After several years splitting time between Miller Motorsports Park in Utah and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California, Yamaha Champions Riding School (YCRS) has a new home at New Jersey Motorsports Park, with sessions running from April through October. Winter locations have yet to be announced.
YCRS grew out of the Freddie Spencer High Performance Riding School, and has trained thousands of riders since 1997. Lead Instructors Nick Ienatsch and Ken Hill put together teams of world-class professional instructors and guest instructors, drawing from the highest levels of the motorcycling world. Scott Russell (“Mr. Daytona”) and Lary Pegram are permanent guest instructors, and celebrity instructors like Josh Hayes, Josh Herrin, Tommy Aquino, Ben Spies and Eric Bostrom are often on hand. Class sizes average about 22 students, with a student-to-instructor ratio of 5:1, so there’s plenty of individual attention.
Yamaha sponsors the program, supplying a lineup of R6s, FZ8s, FZ9s, FZ1s, and a few R1s. Dunlop Q3 tires are supplied on each bike, ensuring appropriate grip at all levels of training.
Last summer when the school was still headquartered in Utah, Yamaha invited me to take a slot in their two-day class. Over two days of classroom and track work, I had the opportunity to build a base of new skills and a new approach to riding that I’ve been able to apply to my everyday life on two wheels.
Day One began with a classroom session. Ienatsch has latched on to the phrase “Champions’ Habits,” and he extolled the instructors and guest instructors to share theirs with the class. Each instructor came prepared with a practical, incisive piece of advice, a nugget that went beyond the obvious or philosophical. “Have a plan,” advised Scott Russell. “Lean angle equals risk,” said Shane Turpin. “More speed, more brakes,” was the statement from Bradley Smith, the 23-year old Superbike racer from the UK. Ienatsch conducted the classroom session like a maestro, coaxing details from his instructors and guests, then summing up with bullet points and clear direction. Students are encouraged to take notes — indeed, a notebook and pen are provided. Lots of information is exchanged in each session, and notes help refresh and clarify recollection.
Finally, it was time to get out on the track. We geared up, and Ienatsch divided us into riding groups by ability and experience. My instructor on Day One was Ken Hill, a tremendously gifted rider with great patience and teaching skills. We worked on specific skills on each circuit of the track — smoother braking, more assertive acceleration, finding the apex to each corner and maintaining the “umbrella of direction.” I felt awkward and slow, watching the faster, more experienced riders in the group excel at skills that I had yet to acquire. Hill was supportive and direct, providing feedback, encouragement and tips that kept me focused on my own experience.
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