To further improve my riding (faster and maintaining safety along with a margin for error), I give a huge amount of credit to professional private coaching. Make no mistake though, this is not an overnight thing that will instantly trim huge amounts of time off your lap times. This is a process and a qualified coach may have you working on things that you don’t *want* to work on. You may actually go slower for a while before you pick up your pace as you integrate what they want you to focus on. They may also call you out on things that may be putting you or others at risk. You might hear things you don’t want to hear but if you want to keep doing this for a long time and minimize your risk, there is no substitute for private coaching (assuming you have a good baseline).
I’ve worked with coaches who either share or understand my approach to this: accuracy over outright pace. I’m not doing this competitively–I have no aspirations for trophies or competition against others, I want to do this well for my own personal satisfaction and possibly helping to share some of what I’ve learned. What you work on will vary on with where you are with your riding. While schools offer huge value, and for people just getting started in this, I think they are extremely worthwhile–the schools (be it Champ School, California Superbike School, etc.), will help establish some fundamental techniques and concepts that are designed to make you a better rider, however the longer you do this, you’ll get to a point where you need more granularity than what you can get from a traditional riding school. This is where a private coach comes in.
Selecting a coach is a bit more of a process though. This is not a one-time thing either, you really want to build a relationship with your riding coach. If you’re doing this seriously, you’re probably going to want to work with your coach in person at least a couple of times a year. If you’re asking your coach to review your data and/or video on a semi-regular basis, arrange a payment system. Their time is valuable, and while we might like to think our coaches are independently wealthy and doing their work as a civic service but they’re like us and their time is precious. Do not take them for granted.
A professional coach will be versed in how to help you bridge gaps and improve your technique (i.e., at this point pick up your eyes; put your bike over here to put you in a better place to accelerate, move your butt sooner for this left-right transition, etc.). This is a lot more than just ‘brake later, throttle sooner’ which is grossly over-simplified. A qualified coach will help you understand why you do things at a certain time or location. If you try to approach your riding cerebrally with a fairly basic understanding of physics, this should click with you pretty quickly. My coach has encouraged me to short-shift in several areas which has made me more confident to open the throttle faster because the bike isn’t peaky and angry near redline and the net result is that I’m going faster more calmly. This technique doesn’t work for everyone and all bikes, but it does in my scenario. As you build a rapport and learn to trust your coach, it will be easier to implement their guidance. I’ve worked with plenty of control riders who, because they don’t know you or they may not be versed in techniques to help you achieve objectives, they may not be able to prioritize what it is that you need to be working on. When I go for a standard track day, I have specific objectives in mind, whether they are my own or if it’s because I’ve worked with my coach remotely and the task list comes from him.
If you’ve done a school (YCRS/CSS), don’t think it’s going to work quite the same as it does with a private coach. In my most recent private coaching scenario, my coach flew in from the Pacific Northwest, I provided a newly serviced bike for him to ride along with fresh tires, and the coach will have expenses (local transportation, food, lodging, etc.) which you will pay, along with their in-person coaching rate. Because I’ve done this before, I wanted to make the environment as conducive to the objectives as possible. I brought my travel trailer, had it setup for post-session review, had card readers, I’d setup the camera and data system for the coach’s bike in advance. I wanted to minimize his logistics planning for the riding as much as I could, the less s/he has to think about, the more they can focus on working on you. Try to be a good host.
Back to what you can expect to work on… Your coach will likely do a bit of lead follow with you, preferably with chase video. Now if you’re not hitting apexes or using controls proficiently, that’s going to be what you’re working on. If you are pretty solid with that, your coach may review data after each session. For me, with this last coaching weekend, I was generally pretty accurate and my control timing fundamentals were okay, so we worked on refining the precision to a higher degree and when we reviewed data, we looked for areas where I could [safely] improve and worked on breaking down some of my obstacles by using visual references. While I wasn’t able to fully execute on those over the course of the weekend, I have homework for my next track days. Don’t expect your coach to ‘fix’ your issues in the course of a day or two, but a proficient coach will identify areas that you can work on to improve your riding over the course of the season and give you tools to help you realize gains in pace and/or safety.
Another thing to recognize is that your coach may not necessarily be faster than you (mine is, so this doesn’t apply to me) but a good coach can identify areas where you can further your degree of application or adjust things to reduce potential risk. This could be a bit more throttle at a specific time, the shape of your brake graph, visual references, ergonomics, building consistency, preparation routines, etc. Ideally your coach is versed in data and can readily identify opportunities in that way too if the technique and fundamentals are in place already.
As you go through your day, you or your coach should be taking notes, the more detail the better. Because your coach is going to propose doing things differently, don’t think that you’re going to remember it at your next event. Review those notes well before your next session, spend time visualizing the adjustments, and do this several times a week in advance of your next event. Even if your coaching only took place at one track, try to think about how you can integrate what your coach presented to other tracks–this approach will help you maximize the value you get from the coaching.
* Coaching daily rate
* Coach’s expenses (travel, lodging, meals, rental car, incidentals)
* Bike (if you are providing the bike, make sure it’s been recently serviced and is reliable and safe, your coach is putting his/her life in your hands)
* Tires (budget for one front, one rear, potentially 2 rears depending on pace)
* Make sure your own bike is ready and you have fresh tires and fairly fresh brake pads. It would be terrible to go to the effort and cost and have any doubts about your own hardware. I went with a new F&R and ended up buying a fresh rear for the 2nd day, just because I didn’t want to have any doubts or confidence issues
Following my 2-days with my coach at Thunderhill East, my takeaways were the following (these are mine, your points will be different):
* Finer bike direction (knee on or over the curbs)
* Using a bit more throttle coming out of T11, before short-shifting for T12 & 13 but striving for wide open throttle
* Some adjustment to my line at the bottom of the T5 exit to put me in a better position to accelerate toward T6
* Amount of brake pressure at turn-in (this one is going to take me a while)
* Vision references for T1/T7 to prevent over-slowing, also shifting sooner for T7 to give me more headspace to think about throttle management