Not a tech related post but I thought I’d share this with you.
As some of you may know, my parents gave me a single seater driving experience at Silverstone for my 18th birthday, all the way back in 2013! Unfortunately – thanks to the miserable British weather about 90% of the time – it took me three attempts to complete the damn thing: the previous two occasions had been called off due to excessive rainfall and poor visibility.
But finally, on the third time of asking, the weather held up (just) enough for me to finish what I started. Track conditions worsened throughout the two sessions but I managed the fourth fastest time of the day before coming up on some traffic and had to back off. I set my fastest laptime on the 12th lap, whilst the three faster drivers did theirs on the 19th (and final) lap, so there was room for improvement. I’m quite competitive so I was a bit gutted that I couldn’t push myself a bit more!
It was a hell of a lot of fun even though I wasn’t pushing too hard – I was starting to get more comfortable with how the car reacted to my inputs by the tenth lap on my own. I didn’t want to bin the car or even pitch it into a spin, as getting off the line in one of these cars is pretty tricky because they have a competition clutch and an H-pattern 4-speed racing gearbox.
In fact, spinning was the least of my worries. Understeer was the order of the day for the best part and that was partly my own doing and partly down to the way the Silverstone mechanics set up the cars. I was often too quick to pick up the throttle mid-corner, which sent my trajectory wide on exit. This was particularly troublesome on the section that they call “The Esses”, where you have to blend the throttle in and out upon direction change. If you came out of the throttle too quickly and were in some induced understeer, the sudden weight transfer back over the front axle meant the car would instantly bite – the front end became positive and the back a little unstable. It reminded me of how impressive the grip levels were for such a small formula car, let alone Formula Renault, F3, GP2… F1 levels are mind-blowing in comparison.
The whole experience made me reconsider just how big of a jump it is for young drivers to go from karting to cars. I’d like to think I’m a decent kart driver, but driving cars is a totally different ball game! The grip and power are on another level and adapting your driving style to suit is tricky. I was nowhere near the car’s full potential and still lapping reasonably quickly (I managed a 1:29.026, in case you may have been wondering).
In hindsight I wish I could have pushed a little harder but I was always conscious of accidently locking a front brake (the brakes are incredible, by the way) or putting the power down too hard and spinning. One guy did spin his car after taking a chicane too quickly – the back end swapped round on him and he ended up stuck in the mud!
If you have a karting accident you are most likely going to hit the barrier and not damage the kart much, if at all. This is great because it encourages you to push hard, make some mistakes and learn from them.
In cars, though, you can so easily rip off a corner or break a front wing. There was no way that I wanted to sheepishly walk back to a pair of disgruntled parents after binning it, being told to leave and then have to pay for some of the damage!
Overall, however, I had a fantastic time and hopefully I’ll get to do it again in the future. Maybe next time I’ll come back when it’s dry (for once) and really put myself to the test…
The experience costs a hefty £199 so what do you get that’s so good over the other, cheaper options?
Well, first and foremost, you get far more track time – the experience is divided into two 20 minute sessions, one behind the pace car and one where they (sort of) let you loose. You don’t get to race but you can go as fast as you dare in the final session.
You also get the car all to yourself, rather than an instructor sitting in and nurturing you a bit. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful, but it’s always nice to learn for yourself and play about a bit.
Finally, the best part about it for me is the fact that there are no electronic assists/driver aids. It’s just you and the car and you are responsible for all of its actions – it’s a pure experience and that’s why I enjoyed it most.
You can find out more on the Silverstone website, here.