have loved to know this earlier but hey, we had good use of it before the journey back!
Overall we are incredibly satisfied with the experience and all the negativity which has built up during the previous days due to the forecast has pretty much been converted into a state of euphoria due to the awesome fun that riding in these conditions has been in the very special circuit of Silverstone. This track is really something quite unique perhaps even due to its sheer scale alone, it offers some of the quickest bends, straights and overall paces you could find in any circuit around the world.
The MV Agusta F3 has been an absolute beast and it has pretty much handled anything Silverstone had to trow at it between the high speeds, the bumps on the maggots, curbs on the straights, the heavy rain and specially the rather quick change of direction needed at the Club, Arena and Luffield turns.
The aftermarket parts we have mounted on the bike definitely played a big part in making the F3 the weapon it was, the biggest credit must go to the Moto Corse Steering Damper Kit, the bracket made by Moto Corse offers a solid direct mount between the bike's top yoke and trellis frame through the Ohlins damper, you will really feel the help from this part in the most important and demanding moments of your riding, stabilising the front end regardless of the conditions and giving you that much extra confidence on curbs, fast corner exits and during trail braking.
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