Track Time: Yamaha Champions School

Mastering The Art Of Correcting Yourself

In less time than it takes to text a digital "SOS," we're deep in the jaws of Turn 1 at Utah's Miller Motorsports Park. But I couldn't have sent that message even if I wanted to. When lead instructor Nick "Andretti" Ienatsch is driving the Yamaha Champions School demo van, you need both hands just to hang on!

Rather than discussing the consequences of rushing an entrance or butchering an exit, Nick slides our rolling classroom sideways to demonstrate the cause and effect of common cornering mistakes. Ienatsch's lean-angles trajectory can be comically enthusiastic, evidenced by gravitationally applied hair imprints on the interior windows. If he fails to stab the brakes, turn-in early or mishandle the throttle through an apex, he must not have had his morning coffee.

Unfailingly animated and energetic about the mechanics of riding quickly, the former Motorcyclist and Sport Rider editor has found his niche here. After the Freddie Spencer High-Performance Riding School closed its doors in 2008, Nick wanted to continue teaching. Touring track days all over the country with sidekick Ken Hill, he noticed riders were approaching corners with notions of false economy-riding harder, not smarter. This led them to new training methodologies, giving rise to the official Yamaha School curriculum.

With class sizes limited to 20 students, the syllabus alternates between on-track lead/follow sessions and discussion of various real-world riding scenarios. Stand witness to instructor demonstrations from staged points along the track as on cue R1s breathe life into blackboard concepts. The on-track exercises develop grace under pressure, situational awareness and physical coordination. "Fear is often what gets us into trouble," says Ienatsch.

We build from the bottom up, learning everything from bump-starting a bike to controlling a rear-tire slide to riding in the rain. Tread lightly in a thunderstorm, but continue leaning and braking. Can't blip between downshifts? They'll teach you. Hesitant to corner with your back brake? Not for long. The Yamaha School is a one-stop shop. No matter your two-wheeled walk of life-street rider, male or female, vintage racer, amateur or professional-every Yamaha Champions School graduate trades intimidation for empowerment.

Vehicles of higher learning range from the deceptively fast Yamaha YZF-R6 to the lower-spec YZF-R6S and FZ1-all willing accomplices for terrorizing both the East and West loops and force-feeding knee puck to apex. The play-by-play action/evidence will be preserved on video. Reviews of each student are constructively analyzed for correct body mechanics and execution of the day's drills. AMA-ranked instructors Ken Hill, Dale Kieffer, Shane Turpin and MRA #1 plate-holder Mark Schellinger add up to an incalculable human database of information. For those wanting more coaching, Pro school dates are also available. To see a schedule, check the website (

The two-up training rides are more intense than intravenous espresso and hailed by alumni as an absolute must. You might even end up behind Shane "Tornado" Turpin, former lap record-holder at Miller. Where else are you going to witness the inner workings of a professional hot lap? As Ienatsch emphasizes, "Any professional racer will tell you races aren't won with flawless laps. [They] have mastered the ability to correct mistakes mid-corner."

On-track exercises teach students to work through those foul-ups and always approach corners with an emergency exit plan. It all adds up to an excellent experience that's worth every penny: $1995 for the two-day school or $2995 for three days. Forget about all the fun you'll have riding around with Nick & Co. and think of it this way: Learn enough to keep yourself out of the kitty litter just once at your next track day and the school will have paid for itself!

Yamaha Champions School

Two-up laps behind the professionally ranked instructors give students a bird's-eye view of proper riding technique. "Smooth equals fast" has never rung so true!
Nobody's perfect, so Yamaha Champions School founder Nick Ienatsch and his fellow instructors teach you how to correct mid-corner mistakes before they become off-track excursions.
Lead-follow sessions let the instructors eyeball the students' body positions, and vice-versa.
Classes are limited to just 20 attendees, which makes for an excellent student-teacher ratio.