One of the hardest, trickiest and balls-out tracks on the Bennetts British Superbike calendar is Oulton Park, it has everything to test the best the UK has to offer, so we wanted to find out exactly how to ride the Cheshire roller-coaster.
Who better for BikeSocial to ask and spend 20 minutes with to find the tricks of the trade than Smiths Racing BMW’s James Ellison, the man with the most experience on this year’s BSB grid.
Oulton has a special place in the heart of the former MotoGP man, it’s his local track which holds emotional memories of his late father, exciting victories and scary high speeds ‘offs’, so let’s go for a lap of the track with ‘Jamez.’
Home straight to turn one (Old Hall)
“I’m in fifth gear across the line, it feels fast because you’re going past the pit-wall, it feels like you’re going down a tunnel. You’re touching about 140 to 150 miles per hour with your foot over the rear brake because the thing is trying to wheelie.
“With Oulton Park it has a lot of character, you have plenty of bumps, undulations and tarmac changes, so you stay to the left for turn one because there is a big patch of tarmac that has a lot less bumps on it.
“So, you’ll see everyone on the left hand side to get their braking marker, because if you’re too far to the right, the bumps kick the rear wheel off the ground. I go down two gears then I throw her right for Old Hall.”
Old Hall to Cascades
“I then come out of there and go third to fourth down the straight, and then going through Cascades feels really fast, because you can’t see the exit point, all you can see is the entrance, it looks like it goes off the edge of a cliff.
“So, the fixation point is the apex, that’s your target and as you throw the bike on its side it hits the limiter because you’re on the side of the tyre.
“But then it’s so difficult to get the bike to turn left, you’re going downhill, all the weights on the front end of the bike. You hit the brakes, go down two gears then go over a bump so the rear wheel is in the air, and you’re trying to turn left at the same time. That’s where the bike gets really heavy.
“As I change direction, I go down to second in the gearbox because you just need everything to stop, you need the engine braking to get the bike to turn. I then accelerate down the straight.”
Cascades to Island Bend
“Now you have a series of three little mounds down the straight towards to Island Bend, so the bike is constantly wanting to wheelie. After the left at Cascades you’ll go second, third, fourth and all you’re trying to do is keep the front wheel down before you hit the braking marker at Island Bend.
“So, my marker is literally the last bump, as soon as I go over it I hit the brakes. I don’t change gear, so I stay in fourth, keep a nice, tight line because what you need to do is not drift too far wide, if you drift wide you have no grip.
Island Bend to Shell Oils Hairpin
“After Island I need to pick the bike up, get it on the fat part of the tyre and give her a big fist full of gas. You then need to hit the brakes hard because the bike really doesn’t want to stop, you’re going into it at some speed, well over 100 miles an hour I’d say.
“Luckily the hairpin is banked so you can carry plenty of speed in to there and still get the bike stopped. You go down two gears for that, back to second. There a few different lines, a few people rail the inside of it and use the banking. Some riders like myself and Shakey run it in a lot faster, use the uphill to help you stop, get the bike turned, and then slingshot on the way out, and again use the banking on the exit.
“In a fashion I make a ‘V’ to it rather than a curve, which gives me the acceleration on the way out.”
Shell Oils Hairpin to Hizzy’s Chicane
“I come out of the hairpin in second gear and you exit with some speed that you go through the gears quite quick, and short-shift up to fourth gear for the next right kink. I keep the bike absolutely pinned through the right-hander, and as soon as I clip the apex that’s when I start to squeeze the brake, just a gentle tap at first because you’re banked over.
“As I start to pick the bike up then I hit the brakes harder for the slowest chicane on the planet, which you go down two gears to second for Britten’s. It’s a sharp flick, clip the curb on the left and turn it to the right but as soon as I’ve done that, I hit the throttle and accelerate over the curb, which then puts you on the perfect line over the hill.
“Second, third, fourth whilst stamping on the rear brake because the bike just wants to wheelie and I’m leaning over the front of the screen. So, I’m in fourth as I come to my braking point, which is the 200-yard board. It’s one of the fastest parts of the course, and it’s downhill in to Hizzy’s Chicane.
“I’m in second gear for it, it’s really difficult to get it to stop because you’re going downhill so all the weights on the rear. This is the place to get your engine braking set-up right otherwise you won’t be able stop, it has to be bang on. The entrance is so narrow, that’s why you see so many people cut through the run-off. It’s difficult to pass there as well, you have to get alongside someone and almost bully them in to not turning in.
“Again, it’s a physical one, you’re in second gear as you flick right, then a short burst on the throttle as you change it to the left, nice and tight. I keep it in second, some change up to third, but I stay in second and leave the throttle open a tiny bit because it makes the bike lighter and turns better and stops it throwing weight on to the front.
“I only have about 10% throttle on in the middle of the corner then I flick right and then have the long drag up the hill. So, it’s really important to get your speed up on the exit of the right hander because if you come out there spinning or slightly off line it’s just a long drag, and you’ll lose heaps of time from it.”
Knickerbrook to Druids
“Knickerbrook is so important, you’ll see a lot of crashes because of people are trying to get on the throttle as fast as possible to get up the hill. So, you’ll go second, third, and bang up two gears in the slight change of direction. You can either do two things, keep wide open on the gas and use the rear brake, or have a little roll of the throttle at the top of the crest otherwise you’ll end up backflipping.
“You then run it right out to the grass to open up the next left hander before you head to Druids. You throw it in to there, I go back two gears for Druids. You don’t have much room for error here, the bike is a little bit twitchy and you get the feeling you are going a lot faster than you most probably are just because of the trees, everything starts to close in.
“It’s a real thrill, it’s a lovely part of the circuit and I use Druids as a double apex, I clip the first one, run slightly out and come back for the second one to try and get the bike stood up because you have as what I can describe as a little jump, a little hump. Then again you’re on the rear brake, your head is over the screen to keep the front wheel down. Most people end up on the curb because there isn’t much run off.”
Druids to Lodge Corner
“So then once the front wheel comes down you get back on the gas, and I go third gear, fourth gear and as you’re going down the straight there are two rises, it’s a really nice feeling, like a roller-coaster. You go over the first one, as soon the front wheel hits the floor that’s when you hit your braking marker to get it stopped for the final corner.
“That’s what I mean by the track has character, you aren’t looking for boards or trees it’s all about how the circuit feels underneath you, it’s a very technical track.
“The races can be won or lost at Lodge, it’s the best place to pass around the track, and if somebody is behind you, you just know they’re going to stuff you up. Because it’s wide on the exit most get away with going in a little bit deep and then sitting the other riders up, it’s not that dangerous, you’ll see a lot of that.”
Lodge corner to Finish line
“So, once you’re out of there in second gear, you have to be really gentle in picking the bike up because you’re going downhill at the same time. As soon as I change direction, I start to bang it up through the gearbox, second, third, fourth. A lot of people might get to fifth before the crest of Dear’s Leap, and that’s it, that’s how I take Oulton Park.”
And there we have it, a lap of Oulton Park with Bennetts BSB race winner James Ellison, everything you need to know about the 2.6-mile circuit before the series heads there this Bank Holiday Weekend.
“It’s the best place to win,” added Ellison. “Because it’s so physical and so hard, when you get to the end of it you think ‘thank god for that.’ I always have lots of family there, which I will have this weekend, so hopefully the bikes behaves itself.”