Date reviewed: May 2023 | Tested by: Michael Mann | Price: £1800 | DRE Website
It’s not often you get to ride on the same circuit at the same time as those who are among the quickest to have ever lapped it. I’m talking about the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit and the likes of MotoGP and World Superbike stars Michele Pirro, Chaz Davies and Karel Abraham.
Yet today that became a reality because Ducati brought its Racetrack Academy (part of the Bologna firms’ menu of riding experience opportunities) over to the UK for the first time. And for the handsome sum of £1800 per person, a maximum of 60 riders got to ride Ducati’s 2023 Panigale V4 around the hallowed ground as racing superstars from past and present helped. With guidance before, during and after each session available to all as groups of five were assigned either a racing pro or one of Silverstone’s own band of ex-racing instructors.
It has to be noted that £1800 includes two nights B&B accommodation at the Silverstone Hilton, plus bike hire inc. fuel and tyres, as well as on-and-off track instruction for the day.
After arrival, a dozen riders are invited into a minibus and offered a lap of the GP circuit with a MotoGP instructor, stopping a three of the trickier sections of the track so he can explain the right lines.
And because we here at BikeSocial like looking after our members, we invited a competition winner to join us for the day, and it was all captured on camera.
Designed to offer the ultimate in track tutorials, the mixture of on-and-off circuit has a luxuriousness to it, from the moment you stroll towards the pit garages to be met by Ducati UK’s CEO, Fabrizio Cazzoli, and his management team, to the cleanliness and professionalism of the whole operation. Of course, the experience doesn’t start in the pit garage, oh no, that happens the afternoon before when arriving at the exclusive check-in desk at Silverstone’s Hilton hotel which has balcony’s overlooking the start/finish straight and is joined to The Wing by a glass tunnel above the start-line. This is premium.
The course itself begins early, like a normal track day. You’re invited to be ready for coffee and an introduction to the day while perched on stools surrounding the stage and display screen – again, this is no ordinary track day where the organiser bellows instructions from afar while riders chunter among themselves. Ducati’s operation is slick – Dario Marchetti, DRE Technical Director takes the microphone and introduces the star instructors as well as the concept of the day via PowerPoint. He mentioned the importance of using the rear brake, as well as the neutral phase of cornering, which were to be emphasised by our instructor during the day.
“We only use the top levels tracks like Silverstone, Mugello, Missano and Sepang. Customers come and they are welcomed like a factory rider,” Dario tells me.
What dawned on me at this point was this was no ordinary track experience format. We were to be divided into groups of five based on similar levels of track experience and we’d stay with one instructor all day. There’d be four 20-minute track sessions with a pre-session briefing and a post-session debrief. And we’d stay in line on track, like ducklings following mother, until it was our turn to follow the instructor for a lap, then we’d drop to the back of the line. Three groups of five would be on track at any one time, and overall there were 12 groups.
In advance of the event, we’d completed a form with information about our track experience, what we’d ridden and where, plus an idea of what we’d like to get out of the day, so each group was theoretically made up of riders with similar levels of ability. I was a little despondent at this point thinking beforehand that I’d have just 17 others including instructors on the whole 3.66-mile GP circuit to play on armed with a Ducati Panigale V4.
If you’re thinking about signing up for the next one then do take this into account because if you’re in a group with slower riders then you will spend several laps dawdling around, though the opportunity does allow you to become more familiar with the circuit, it’s apexes, and even the bike’s controls. When it comes to your turn behind (or sometimes in front, when he has his camera on) mother duck then this is the chance to shine.
Each session looks at elements of track riding from body position and gear selection to lines and apexes, and Rupert May, our highly experienced Silverstone-based instructor, was a God-send.
The racetrack academy sounds like it should be for experienced riders, club racers or advanced group track dayers only, and all sets of motorcyclists would gain plenty if paired with one of the superstar GP riders, but do bear in mind their Silverstone experiences might be limited to one race per year whereas the Silverstone coaches don’t have the kudos of a Pirro or a Davies but they know the circuit like the back of their hand.
Even so, track beginners or those with no circuit experience will hoover up the information overload and will improve their understanding of the bike and the circuit with an overall massive improvement in lap times. It’s a guarantee such is the depth and breadth of information on offer. Those with some track days under their belt will be much the same. The teaching style and course format is certainly more formulaic than a standard track day, and those with experience will always recommend spending money on one-to-one tutoring for track day goers over tyre warmers and gazebos.
From a commercial perspective, Ducati are clearly wanting to make a buck but also introduce non-Panigale owners to their highest performance sportsbike, though it’s ‘just’ the V4 and not the S, SP, SP2, or R.
Every lap of a circuit be it Mallory Park or the TT course is like a very complex jigsaw. If all the pieces fit then it looks great, and there are many, many pieces to get right:
And we worked on several of these during the on-track and classroom sessions, with some relatively simple techniques being explained carefully using a white board or video evidence ensuring they become embedded next time I was on circuit. One particular gem was to imagine your eye is in your belly button when approaching a corner such as the tight first-gear right hander of The Loop which leads into Village. Get into position early and allow your torso to follow your head by looking through the corner.
Lower gears and higher revs as well as making the corners shorter by creating straight lines through sections like Maggotts/Becketts as well as Vale/Club were also on the agenda but I won’t spoil the plot too much here!
Despite my experience with 4-5 track days per year for the last decade plus (on average) a couple of circuit-based press launches, I still found plenty of areas to improve, and only when you hear directly from the professional who’s been leading or chasing you, do you start to pick up on the tips and tricks specific to your riding.
Road riding traits and habits are easy to spot on track for the instructors but converting the lessons learned on circuit back to the streets are more obvious than you’d first think. While we know to look as far ahead as possible, is it natural? Do we do it as regimentally or as benefittingly as we should? And how often do we get to explore how a bike reacts at full throttle or under hard braking. The opportunities to improve your road riding when having a blast on track are plentiful, and in this case the lessons taught by Rupert about making your gear selections work better for you, looking through corners, and even the cornering process itself can all make you more of an accomplished rider on the road.
Ahead of the event, BikeSocial members had been invited to enter a competition to win a place at the Ducati DRE Racetrack Academy, worth £1800, and I’d been chaperoning and riding with our winner, Gary Neil, himself a Panigale V4S owner, and occasional frequenter of the BikeSocial track days:
Ducati is a premium brand and you’d expect nothing less than to be treated like racing royalty at the Racetrack Academy, especially having forked out £1800, but thankfully the experience justifies the price tag. The operation is super slick, the instructors look splendid in their matching branded Dainese leathers, the bikes are pristinely prepared and the entire day becomes memorable for all the right reasons. There was never a chance Ducati were going to book Seven Sisters or Darley Moor for such an occasion.
It’s pricey and it’s not like your average track day where you can go hell-for-leather for 6 sessions, but rest assured you’ll learn so much more doing the DRE RtA.
Keep an eye out in case we run a similar competition in 2024!
If you’d like to chat about this article or anything else biking related, join us and thousands of other riders at the Bennetts BikeSocial Facebook page.