California Superbike School: How To Be Valentino Rossi For A Day

Emulating your sporting heroes doesn't have to be just a dream - you can take a crash course and learn how to take corners at 150mph at the Californian Superbike School.
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Emulating your sporting heroes doesn't have to be just a dream - you can take a crash course and learn how to take corners at 150mph at the Californian Superbike School.

You're staring down the pit lane, entranced by the heat haze shimmering where the track sweeps right and disappears into the beautiful arc of bright cyan sky visible through the visor. It's 10 o'clock in the morning, but already, out there, beneath that ­Andalusian sun, the tarmac is hot.

Behind you, an engine starts.

The noise reverberates. Sound waves run through you as another engine starts, then another, until the pit lane is humming with a symphony of combustion. You start your engine. The vibration runs through the grip of your gloved hands, through the pump in your forearm, up through your throat, into your ears.

You're so nervous, it's all you can do to remember which side of the handlebars the clutch is, never mind the raft of instructions you've just received from the Californian Superbike School instructor in the briefing room.

And this is the moment you find yourself grinning in that daft way you do when it's too late to back out. Too late to bottle it.After all, this moment is what you've saved up for for so long, gone through all that domestic aggro of getting a two-day pass from home duties.

This moment is why you snuck out of the house at five in the morning yesterday to make that early Ryanair flight to Seville, and why you'll arrive home in the early hours two days from now, exhausted and buzzing from two of the best days of your life. Two days you'll never be able to explain to anyone who doesn't know bikes. Especially not your wife. You won't even begin to try to explain to your wife.

There's something oddly striking about this perspective. Sitting astride a 150mph superbike, in the pit lane of Jerez's Grand Prix circuit in southern Spain, waiting for a marshal to signal you on to the track. This blaze of tarmac, this angry grrrr of sportsbike engine. These nerves. The fleeting, soon-to-pass butterflies as you wait for the nod to go. This utterly alien experience; it's all so.. familiar. You've seen it so many times before. On the telly and in your dreams. This is the precise same view, sound, nerves experienced by the legends. The Valentino Rossis, the Carl Fogartys, the Barry bloody Sheenes for God's sake!

How many sports can you say this about? That you, Mr Average Joe Punter, can, for a relatively affordable fee, play out the stuff of your dreams in exactly the same circumstances as the men at the top of the game.

Not football. You can't just rock up to Anfield and pay to kick the ball around that hallowed turf. Not tennis. It'll take more than a set of pressed whites to warm up on Centre Court.

There is, of course, one big difference. Valentino Rossi comes here to race, watched by millions. You're here to learn. But though the grandstands are empty, the adrenaline courses all the same. The marshal walks to the end of the pit lane and calls you and the others into line. You try to focus. To remember the drill - the first of eight you'll complete over the next two days as you finish two of the four levels that make up the Superbike school programme.

"Fourth gear and no brakes," you reply, the instruction coming back to you.

The instructor, Glenn Rothwell, made it sound simple. "You're here to learn the art of cornering. Nobody here has a problem in a straight line, I take it?" The classroom - a bunch of doctors, mechanics, lawyers, civil servants, wannabe racers, real racers, soldiers fresh from Gulf duty, all in race leathers - nod in agreement. Nobody has a problem with straight lines, which just leaves corners.

There are no stars here. In this school the only qualification required is a desire to learn and improve and become a faster, safer rider. Anyone can play. Heck, they even let a journalist in.

There's something slightly religious about the way ­Rothwell promises to take you by the hand and lead you into the promised land of smoother, faster, safer, more confident cornering. He and head coach Andy Ibbott and the rest of the blue-leather-clad coaching staff have all the answers to anything you've ever wondered about what's going on throughout the act of cornering a motorcycle. Both to the machine and the inside of your head.

"What's stopping you from being a better rider?" ­Rothwell asks you. "Fear. And fear is ignorance. If you know what is happening to your bike as it goes through a corner, and how you can ­influence it, and help keep the bike stable, then you will be less ignorant and less fearful? Correct?"

You don't feel the need to question their knowledge. The fact that Ibbott is in constant demand coaching the very best racers in the business puts you at ease. The fact they all start where you are right now, at Level One, Drill One, just adds to that sense of specialness. Despite all that, there's no pressure to perform, no points for winning. There are no points for going fast. You're asked to ride well within your ability because, as Glenn puts it, "if you're tearing around at the max, you're not going to be able to concentrate on the drill."

Ah yes. The drill. You paddle your bike forward towards the line, trying to remember exactly what it is you're supposed to be doing out there on the track in a couple of seconds.

Now it's your turn. The CSS marshal puts her hand on your back and crouches down to speak to you above the rumble of the Yamaha R6s engine. This small human contact, and the way she smiles at you, somehow puts you at ease.

"What's the name of the drill," she asks you.

"Throttle control."

"Gears and brakes?"

"Fourth gear and no brakes," you reply, the instruction coming back to you. No brakes. That should be interesting.

She pats you on the back and you hear the revs climb as you twist the throttle, check over you shoulder and pull on to the circuit, suddenly feeling strangely at ease as you head out towards the heat haze.

FOR details of California Superbike School courses here in the UK and abroad, including Spain, Greece, Turkey and India, visit www.superbikeschool.com

A one-day course at Silverstone costs around £380, while a two-day course at Jerez costs £1,600.

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