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Silverstone Single-Seater Experience Review

After the somewhat disastrous Formula Vee testing, a saving grace was that I had booked a Single Seater Experience at Silverstone.

The original plan was to do this before jumping in the Vee, and then I would have a benchmark for driving a single seat racing car.  I couldn’t book the day up until AFTER I should have had my first Vee race, but as it turned out, this all righted itself.

So I was up bright and early yesterday to be at Silverstone for 08:20 am.

The ‘Experience Centre’ is easy to find at Silverstone (just follow the signs to the right and over the bridge), and presenting a valid road license for signing on was quick and easy.

I’d taken my full race kit, but didn’t want to look like a Tit-Head, so decided to sign in and check out what everyone else was wearing/carrying.  Nobody had anything at all with them, so I decided I’d use my own helmet, gloves and boots, but my three-layer race suit would be overkill.  Silverstone provide gloves and helmets free of charge – but if you’ve got your own kit, you may as well use it!

There’s a half hour driver briefing with a video covering all the essentials like racing lines, flags, the track and braking and turning points/cones.  It’s very good for novices, but if you hold a race licence you should really know this stuff already!  The main difference from the ARDS test briefing was probably that you’re expected to do all your braking before you turn in to the corner. 

Also, you can’t overtake anywhere on the track apart from on the straights and only on the left.  The marshalls will show a blue overtaking flag to the car in front, who is expected to accelerate ‘more gently’ out of the corner to allow the car behind to pass safely.  This does work wonders for safety, as you know nobody is going to try to come past you on the brakes, or pull a block pass mid-corner.  The day works incredibly well because of this.

Next you go over to the Stowe infield circuit and meet the cars.

They’re special ‘Formula Silverstone’ cars – a 1.6 litre Ford Duratec engine and four gears on the right hand side, with treaded tyres and wings.  They look the part, and I noticed the bodywork was pretty heavy duty, which I’m sure is part of having reliable cars that any old numpty can jump in and thrape around a circuit!

The cockpit was quite spacious, and much easier to get into and out of than the Sheane Formula Vee, but you felt very safe and secure even just using a four-point harness.

It’s a full racing clutch – so pretty much an on/off switch!  You need to rev to around 5000rpm and very gently ease the clutch out until it punches you in the back and away you roar!

When I first slid into the cockpit I realised how much confidence I’d lost after spinning the Sheane.  I had a bitter metallic taste in my mouth from adrenaline, and realised I’d put myself under serious pressure not to cock this up, and to prove that I actually CAN drive a racing car.  I was much more nervous than sitting in the Vee for the first time.

All the cars went out in small groups, following single file behind an instructor in a Renault Clio.  I was the lead car in my group, so headed out at what felt like a very slow pace.

Much like a Vee, you only really use first and second gears to get going, and the whole of Stowe was third and fourth gear.

After a few laps slowly building up the pace, we came into the pits, a different lead car went behind the Clio, and we went out again.

This pace was actually pretty perfect for all levels of driver.  If you’re brand new to it all, you won’t be intimidated, and have plenty of time to learn the track and racing line.  Even for me, once again having my Tom Cruise ‘crisis of confidence’, it settled me right down so I could concentrate on getting the feel of the grip and the responsive throttle.

Once more we came back to the pits, and then were let loose for the last 20 minutes on our own!

When you push the throttle down properly, it all gets a lot more hectic.

With the revs up you’re instantly lapping the circuit in less than half the time, and having to really stand on the brakes coming off the straights.

Out the pit lane you come down to an awkward entry to a left hairpin, with a late apex meaning you feed the power in onto the longest straight.  Then you realise you’re being a wuss and squeeze the pedal more.

It’s a fair feeling of speed and a very bumpy journey as you ease the brakes on before you get to the ‘Brake Now!’ board, kicking yourself for not leaving it 50 metres later even as you slam it down to third gear and turn into the corner.

As you exit you drag it back to the left and dab the brakes again for a right hander, leading into a complex of corners all in third gear, some requiring a dab of brakes as you get later on in the session and pick up speed.

There’s another really awkward entry to the other hairpin, and it’s begging you to turn in too early, so you hold off and look for the yellow apex cone and bring it in to that, building power through a lovely left hander that snaps right onto the pit straight as you scream the revs up to fourth gear, braking hard but keeping as much speed as you can through a right-left s-bend back down to the first hairpin.

I was there to have fun, and pushed a fair bit with a few wiggles, but don’t think I ever strung a decent lap all together without hitting traffic (or missing a gear!), which I wish I’d concentrated more on, because in the debrief they hand you a printout of all your lap times!

I did ok, and I’m happy with my performance because I know there was a lot more to come.

As mentioned before, it ironed out some confidence issues both with driving itself, and also the big fear mentioned in previous blogs that my braking would be a major weak point.  It wasn’t, and I was very comfortable with it, and willing to push much further than expected.

On about the only clear lap I had, I put in a 1:04, and although I did get caught in a fair bit of traffic, it looks like I got lucky with a very fast group, so didn’t get held up nearly as much as I’ve seen watching other peoples videos.  That’s the chance you take with arrive-and-drive things.

So I’m feeling good about driving, and that should get me through to next years Formula Vee campaign.  Shame there weren’t any spaces in the next session, or I may have had another go…

The full experience is available from Silverstone for around £199 – but you’ll find loads of vouchers, offers and cashback around to bring that down to around £140 – I bought mine through www.buyagift.co.uk.  Then there’s the £20 damage waiver (it means you pay nothing if you kill the car), CD of top quality photographs for £20, and £30 for a full video of the day on a USB stick (plus you get £5 off the photographs with this).  Not cheap, but welcome to motor racing!

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