Date: Saturday 9th April 2005
Location: Rockingham Raceway, Northamptonshire
Vehicles: Mini Cooper S
My driving experience was bought for me as a birthday present, I was 19 at the time and was really just getting in to driving and all things car related, but had been a fan of motor sport from a young age. I had stated on one of my school leavers forms that one of my goals was to do track driving and to really learn what a car can do when pushed to its limits. I think I was really supposed to put a sensible career related idea in this section, but that didn’t enter my head, at the time I was more interested in getting my drivers license and getting behind the wheel. I guess this was my parents way of helping me to safely achieve this.
So about a week after my birthday in November I phoned and booked the day of the event, and a few days after that I received the confirmation letter with all the information about the day:
“A supercharged Mini adventure around Rockingham‘s challenging infield circuit. The experience includes full briefings before taking to the wheel of the sporty 6 geared MINI Cooper S, with an expert instructor by your side, push the car voted ‘best hot hatch in 2002′ to its limits.”
Sounded perfect and I was really excited. Slightly worried too, as in big bold letters at the bottom of the letter it stated “dependent on weather”, and we all know what the British weather is like!
Anyway, the day finally came round, we set out early, it took us about an hour and a half to get there, my parents came along too, with the camera of course. As we had arrived early we got chance to sit in one of the hospitality suites and watch all the other experiences going on, there was a Lotus Elise one and a Ferrari passenger drive going on too. Many of the experiences had places available at 50% off on the day too, my dad was itching to get in on one of them, but resisted so he could watch mine.
Suddenly we were called to head to the briefing in another section of the stand. We were told all the safety aspects of the day, use of flags, overtaking, basic cornering procedure and general dos and dont’s. We were then organised into groups as to who would go out when, and taken to get helmets sorted. At this point I was getting a little bit nervous as I had never done anything like this before and there were far more experienced drivers there.
It was decided I would be the first one to go round in my group so I put my helmet on and marched down to my Mini. My instructor was called Pete and was really nice, he had a few bits to fill in on his sheet before we could set off. The experience was scored on several factors: preparation, braking, gear change, technique, looking into the corner, steering (turn in), turn in point, throttle balance, steering (through the corner) power application, clipping point and exit. With a percentage mark at the end, he explained.
Then it was time to head out, we had been allowed to use part of the outfield circuit or oval so our circuit length was extended slightly to include a longish back straight, we had one or two slow laps to get the bearings of the track and for my instructor to point out the areas I could improve on, one of which being not to get us thrown into the wall on the entry to the oval where there was a bit of a flat area where the infield track and Oval tracks met, if hit wrongly it could send you off into the stands. Having sorted out that little problem, I was told “go on girl, give it some now!”
It was brilliant, I was smiling ear to ear the whole time. We were told the emphasis wasn’t on speed but more so technique, so I was consciously trying to do as I’d been told, approach the corner, squeeze on the brake, turn in, clip the corner at the right point and then accelerate out. Compared to my car at the time (a ‘lil ole 1.1 Peugeot 106) the mini felt so responsive, and grounded round the corners, each lap felt smoother and smoother as I really got to know the track layout. We were on track for about half an hour I think, but it flew by, and I was soon given the instruction to go back in to the pits for the next drivers turn.
Pete marked all the elements of my drive, and wrote a few comments down, my overall mark was 93%, I was thrilled! He did mention that perhaps more braking would have helped in certain areas but overall he said it was a good drive. I headed to the de-briefing room, where they looked over our score cards, and of course told us that this type of driving was to be done on the track only, however some elements could be helpful in day to day driving, they then gave us information on future days, and further track driving tuition.
I had thoroughly enjoyed my day, I’m sure I wasn’t pushing the car totally to its limits, and probably wasn’t the fastest driver on track, but I felt that I had really got the most out of the experience. And knew that this would be something I would have to do again. It wasn’t long after the day that I was looking into doing more driving experiences in a range of other cars. I can recommend a driving experience to anyone, whether a motor sport enthusiast, or a nervous driver looking to boost their confidence, I’m sure everyone and anyone could learn something from the day, as well as have a really great time.
Skip ahead to the present day, and I’ve done the odd track day, in my own car and others, done my bike test and am looking to get out on track on that as soon as I can, and have been to various motor sport events. I have yet to get round to any of those sensible career goals though…