The driving experience day industry has ballooned over the past ten years, an internet search on the term will display many providers of driving experiences, be it the circuits themselves or third party companies. The appeal of such days of course is the chance to drive that supercar you’ve longed for, a chance to drive on a racing circuit, and the buzz of adrenalin that it provides. This article covers my experiences of driving days and the options for people who want more from their experience.
The first time
The experience I have had with driving experience days has been mixed. The first occasion I had with these types of events was back when I was 16, a relative had bought me a passenger ride in an Audi TT at Brands Hatch. Come the day, my parents and my relatives attended to watch me go around the Indy circuit. As this was my first exposure to a driving experience, I went home with mixed feelings. The feeling of getting strapped into a semi-prepped car was new to me and enjoyable, receiving my first taste of going round and down Paddock Hill bend was excellent and finding out just how late the instructors brake and turn in was a surprise. The downside to the day was that I went round for only 3 laps, a disappointed relative who just spent £100 commenting ‘was that it?’. The choice of a more track focused car for passengers to go round in would of enhanced it greatly.
The second opportunity
Seven years later in 2007 my partner bought me a supercar driving experience voucher. The voucher allowed me the chance to drive one of the following: Aston Martin DB9, Lamborghini Gallardo, Porsche 911, Ferrari 360. The car I opted for was the Ferrari 360, not because it was my preferred one (a Gallardo), but because it was the only car that was based at a race circuit. The circuit in question was Silverstone. I felt that the combination of a Ferrari and a track that I knew the layout of, thanks to televised racing/computer gaming, was the best choice. After a briefing of around 20 minutes in length, I donned a helmet, slipped on my kart boots, posed for a photo and started up the 360. The instructor who sat in with me asked whether I had any prior experience, I responded by telling him that although I had not driven a supercar before, I had karted. I believe this allowed him to have a little more faith in me, and he was an instructor who allowed me to push the Ferrari, after a couple of laps. Part of the excitement of doing a driving experience day is the opportunity to drive the car to somewhere near its potential, too often I have read of disappointed customers who participated in driving experiences and have complained that the instructor wanted them to take the circuit in a high gear and change gear at relatively low revs. While I understand the reasons for such measures – instructor getting in a fast car with a total stranger / durability and maintenance concerns, a higher level of tolerance at some venues would be a positive.
A more advanced driving experience
The bug had bit me, I wanted another driving experience day. This process proceeded to researching and crossing off suitable cars and driving days. Put into the mix the restrictions of cost, time and circuit choice and you start to get a headache, as I’m sure some of you can vouch for. As a gift, my next experience would be the “Single Seater Experience” on the Stowe circuit at Silverstone. The format of the event was a 30min briefing followed by 20mins out on circuit behind a pace car, a quick break, and then back out for 20 more minutes but with no pace car. So early on a Sunday morning in May I drove to Silverstone and looked up at the skies. It was getting dark. After signing on I was lead into the briefing room. The instructor then asked us quick fire questions, this felt like being back at school, afraid to give a wrong answer. The tone of the briefing was a step up from the Ferrari experience I did, but this is in part to the fact that you (obviously) do not have an instructor going round with you providing tuition. Every driver in the briefing had experience of track day/motorsport experience, some drivers had done the same single seater experience three times before and came back for another go. The instructor asked whether we had taken out the £10 insurance/liability option. Everyone answered with a yes, to which he nodded and described how a customer on the previous day had t-boned their single seater into an innocent driver at the hairpin. The customer did not have the insurance cover and the damage he caused was £3500. We were informed that if we spun the car, that would be the end of the experience for us. As a single seater virgin, I was a little concerned but thought I would be sensible enough to take it easy and judge my limit. We exited the briefing and the heavens opened. The mix of a slightly depressing briefing and wet weather for my first time in a single seater did not bode well but I had to smile, nervously.
We were allocated a car and strapped in by a member of staff. Once secured I was shown the layout of the cockpit and given information on the dials on the display. The gear stick was on the right and because it was on a metal joint, it moved around a bit, but unlike a normal roadcar, the actual moving the stick into the next gear took very little movement. The pace car was a Clio Cup and the use of a pace car in the first session was handy, the Clio driver progressively getting faster as the laps went by. The first session was excellent, learning the car, learning the track and learning the conditions. We had a quick break of 5 minutes and then went back out. This time no pace car, and we were allowed to overtake (on the straights only). Despite the rain, I enjoyed driving and overtaking other drivers. The essentials of driving, learnt in karting, were benefitting me, and it gave me the confidence to push further. On one lap, my rear left tyre was on a wet painted line, I felt a loss of traction, felt the notion of oversteer through the wheel and corrected accordingly. I loved it.
This particular single seater experience, while open to all, is an excellent option for karters who have never experienced a driving a single seater before. The ability to go as fast as you want, change gear when you want and take the corner how you see best, adds up to a driving experience that produces on a value for money basis.
Looking for more
As anyone who has done a driving experience will tell you, after doing such a experience you feel an immediate loss of adrenalin and look for higher/faster experiences. At a personal level, I always look for an experience that gives you a good amount of track time and little regulation. Finding an experience that gives you that in a real racing car is rare and expensive. Some enthusiasts take their car out on track days, or hire track day cars such as Caterhams through organisations like BookaTrack.com. A well regarded experience day is Palmersport at Bedford Autodrome. The experience used to be available exclusively for corporate guests but now allows individuals to participate. The day runs from 08:00 til 17:30 and involves participants driving 6 track based race cars, on a mix of circuit layouts. Drivers who have attended Palmersport days have praised the instructors who provide good tuition and allow you to push the car to the limits, tales of drivers taking corners in a Clio Cup racer at 70mph wet the appetite. The amount of time in each car is around 20 minutes. The day is not the cheapest (at just under £900 inc VAT) but if you view any of the onboard videos of the cars on the Palmersport website, you might find yourself justifying popping along.
- MSV Circuit driving experiences (link)
- Silverstone driving experiences (link)
- PalmerSport (link)
- BookaTrack.com aka BaT (link)
- PistonHeads Track Day Forum (link)
(Photo credit: 4 Caterhams, BookaTrack.com)