The eve of the big day.

Freedom of the house so plenty of peace! Hunted through my emails to see if I’d been sent any extra information from Brands and finally found some time information and set my alarms nice and early. Wanted an early night but was wide awake as expected. Excitement + nerves = no sleep! Decided I’d put the safety DVD on once more in the background as I attempted to sleep and eventually fell asleep around 2 with e4 on in the background.

Jumped out of bed with my alarm, ate the breakfast I’d made previous night (sauge bap – good start!!) and got myself ready. Checked, checked again and checked some more that I had my pack with me and my driving license. Then checked again! The drive up to Brands is normally quite enjoyable but there was torrential rain and I was getting more and more nervous as I got closer! The motorway part of the journey involved almost zero visibility but soon enough I was taking the exit and following the familiar signs to Brands Hatch. As I entered the gate I told the guy I was here for my ARDS test and he said I needed to go through the tunnel to the pits. As I drove off I suddenly realised i wasn’t sure if I could drive through there or I parked up and walked in the ridiculous rain…there were spaces right outside the sign on station I could have parked in obviously. DOH. Lucky I had taken spare shoes and clothes because I was sodden. Some extra signs and information provided would have been useful here. By this point it had become very clear to me there were some seriously fast cars on track to worry about later!

I wandered in to the sign on centre just behind some guys asking to get some tuition on their track day and whilst I waited patiently/nervously a man came up and asked if I was Chris!! He explained what would be happening and got me signed in (ended up with 3 colourful wristbands for the different activities) and said he’d go grab my instructor for tuition. I was introduced to Renee who seemed to be a nice guy and he took me off to get my helmet. With a helmet sorted he gave me a very laid back briefing on the track day rules before asking about my previous experience. His face when I said I’d only done a BMW/single seater experience day was almost a picture! Didn’t mention all those sim racing laps though….may have made him more concerned. We were due out around 11.30 but he said we could go out whenever just go grab a drink and get changed then come find him when I wanted to go. Oh and by the way we might just do your driving assessment at the end of the hour if you’re doing well. OH GOD. Ok.

So off I went to get changed in to some dry clothes and sipped on my fuel of champions (Ribena) then Renee gave me a nod and said let’s go! He jumped in the car and did 3 laps, showing the standard line and then the wet line as it was still very wet. He then came in the pits and it was my turn! OH MAN now I was such a mix of nerves and excitement. The nerves mainly stemmed from not having driven a car with a clutch properly in years due to my overly fancy sequential C2 box…but after a few laps that would no longer be an issue, I hoped.

And away we go! Coming out the pits nice and carefully, hugging the inside of Paddock hill bend and I was back on a race track! Feeling my way around, taking in instruction, brake harder, brake harder, BRAKE HARDER. It took a few laps to force myself out of the natural routine of not braking heavily but it got better quickly. I was extremely impressed with the pull and handling of Peugeot RCZ actually. Considering how wet it was the car was handling very nicely so I was staying pretty much with the standard dry lines. After about 15 minutes Renee told me to pit and we discussed what to work on for the next session. Wanted me to focus straightening the wheel at the same time as applying extra power (pretend there is a piece of string attaching the wheel to your foot!) told me the braking was better but could still be improved, telling me I was still missing where he wanted me to be at the final corner but in general it was going well.

So back out for another session. Straight away I was feeling more confident now and really starting to get a feel and pushing on. Less Cars were catching us up and I was overtaking every now and then. I was starting to get the power down really nicely coming out of Druids and Renee was complimenting this. I had the feel for Paddock hill, Druids and Graham Hill now, it was still just the final corner being the bane of my life. About half way in to this stint it got busy. Two Caterhams came up behind at the same time as a Seat Cup car. The Cup car decided to go three wide which made it all rather cosy!!! By the time I got to Druids there was dust and a Cup car parked in the Tyres/gravel trap. What do you think might happen now? asked Renee but I’d already called it and low and behold there was the red flag. So we cruised back to the pits and I ended up lining up first car at the end, UH OH. We chatted for the 10 minutes it took them to clear the cup car. More driving brief and a little about sim racing. Soon enough it was time for me to lead the way out the pits. A few really fast cars came past but then I had my favourite time on track. Loads of clear laps, no one ahead or behind to worry about and I felt like I was getting it. My speed increase, feel, confidence, lines. I noticed I was going 20mph faster on the start/finish straight than earlier! This was probably the most fun I’ve had in my life that little 10 lap period there.

Renee called me in, said I was doing great and asked if I wanted to do the test…I asked well, if you’re telling me I’m ready to then sure. He said I was doing great and would pass easily if I drove anything like how I had been, just don’t do anything stupid!! So this settled the nerves a fair bit. He said I’d get a few laps to get back in the groove and that he’d also be asking me a few questions to ensure I didn’t have tunnel vision. Before we left the pits he asked me if I could point out even marshals post WITH a marshal in and every light board over the first 3 laps. I got them all on the first lap which he was impressed with because one of the marshals was almost hiding. So then I was just getting back in the groove when an MX5 ahead started doing weird things…just as Renee said we’d be doing the test next lap round said Mx5 span right ahead of us and momentarily looked like he was going to spin back across towards us. I hit the brakes just before Renee also did. So the nerves were back!!!!!!! As I crossed the line this was it. The driving part had begun. I don’t know how many laps it was, it felt like more than the stated 4 but it all went ok. I was trying to tone it down and just be consistent although I think I was still going almost as fast as my previous session! The only moment I was worried about was I had traffic ahead and behind at the same time. I let one of the cars behind past and then the guy ahead of me slowed up and indicated right, the only issue being this was quite late on a straight. I momentarily hesitated whilst i checked my mirrors but then I took the line for the corner (he was cruising off line) and completed the lap. Next time round Renee called me back to the pits and to my relief uttered the words “great stuff, easy pass!” I asked him about the moment I mentioned above and he told me that was fine, I checked it was safe then took decisive action. SO that was good. It was a really worthwhile hour and I was glad I got the tuition because I think it will help me greatly in the long run. The driving part was a really fun even if a bit nervy experience.

On to the written test.