I was very lucky to be given a track driving experience as one of my 21st birthday presents. After waiting patiently for 4 months, I finally made a booking for a experience in a Lotus Elise S2 at the Donington Park Circuit.
My experience was booked for 11:20am and you are required to arrive at least 20 minutes before the event to attend a mandatory briefing session. If you don’t attend the briefing, you simply cannot do you’re experience which is understandable. I set off in good time but found myself stuck in traffic on the M1 due to a lane closure just before junction 24, the junction I needed to get off! Going nowhere fast, I called the Racing School, the company organising the experiences, to explain my situation. The lady was very understanding and told me if I was late, I could do an experience at a later time in the day. This really put me at ease.
It turned out I arrived just in time. Just as I got my sticky badge stating I was for the ‘Lotus’, we were called in for the pre-brief. Two things that struck me during the session was that, the guy talking to us all was stating over and over how slippy the track was with a combination of rain and fuel being dumped by planes landing at East Midlands Airport. The other was that there was only me and another lady out of 40ish people. Such a shame to not see more of us women!
We were guided to garage 37 were we put on our helmets and organised optional in-car filming. Even at £29.99, I wanted it to be done but sadly the Lotus Elise was one of the few cars that was unable for this. Probably due to the cars small size.
There was quite a long delay until I had my go with two other people in a Alfa Romeo Giulietta equipped with racing instructor at the wheel to familiarise myself with the track. A delay of at least 30 minutes was due to a single seater crashing off the track. I saw the car involved and the backend was completely ruined. I hoped the person who was driving it had paid the extra £20 for the damage protection… My stomach sank a little when I thought this because, I hadn’t!
The familiarisation laps were enough to put a smile on my face. I was sat in the back struggling to see ahead but I was loving it! I saw the instructor nearly hitting 90mph on the approach to the Craner Curves. Familiarisation laps were only 4 miles long, which is 2 laps.
Before I knew it, I met my instructor and clambered into the Elise. The sills make it difficult to get in and out of a Lotus. In the past I had already sat in an Exige S so I knew there was a certain routine you had to do to get in, which is falling in it pretty much! The Lotus Elise S2 is very basic inside, just simply what you need in a car. I was complimented on my choice of car, going for something different, a car left out a bit I feel. I was told the car has no power-steering, no traction control and no ABS and that the instructor himself had no aids to stop me if anything was to happen but he quickly told me “it’s not important because we won’t need it.” I pulled a unsure/worried look at this point, thinking about the single seater accident earlier…
I, quite embarrassingly, stalled the Elise 3 times when trying to exit the pit lane. The instructor commented how small the bite point was. It was so small, tiny! I was still used to driving my Fiat 500.
I finally got going and started to build up my speed. Instructor said that I won’t need to go higher than 4th gear, partly because 5th is difficult to get into? I noticed almost straightaway how well the Elise handled. I took my first lap steady, probably too steady paying close attention to the orange cones marking when to brake and when to turn and where to turn to. I decided that I didn’t like Coppice corner…its uphill on approach with a blind right-hander. If it wasn’t for the instructor telling me to brake more firmly, I think I would’ve gone straight off. I revved it up on the Starkeys Straight, cleanly made my way through the Esses and started my first full lap.
At this point, my confidence was building and so was my speed along with encouragement from my instructor. I was still in careful mode as I had to let a Vantage V8 pass going through Hollywood and then seeing it speed off. After the Craner Curves, I really started to put my foot down and noticed the capabilities of the Elise even more.
I remembered what nearly happened on the last lap and tackled Coppice a lot better, getting a good exit and looking at the speedo seeing 85mph. This was the fastest speed I saw but I doubt I went any faster than 90. I braked hard for the Esses, I really enjoyed this corner, certainly my favourite of the track and I was able to throw the Elise where I wanted it to go. I knew I started my last lap and I felt something switch on, like I was in the zone. I was ignoring the orange cones, keeping to a racing line but still noting the double cones for braking. I just wanted to get every last little bit of the feel and feeling of driving such a great car on track.
Before I knew it, I was told to pull to the left after the Esses into the pit lane. My instructor more or less apologised because I think he noticed me getting really into it and he had to break my focus. I don’t know if instructors just say this but he commented that my driving was pretty good and asked me if I enjoyed it. Daft question to ask!
Staying true to form, I couldn’t get out of the Elise first time just like the Exige S earlier on in the year. Those sodding sills!
All in all, I highly recommend doing a track driving experience. My tip is to book last minute like I did. The original price of what I did is £115 which also includes the Ferrari 360, Audi R8, Lamborghini Gallardo experiences but I booked mine for £49. A slightly expensive bargain! Also you might find some special offers on the day but I found these slightly more expensive, around the £75 mark. Only bad thing about the experience is the lack of laps available. I think at least 6 laps is needed as like me, many have said they were just getting into it to only find the experience over.
Here is a link to the Donington Park Driving Experience website.
If you’re interested, here’s a bit of footage of my experience from the grandstand.