So you’re a petrol head. You may well have a peppy set of wheels either as a weekend car or, if you’re really committed, fuel and endure one on your day to day travels. Moreover, you may fancy yourself as pretty handy behind the wheel.
So there may come a time then, when you fancy validating your suspicions about your driving talents. What do you do?
The place for it is certainly not the public highway. You take yourself off to a racetrack.
I think… thought, myself an alright driver. I drive a hot hatchback with which I like to explore some of Britain’s deserted B Roads with some vivacity. I have never, however, driven on track.
I’ve been running my semi fast car for 6 months and as well as not getting round to it, have actively not taken the time to go given that it’s a ten year old Renault and is therefore made of cheese. Many others will share this sentiment of not wanting to take a rolling lump of their hard earned to a track for it to combust, void itself of fluids or otherwise malfunction.
But, in keeping with the prior established logic of this post, a visit to a track was in order. The solution?
I took my moderately fast but questionably faithful steed to Brands Hatch, to drive somebody else’s car around its hallowed, technical, undulating and in the case of the day I went, saturated grounds.
These “supercar experience” days are becoming increasingly common but I have always thought, questionable in their value for money. But for those frightened of the effects that track driving may have on their own car who are presumably also interested in the performance car world in general, its a win win win.
Someone else’s car, instruction on improvement of technique and the experience of the kind of machinery that most of us mortals can only salivate over. Obviously many other circuits across the country play host to these events too.
So, onto my experience. Weapon of choice? Ariel Atom. Six laps of a sodden Brands. Gulp. The nerves before saddling up were excruciating.
Drivers briefing was a sweaty palmed mouth breathing blur of trying to remember track etiquette. “If the person in front signals left, pass on the right, and vice versa”… “Who’s in the Atom?… *raises hand* “ooooohhhhh dear dear dear. That drive today will be the hardest thing you ever do on track”. Fantastic.
After i’d got my full race suit on complete with helmet and earpiece I slid down into the exoskeletal carcass of the 240 bhp 500 kilogram Atom. Naturally it feels as if my bum was about to be dragged across the floor, it was that low.
Intercom plugged in and me and my guiding hand behind the wheel can finally exchange a few words. Clutch down, into first, and exercise the Porsche Carrera GT school of moving from a standstill. Don’t touch the throttle, just ease the clutch up and let it roll on the bite before gassing.
The close gated gear shift is liquid smooth bleeding out of the pit lane onto the track. “Throttle on, throttle on”. VTEC, yo, is fairly cool in your type R civics, but in the Atom it’s another world.
It’s a loud enough thing pre-TEC, and skull rattlingly deafening on cam. More track tac is flooding back. “Slow in, fast out”. Wide lines were required or the lake that was once brands hatch would spit me off.
Down paddock into hail wood the cars already menial weight lightens further before shooting up towards druids, and smoothly on the stoppers.
A Mclaren 12C passes on my right taking a tighter line, towering above us.
Graham hill bend was the one I could never crack. I constantly aimed for a tighter line than the conditions would allow, fearing the wider safer line in case of understeer. It simply didn’t happen.
The car hung on in there. Throttle modulation was also difficult due to a sticky cable, but that wasn’t a problem on the start/finish straight where I could deploy the Atoms full endowment. One LP560 Gallardo dispatched, and its rinse and repeat for a further 5 laps.
Safety wise I think the event was put through a sufficient test with the Atom in the torrential, but clear concise instruction from the expert was invaluable and kept me on the asphalt.
What did I take away?
That I have to be smoother and more relaxed with my inputs.
The knowledge is fine, but my application can be too rigid, impeding advancement.
More familiar turf came in the form of a 500 Abarth for one flying lap under the observation of one of the drivers.
An 800 out of 1000 driving score left me relatively chuffed, but a flying lap with the pro at the wheel made my effort seem positively pedestrian. Checking in with Caroline (event PR) later on revealed she’d got an 845, too…
Overall the whole experience proved to be, aside from knee quiveringly hilarious, genuinely valuable and educational, and all without harming a single tooth or cog in my little Clios transmission.
Contrary to my prior beliefs, a properly worthwhile use of a day and a not insignificant amount of pounds. If you want to drive on track but lack the confidence to pedal your own car there yet, fulfil a dream and drive a Lambo… or an Atom… under proper instruction. Just hope for good weather…
Massive thanks to Red Letter Days for having me along for the experience.