It's nearly time for the 2017 trackday season, but that doesn't mean we can't play a little blog catch-up on 2016. It's been a busy year with biking with lots of variety but it's been dominated by track day fun.
We went to Cartagena, Spain for the first time with no limits. Arriving on a later flight than most, we picked up the standard micro sized hire car and flogged it down the Spanish motorway to Cartagena.
We arrived at the Hotel NH Campo Cartagena at about 6pm to find that many were already there and things were already in full swing at the bar - partly due to the fact that the weather forecast was looking like heavy rain for the next few days. A few were getting into it, having pretty much written off the next day on track and no doubt there were some sore heads the next morning.
Next morning, we arrived at the Circuito Cartagena track in a convoy of hire cars, nice and early to get the bikes off the stills and grab a garage.
The weather, although breezy and quite chilly, was a lot better that expected. Most importantly it was dry, so everything got off to an on-time start. Of course, once the initial track day rush to get sorted in the garage was done.
We got out on track and at this point things started getting interesting for the now infamous garage number nine.
First session, no problem - sighting laps and a slow session, everyone excited, everyone figuring out their way.
2nd Session: Our first crash - with Louis overshooting the straight on an overtake. The good news...the bike's not too banged up...the bad news...a trip to hospital and broken collarbone for Louis. He's out of action for the rest of the four days - we all feel bad for him, he's in a bit of pain, so probably feeling a lot worse about it than we are.
After lunch, Nimi's exhaust comes off its hanger mid session and she comes off the track but stays on the bike. It had been worked loose somehow in transit and there had been some confusion about who was to tighten it up in the morning rush, resulting in it not being done. It not only falls off, but she rides over it.
A trip to the garage guys, a trip to try and find a welder, and nothing can be done. She goes out on track without it, but it's crazy loud. Eventually a hammer from our toolbox and a padlock stand-come-anvil and we managed to batter the exhaust back into shape, seal it to the down-pipe and lock wire it to the bike.
Again the weather is not as bad as forecast, just cold. The action starts fairly early in the day with a low-side crash from Mark that scuffs up his nice newly fitted fairing (typical). He's completely unscathed and other than the scuffs, so is the bike.
Next is Tom's turn to throw his bike down the road - like Mark, he's fine, but this time the bike's in worse shape with a few bits hanging off, broken fairings, levers and what look like bent forks. We think it's all over for him, but some of the experienced guys in the garage take a look - the forks are just twisted in the yokes. A good clean down, emptying the fairing and frame of pebbles and a few hours later he's good to go.
It's not over yet. Mark seeks to outdo Tom with a low speed spill, but he lands badly and has to be cut out of his leathers and ambulanced to hospital.
Track action is suspended for an early lunch as our garage, the now infamous garage number nine has caused both the doctors to be away from the track.
We gather round over lunch in the Cartagena Track Cafe and have the "please can everyone calm down and stop crashing" conversation.
The promised wet weather arrived last night and the track is soaked when we get to the track early for our daily breakfast at the cafe. It's not raining and we suspect that it will dry by midday. The great thing about a four day track day is that you don't need to rush or to ride every session. I don't fancy riding in the wet so sit it out and so do most of the guys except for those in the fast group who are eager beavers.
When it's time for the novice group - the track is empty so the three girls who are on road tires go out. Alisa, Nimi and Roisin have two sessions with the track entirely to themselves.
At the end of the day - Alisa and I visit Mark in hospital. It's worse than we thought: several (maybe seven) broken ribs, a broken collarbone and punctured lung. He's in a bit of state and in a lot of pain, but doing Scotts stoicism as well as he can.
Day four is glorious sunshine at last, the sunglasses and tinted visors go on. We're all in our groove now - well at least the garage 9 survivors are - I follow Joanne Wingate an endurance racer who has stepped down to the inters group to practice some alternate lines. She kindly drags me to a sub-2-minute lap which I'm extremely happy about. Beating that will be my target for 2017.
A couple of sessions later I lose the rear tyre twice within a couple of laps. As it's the last day I decide not to push my luck, so I park up the bike. Alisa's also done for the day, so I swap over to the VFR400 for half a session. It's great fun throwing that into the corners after a few days on a big bike.
With several crashes it was not quite the trip we expected, but it was great to be in a garage full of mates - good banter, mostly good weather, good riding and a well organised trip by no limits.
We'll come back to Cartagena another time, but we might give the infamous garage number nine a miss.