Review: New Atlas gets some racetrack coaching with the Murray Valley Training Co.
The Murray Valley Training Co offers some of the cheapest track day and race coaching rates in Australia, led by racer Chas Hern, who knows a thing or two about going quick. New Atlas' Loz Blain headed to Albury-Wodonga for a coaching session at a hidden gem of a racetrack on the Victorian side of the Victoria/NSW border.
See how I fared on a couple of my better laps towards the end of the day in the video below.
I've done a handful of track days before. And I've approached them with the same attitude of hedonistic mediocracy that's served me well in every other area of my life. I've treated them as if they were road rides, but better. No cops, no speed limits, no slippery white lines, no four-wheel drives coming the other way in my lane – in other words, excellent fun.
I tend to get around in the middle of the medium/fast group by the end of the day, but you'd never mistake me for one of the quick guys. So when Chas Hern offered to take me up near Albury to a new venue he's been running events at, to take me through a coaching session, I jumped at the chance to actually learn a bit about the discipline of racetrack riding.
Chas has been a successful racer in motocross, dirt track, supermotard, supersport, superstock and FX superbike, both in Australia and internationally. That's a heck of a spread. And over the last six months he's been turning the little-known Murray Valley Training Co. into an extremely affordable track day and race coaching operation.
"I'd never heard of the place," Hern tells me over a beer the night before. "I thought I knew every track in the state, but I was driving up the Hume [Highway] and I saw what looked like a racetrack off to the side of the highway on my GPS. I poked my head in and found a great little facility. It took me months to get in touch with the owners, I couldn't believe nobody was running track days up here."
Chas is keen to keep the MVTC affordable – regular track days are AU$135 (US$100) for 5 or 6 17-minute sessions. Coaching for the day only adds a further AU$110 (US$82), with a maximum of two students per instructor. Hire bikes and gear start at just AU$150 (US$112) for the day. Compare that to what the California Superbike School is charging out at Phillip Island - AU$575 (US$428) per each of 4 levels, plus another AU$425 (US$317) to hire a bike. Yeah, nah thanks.
I take the GSX-R600 hire bike out for the first few sessions. It's a short track just 1.6 km (0.9 mi) long, with a straight that even the quick boys don't quite break 200 km/h (124 mph) on. That's because the first corner, a wicked little hairpin, is the nastiest one on the track. The rest of the track is flat and flowing, mainly left handers with a couple of double apex corners to keep you on your toes and some quick changes of direction.
The MVTC crew has marked out braking points, entry and apexes for each corner with little taped crosses on the track. In the first session, Chas tells me to concentrate on hitting them all: "At race pace, missing these marks by a couple of inches equals a couple of tenths."
That's all well and good, but I'm more glacier pace than race pace to begin with. I can't get loose on the bike, I've got no idea where the track goes, and I've poured my lardy butt into an old set of leathers that gives me no room to move. As a road rider, the idea of riding to set points on the track is doing my head in – I'm constantly looking down instead of ahead up the track, and it seems to take forever to learn my way around. Chas is diplomatic: "so… is this your first track day?" No. No, it's not.
By the second session, everything feels much more familiar, and by the end of the third I'm feeling like I'm actually having a bit of a go. In between sessions, we're looking over GoPro video to sort out what I'm doing wrong with body position.
"It might feel like you're getting a mile off the bike there," Chas tells me, "but take a look – you've got to get your leg out further, and your toes up higher onto the peg. Bring your outside elbow over and hug the tank with it as you lean in. And drop your inside elbow and shoulder down as far as you can, you're all crossed up at the moment."
Some of those things are just not happening on this bike, in these leathers, but it's all making sense. And the track markings are starting to feel much more helpful. Rather than hunting for them, I've learned where to expect them and I'm getting closer each lap to nailing them.
For the fourth session, I decide to give one of the other rental bikes a go – a worked-over Honda CRF450R supermotard. And wow. By the end of the first lap I'm just loving the thing.
It doesn't annihilate the short straight like the Gixxer, But the brakes are astounding, the grunt is addictive, and it feels like it turns on a dime, particularly in that nasty turn-one hairpin. As a physically smaller bike, it gives me a ton more room to move, and the fun factor is off the charts.
"After eating pies, I think supermoto might be your second calling," Chas tells me through the intercom. "Now, let's look at your braking. The key at the end of the straight is to wait until you feel the fear of god, then close your eyes and wait a bit more. And then brake."
One thing that surprises me is how helpful I find it when Chas pulls out from behind me and sits in front for a few laps. On the road, I'm always looking past any rider in front; they're just a distraction. On the track, following a far better rider is a bit of a revelation. Everything feels smoother and I find myself hitting apexes and exit points with brain space and lean angle to spare.
When they're not out on track coaching, Chas, Ant, Fyffe and female coach Snoop put on a show in their free sessions. They're backing the supermotos in, sliding through corners, planting elbows on the track, slapping at each others' kill switches and pulling extravagant wheelies down the straight three abreast as the rest of us watch and laugh.
"We like to keep it relaxed up here," Chas tells me later while he's setting the suspension sag on one of the coaching students' bikes – a nice touch that's included in the coaching session. And that's the truth, it's a low-stress day out with great people and a family atmosphere. By the end of the day I'm turning in consistent laps. They're consistently slow laps in the scheme of things, but they're consistent.
Thanks to the track markings and Chas's advice, I'm thinking about the track very differently from a road ride, and starting to be more deliberate about where and when I'm hitting the brakes, getting the bike turned in, cracking the throttle, and going wide open on exits. I feel like my body position's improving a little, but there's a long way to go there.
More than anything, I feel like I'm not done with this whole track riding thing, and I'd be bang up for another five sessions if I wasn't so physically sore. As I come past the pit wall on my last lap, I hear Chas in the intercom: "go on, give us a victory wheelie!" And I do. And all is good and right.
It's a long old drive back to Melbourne with my buddy Captain Awesome – three-and-a-half hours at the end of an adrenaline-fuelled day, which gives us plenty of time to debrief on the experience, talk about which turns we need to do better, plan our next trip back, and hit up the classified ads to find out how much supermotards cost.
Thanks to Chas, Ant, Gen and the rest of the MVTC crew for an awesome day out.
More information: Murray Valley Training Co