Portimao 2017 – a thousand rain drops, a dozen wheel changes and countless invaluable teachings

Last year I decided to book a trip to Portimao; I did a bike trip there with Hottrax 4 years ago where I met life-long friends and also did my first ever endurance race. I spent the weekend trying to get my knee down and managed a reasonable 2:17 lap.

This was my best shot – last day, having spent the whole day just getting my bum off my seat as far as I could to get my knee down:1240658_10151890396586894_287827791_n

Needless to say I was pretty chuffed with myself back then!

I’ve wanted to go back ever since but I’ve always swayed in favour of Cartagena; so this year I booked both, two weeks apart. (Yes I’m skint now.)

Cartagena was a “getting back in the saddle” trip after 4 long winter months with no track time and barely any road riding, while Portimao was special: I booked Gary Walton of NotSo-Fast.com to work with me for 2 days.

I met Gary just over a year and a half ago, we were at Anglesey; Gary was there with a client and we got chatting. He told me that he’d been watching me on track and started asking me probing questions about my riding… how does it feel when you get to that corner, how does it feel when you do that… promptly followed by statements and questions to make me think about what I was doing, why and the impact it had. What happens when you do this or that? What would happen if you applied that here instead?

I had previously been going around the Coastal circuit in 1:24 at best and I was struggling. After that chat, I got my times down to 1:20 and felt I wasn’t really pushing! I even found myself encroaching on the inside rumble strips at corner 1 (which isn’t smooth!!) and laughing as I straightened up and got back on the gas, whereas I had previously been cringing getting into that corner, worried sick that I’d overrun. Unbelievable.

So the scene was set, I had to book Gary and find out more.

I booked Gary last year for a day at Cadwell in August; due to an oil leak on my bike though, we only got half a day on track. Gary confidently left things with a “we’ll sort something out” however, which, combined with the feedback already provided, only made me want to book something else!

So this time, I booked Gary for 2 days at Portimao. The circuit is insane, exhilarating, huge, technical and fast all at the same time, the perfect playground to learn!

Now, since I’ve started riding on track, and I know many of you will relate to this, I’ve heard a lot of talk about racing lines, breaking markers, turning markers, the position of your feet, hands, clip-ons, suspension settings, tyre pressure, dry settings, wet settings, body positioning, apexes… the list goes on; it’s overwhelming; there’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn.

With time I’ve got to grips with quite a few things. Last year I changed my suspension so I’m still learning how to work with it but I love it and I can tell the difference it has made without a doubt. It’s not a simple concept though and there are lots of ways to achieve the same result but the more I try different settings, the more I make changes, the more I get to know the suspension and its relationship with my bike and my riding. I also got a quick action throttle, a quick-shifter, de-catted the exhaust, got clip-ons… little things that, individually, make a little difference and all together, make a huge impact.

That’s what coaching with Gary is about. All the little things that you don’t think matter, all the little things that you take for granted, don’t understand or don’t realise are happening at all. Gary points them out, explains how and why, helps you work it through in your own mind so your understand it and then lets you practice. Gary will change some of the things that you do, yes, but only to play to your strengths. You won’t hear things such as “just break later” or “just go faster” (both useless and risky pieces of information if you don’t know how to manage that and how to handle the bike now that you’ve changed what you’ve known you could do so far).

All of those little things, one by one, make up the rider that you are and Gary’s strength is helping you understand it all and how it all fits together. And it works!

peter wileman photography

Ever since I first met Gary, I’ve had a “little Gary” on my shoulder when I’m on track. Like the little devils and angels you see in cartoons sitting on people’s shoulders, except that my little Gary’s neither good nor bad, he’s just full of reminders, advice, reassurance and challenge, asking me those probing questions when I’m on track and I doubt myself, pushing me to do more, building my confidence. How awesome it is to have a coach whispering advice in your ear when you need it most!

peter wileman photography

peter wileman photography

Gary helped with more than just what happens once I’m on track though, he also helped me understand the track and read it, prepare for it. I’ve always had sessions with instructors where I would ask them to “show me the lines”, which I then spent the day practising. This started with my first ever Euro trip in 2013, at Cartagena. I’d only ever done 2 evening sessions at Brands Hatch before and one day at Rockingham where it snowed all day. So effectively that was my first real trackday. I booked the first session of day 2 with an instructor, who happened to be Antonio Maeso, TT rider with an impressive biking curriculum. He showed me the lines he would take around the circuit and said “people like Rossi and Lorenzo are so good because they’re consistent with their lines, that’s the key”. So that’s what I worked on ever since and I improved on each track. But I could never read a track by myself and figure out for myself what lines I should take and why.

After 2 days at Portimao listening to Gary’s view, answering the probing questions, questioning, quizzing and observing, I feel confident doing that now.

An added bonus was that it rained for most of day 1 and again most of day 2. You’re thinking I’m joking or trying to find silver linings but I’m really not. It rained, which means that I wasn’t chasing times, I wasn’t chasing knee downs, I wasn’t focused on the wrong things and instead, I took my time, I listened, practiced, observed the track and paid attention to the changes that Gary’s coaching introduced.

peter wileman photography

That’s what NotSo-Fast is about. And the silver lining (of course there is a silver lining) is that I’ve learned to ride in the wet and not panic about it! That and now being able to change my wheels in record time (it really is soooo simple!).

By the end of day 1, I was doing 2:16 in the wet, beating my previous dry track pb.

peter wileman photography

Day 2 morning was wet again but by midday, the rain had stopped. The wind was incredibly strong and we kept getting pushed sideways in the last corner (blind at the top then downhill right hander – talk about scary corners…) and at the end of the pit straight (where you’re at your fastest!), but at least the track dried out by the second afternoon session. Unfortunately that was red flagged after one lap but that was enough for me to try one more thing that Gary and I discussed. Change of tyres, again, this time we’re putting the wets away, and we’re off. My best session at Portimao. Ever. In fact, my best session on any track, ever!

Loads of super clean and quick overtakes, beautiful lines, great feeling in every corner and straight; so much fun! I could have stayed out for so much longer!

peter wileman photography

peter wileman photography

Here are my favourite 2 laps – I’ve watched this video over and over again and I love it, I get the same feeling of elation watching it as I did riding it!

And just for fun, here’s a side by side video of me in 2013 and me in 2017…

You want to know what I’ve changed? What I’ve improved on? What Gary told and taught me? Here goes… book a day with him. What he told me is relevant to me and my riding, I could tell you what he told me but that might not work for you because it’s about your riding and making the most of it. My weekend at Portimao was by far the most rewarding time on track, where I’ve learned and improved the most, even without looking at lap times. You want to improve your riding? Book a day with NotSo-Fast.com.