For the past few months I have published my writing in magazines and neglected my blog page. Well, editorial work or not, I am determined to keep up a regular spot on here and I begin with my motor racing diary. I hope you will take the journey with me and allow me to find my racing feet towards what I hope will be a few triumphs too.
Ever since Country Life magazine sent me to Goodwood Revival in 2000 to cover the quintessentially British tradition of dressing up and messing about with motor cars in the grounds of a stately home, I have been engrossed with the world of motor racing, albeit the historic side and more recently the contemporary aspects of GT racing and Formula One.
All this photography of motor racing has initiated a thirst for taking my self onto a race circuit and seeing what all the exuberance is about. In order to do this one requires a knowledge of the track rules by going on track days and watching some thoroughly action packed motor racing along with taking an ‘ARDS’ test (Association of Racing Driver’s Schools) which begins the racing process.
A few months ago I spent a day with James Wood who coaches people of all levels of experience and ability, whether to improve racing technique, increase enjoyment of track days or make road driving safer. I wanted to know if I had the ‘spirit’ in me that would allow me to enjoy circuit racing. I wanted to know if I had anything in me that Fay Taylor, Mrs Victor Bruce, Kay Petre and all those other fabulous women of the of the pre-war years had in them: gusto, valour, courage. Luckily for me I thoroughly enjoyed it and at Silverstone Classic last month I met some of the friendly team who run the ARDS test days at Silverstone, my ‘home’ circuit, who encouraged me to just sign up and ‘do it’ after I told them I usually hang around the pit lanes with my Leica cameras.
So I did just that and signed up. I ordered the MSA GO RACING pack, watched the DVD and read the circuit racing section in the blue book, learnt my flags and watched the Le Mans 24hr live race streamed through a fabulously sneaky Audi on-line facility.
The test day:
On arrival at Silverstone I found nine of us (8 men and myself, 1 female) all enthusiastic and all ready to see if we have what it takes to keep our head on a slippery spot. Silverstone do a fabulous job of giving you a thoroughly full day of track work. We went off to a ‘greased up’ paddock in the 250bhp Renault Clio where my tutor Chris, an experienced Nascar driver (and so was his father), who enjoyed playing with the controls to make the car adapt with more or less traction on the back wheels. No sooner had I grasped an inkling of the idea of wheel control and allowing myself to flavour the spins with words such as ‘you have to bloody look where you want to go don’t you’ and ‘Christ almighty’ were we to go onto the race circuit and learn the racing line.
Only two corners on the Silverstone International circuit southern half are considered to be slow: Vale and Village, where you have to get the car right down to 35mph to achieve control and perfection out of the bends. Otherwise the speeds of the day would be pretty fast indeed.
My tutor ‘Alfie’ (Vice Chairman of the Historic Sports Car Club) took me through each corner and helped to further my understanding of the racing line. Although I have taken a few track day ‘lessons’ this was ultimate close attention to detail with every lap.
There are many aspects of my driving ability that the ARDS Instructor has to take into consideration. Ability to control car at all times, vision, breaking, gears, the racing line, consistency, acknowledgment of other cars on the circuit, speed…
Over lunch I took great stock of the situation. Gave myself a talking to. Reminded myself that only 5 months previously I had literally strapped myself to a man I had just met and jumped off a cliff, skydiving in tandem. I decided over the tuna sandwich and whilst looking at the Go Racing DVD I decided that NOTHING was holding me back.
The ARDS test
We were handed our theory test papers, a series of initial questions about the flags and then a selection of multiple choice questions. We had 20 minutes to do this test – which if I may say so with a delightful grin on my face – I sailed through. One question stumped me, about what understeer means, the answers on the page seemed all quite similar and yet obviously only one was correct. I mean I know that understeer is when the front is losing grip and you have to steer harder into the corner to get round it….
Next we went out skidding around with a rear wheel drive Caterham 7, (not part of the test, but really helped you gain control with cornering at speed). Then the practical test part of the ARDS soon arrived. Here we go. Time to shine. My instructor would let me do some more laps to see how I have come on and then half way through he would start the ‘ARDS practical’. I got my speed to 110 on the first lap out and my racing line seemed to be all of a sudden pretty much there. I began to love my corners of Vale and Village, I relished in the idea of returning to them again 1.85 miles later I wanted to get better on entry, perfect my patience through them and feel confident to just put my foot down on exit. Next lap round I improved on them, Abbey, Stowe, the two fast and rather hilly corners, where you need to really see through it get the vision right for sure.
“You have greatly improved,” said ‘Alfie’ with relief! I felt good and my speed was at a level now where, everything was fitting into place. The test began and I had to drive 2 laps of consistency with speed, detail and care for other drivers, and all in all I utilised my day’s training. I was really enjoying my village and Vale and now looking forward to revisiting Abbey, Stowe and even Club where I had been cutting and not using the whole track.
It was over. I had reached 115mph on the straight, my breaking was good, my vision was good, it was all good. I loved it. I was a bit nervous I think. Yes I think I was. Although ‘Alfie’ said I was quite tense and I said I wasn’t, I think he was right, I was a tad nervous.
How had I done? Did I find that ‘spirit’ that I had hoped for?
We went back to the Silverstone Experience Centre to find out our results.
I discovered I reached 100% on my theory and had passed my ARDS test.
Suddenly I realised that I do indeed have a spirit that I really had no idea how it got there. All I need to do now is get a doctor’s medical certificate for racing, a passport photo and send a cheque with the Silverstone stamped pass on the ARDS test paper off to the MSA and get some racing started.
For me I think I will get in some track days first. Practice makes perfect.
If you find me in a pit lane with my Leica cameras…….be careful not to leave your keys about…. Now that I have my racing licence…. Who knows what can happen…..