It is always important to be prepared before going out on the track to prevent any accidents but also to make sure you are focused on the racing and not worrying about forgetting anything.
If you have designed your own test program at the race track, it should be broken into elements that methodically take you through a precise series of tests that provide quantifiable results. It is also imperative that you run exactly the same pace/lap time throughout the testing and use the same reference points, lines and markers otherwise the discussions and decisions made to alter the chassis and suspension will be (very) misleading.
If you want to create your own test plan, here is a short segment from what I use as part of the Suspension Boot Camp Program that I run at some track day events over 4 hours, but only run in the afternoon:
Suspension Testing Checklist
1. Set sag and optimize hydraulics before track sessions begin (if needed).
2. Session 1: Split the session in half to check for stability under hard braking in the first 10 minutes and whether the bike holds its line on corner exit in the second 10 minutes. Adjust as needed based on feedback and record changes.
3. Session 2: Change fork rebound settings every lap by 2 clicks, or quarter turn from soft to hard starting softer than your recorded setting. Review what setting worked best. Record changes.
4. Session 3: Change shock rebound settings every lap by 2 clicks or quarter turn from soft to hard starting softer than your recorded setting. Review what setting worked best. Record changes.
Get your bike set up the way you want during practice runs to make sure you aren’t missing anything when it comes to race day.
Your plan is critical to ensure that you optimize the way the bike is set up for that track, that day at a given pace. This is why if you practice at race pace, your set up will be good come race day. Those riders that practice at 75% will never have a good race set up and will always complain of handling difficulties. The more you want success to come your way, the more you have to practice at 100% during every session to make sure you are as close to your fastest lap time as possible. Note that as your lap times fall, the smaller the lap time window will be where the bike will work correctly. Track day riders can have a 3-5 second window but class champions have a bike that works perfectly within a half second or less of each lap time.
Working with a Tuner
If you are working with a tuner, what are your personal goals?
Working with a tuner can be a big help but make sure you know what you are getting in to, so you can make the most of your time and information.
1. Get the bike set up for SAG and hydraulics once and ride the rest of the day to have fun. Lap times are not recorded.
2. Return several times in the morning to dial the bike to that track while riding at 90% and then ride the rest of the day making notes as needed on your track map.
3. Get the bike set up in the morning, then ride and put the track together so you can ride at a consistent lap time. Then work with the tuner in the afternoon to dial in the bike to your pace in areas of the track where the bike won’t handle correctly.
4. Get the bike set up in the morning and take notes during set up on possible inadequacies that may limit your lap times (incorrect springs, poor geometry, lack of damping etc). If there are problems, ride the rest of the day and ride around the problems aiming for a specific and realistic lap time. Fix the inadequacies as soon as possible and then revive test plan.
Sharing your information with the tuner is vital to getting things dialed in correctly. Be quick and to the point testing takes time and fixing an issue can take longer than expected.
You must be able to exchange information openly and with accuracy with your tuner. That means for the most part, yes and no answers, but there are situations with multiple camber changes in one corner where the bike will exhibit multiple suspension actions. In those situations you will need to be very precise in your explanation using brake/throttle/body position/track topology etc as part of the information you provide. You cannot spend 20 minutes with this information exchange, so pick the most glaring problem and start with that.
If you are concerned about your ability to communicate accurately, you may also follow direction from your tuner, and that means exactly that – follow direction precisely! They will want to hear from you what happens under braking or throttle openings in a certain corner or straights on the track, so relate precisely what happens to your bike back to them in concise terms. This type of mental training will create a really adept rider as they can hone in on what is required and then report back what happens articulately and accurately. In the long run this will also help you develop a vocabulary to use when giving feedback and that will ultimately lead to you developing your own test plan.
Be Realistic About Your Focus and Fatigue
Realize that the plan you have in place will also bleed into your on track focus during every session, and just as the devil is in the details in preparation, a loss of focus can produce unwanted results from a pucker moment to an off-track excursion or worse – crashing. That can be a single instance of looking back as you have no mirrors for the first time track rider to a mental lapse of concentration from one drop of sweat in your eye that causes you to miss a brake marker at race pace. It happens to all of us at some point, so we need to mitigate the risk by being honest about our energy and focus levels. Gradually pick up the pace in the first one or two sessions and ride hard for the following two or three, then back it down 10-15% if you feel the slightest bit of fatigue for the remaining sessions. We all want to go home with everything intact and a tired smile from ear to ear!
Guidence on where to improve on the track can help a rider be calm during practice and ease the mind during a race.
For me, the number one thing I require out of a rider when testing is complete calmness and that normally comes from an absolute focus by the rider knowing every lap exactly what they have to do in what corners/track segments and in them trusting their tires and chassis completely. Decreasing lap times means pushing the limit and going outside the comfort zone, so it is important that rider or rider/tuner pick sections of the track to work on or a specific skill like entry speed.
If you are willing to push the envelope you need to determine where on the track and for what skill set, and what are the goals for each session? That is why example 3 for those working with a plan is the most popular approach this quandary. It really does depend on you and your goals, and your willingness to push your own personal boundaries. Know yourself, be realistic, never lose focus, and work to your plan!