Date: Tuesday 19th October 2005
Time: 8.30am – 1.30pm
Location: Rockingham Motor Speedway, Northamptonshire
Vehicles: BMW M3, BMW 1 Series, BMW Z4, BMW Single Seater, BMW X5
I had been invited along to a driving experience event at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Northamptonshire. The day (8.30am-1.30pm) had a jam packed schedule which would give me the opportunity to try out a number of different cars on a number of different circuits.
Before I set off I made sure I had was wearing suitable clothing and footwear. You want to make sure you have flat narrow heeled shoes/trainers and are wearing trousers and a long sleeved shirt/top.
After giving myself plenty of time to set off in the morning I arrived around 1 hour before we were due to meet at the venue, much prefer to be there early that miss out on anything (that’s my first tip for anyone planning on doing a driving experience, make sure you are there in plenty of time, the last thing you want is to be caught up in traffic or to be stressing about not getting there until the last minute). The venue, Rockingham Motor Speedway, was easy enough to find with directions signposted when you start to reach close by.
When you turn up there at the main entrance you have to drive down the and park up behind the main Grandstand, you can’t miss it, it’s huge and has a big BMW sponsorship over it (The venue itself is actually sponsored by BMW and you will start to realise that when you see the cars we got to drive). As you drive down though if you look to your left there is part of the 4×4 Off-Roading circuit that you will be able to see.
Just to note that this driving experience day was not like any other your can book, it was designed as a taster of all the different activities available so where as on a standard driving experience day you will stick to maybe 2 cars and get plenty of laps in them this day was designed as just a quick taster of each of them hence why it may sound like I don’t get much driving in each car.
The day was split up into 3 sections, so we started with our saloon car driving experience, followed by the single seater experience and finished with the 4×4 Off road driving experience.
On arrival I had been told where to head, it was one of the corporate boxes that are located in the grandstand, plenty big enough and easily accessible from outside. After some light refreshments and pleasantries we were split into our groups and went off to our respective sections. First stop for us was the track on the inside of the circuit which you get driven too from an access road under the Oval race track. We were given helmets and told what we were going to do, drive the BMW Z4, BMW 1 Series & a BMW M3 in turn around the inside circuit.
First up for me (maybe slightly annoying simply because it was the fastest car of the lot which I would have preferred to have saved until last) was the BMW M3. So I jump in the drivers seat and have my instructor next to me who is there to give you tips and advice on the racing lines and breaking points (although it doesn’t take long before you slightly push the breaking point a tiny bit further as you try and get the most you can out of the car). The M3 is a quality car with decent power that it sends to it’s back wheels and you use the flappy paddle gear box to flick up and down through the gears.
The tips the instructors give you are well worth listening to, you will get much more out of your drive if you follow what they say, it is all to easy to turn in too soon if you are not too sure about racing lines and the quickest route through the corner. With their tips and the markers on track you have points to aim at that show the optimum racing line.
After a couple of flying laps it was back into the pits to swap drivers and wait for my tun in the next car…
…Next up was the BMW 1 Series, a nice car but obviously lacking in power compared to the M3 previously driven, it was good to be able to advance again on the driving though and more confidently drive the circuit. Again, not much more to say on this one other than use it as the platform to get ready to driving the Z4 round the track.
The Z4 was the last car to be driven on the infield circuit so was a chance to push as much out of the car and my abilities as was possible (safely of course, no wreckless driving that could get me banned for the day).
After we had all had our goes in the 3 saloon cars it was time for a swap and time to head to the pit garages where the Single Seater driving experience would commence from.
When we arrived in the pit garages for the Single Seater we were again kitted out with a helmet and also a set of racing overalls (after all single seater cars don’t have a roof so you drive them out in the elements). There was a single seater car inside the garages where we were given our preparation briefing again which also gives you chance to get up close and look around the single seater car. It is very important to pay attention to what the instructors tell you as driving a single seater car is completely different to driving an ordinary car as you sit on your bum with your legs stretched out in-front of you and you don’t want to be forgetting what you have been told (however how simple or basic it may sound) as when you jump into the single seater it’s a whole new experience and quite easy to forget what you have been told as you get used to driving it.
We would be having our single seater driving experience on the Oval race circuit at Rockingham. For safety reasons and as we were only getting to sample what each driving experience was like when we were out on track we followed a BMW M3 who was our “safety car” if you like with a professional instructor/driver at the wheel and we went out in a train of 3 cars. You will notice that the handling and grip that a single seater give you is absolutely phenomenal, with such a low center of gravity the car sticks to the track and goes exactly where you want it to go. Where as the “pace car” we were following was probably getting pushed very hard it was at a speed that was comfortable for those in the single seaters to keep up with and follow wile still offering speed and fun.
We actually had a good run out in the single seaters so really got to get a feel for them and the “oval” track itself is deceivingly long when you are going round it, add to that it’s a completely different feel to be driving round in what’s basically a large go-kart, with your bum just inches from the ground and you will come out with a big grin on your face!
After the single seater experience we were taken back to the corporate box for a quick brew before we then swapped over again and headed out for the 4×4 off-road driving experience.
4×4 Off Road Driving
We would be tackling the 4×4 off-road driving in the BMW X5, which is BMWs 4×4 vehicle. There was 4 people in each 4×4, 1 instructor and 3 of us who would be driving the off-road course. The circuit is arranged so that each of us were able to have a go at tackling each section of the course with our expert guidance from the instructor. The instructor talked us through what we would be doing and all the different things that the BMW X5 could do and how we should tackle each section.
It was amazing fun and all at 5mph, a complete contract to the 100+mph we were doing on track earlier on. Despite the 4×4 doing things that you don’t actually think look possible it (and yourself) will manage them with a great sense of achievement as you control your driving through water and up and down muddy banks in a forest section. Some parts seem scary, where you drive the 4×4 up a steep incline and then click a button and drive it off the edge, take your hands off the steering wheel and pedals and be amazed at how the the 4×4 actually works, you can feel the car actually working beneath you to get you to the bottom of the steep muddy slope in total control. You get to drive it down other slopes and into water filled pools create a right mess (while staying perfectly dry and clean on the inside).
After finishing the 4×4 off road driving we headed back to the corporate box for a bite to eat and something to drink and meet back up with the other groups. There was a presentation of certificates for the day (nice to keep as a memento) and then that was it, the driving experiences was concluded for the day.
It was absolute superb fun and I was lucky enough to be able to experience 3 completely different driving experiences in the same day, despite not getting anyway near as long on track per driving experience as you would on a standard driving experience day it was nice to be able to sample each of the different experiences on offer. As for which one I would choose it’s too tough to call, all of them offer something completely different but all are absolute superb fun!
At the start we had the saloon cars where we got to drive round the race circuit and learn our breaking points and racing lines, next up was the single seater which was on the oval circuit which was more a case of pedal to the metal and experience how amazing a single seater will handle and accelerate and to have the “Formula 1″ sort of experience. Last up was the 4×4 which despite being over 100mph slower than the single seater was great fun as you get to tackle terrain that you won’t get to drive across in any ordinary circumstances (unless you own your own stream, woods and 4×4 that is)!