For my 50th birthday I received lots of lovely presents. Today was the fulfilment of one of those as I travelled up to Preswold Driving Centre for a day driving three classic cars [Sound of stylus scratching across a record]. Err, except all three classic cars were unavailable. The Jaguar E-type had given up before I event got there, the AC Cobra wouldn’t start or run (familiar, anyone?) and the GT40 was inaccessible for anyone over 5’6″ and as I am 6’1″ at least, that was a no go. So, disappointing, but the replacements were hardly shabby.
The day began with a rough drive up to Loughborough through stormy weather, which thankfully brightened up as I headed North. After registration and a driver briefing, we had a demo lap with an instructer in a Kia Ceed no less. From this it was onto Car #1.
Car #1 Ferrari 458
I have complained on here earlier about all modern Ferraris being basically a big plastic Fiat, but given the opportunity to give the F458 a go, I wasn’t going to say no. I was introduced to John and took my place, instantly discovering the offset pedals and wondering why I had worn chunky shoes. It fired up with a flashy rev and we trundled up the pit lane and accelerated onto the circuit. Given this was my first turn behind the wheel the first lap was a difficult ‘sighting lap’ really and I was a bit disoritentated. On the next couple of laps I was learning the lines and having the confidence to really open it up on the straights. Wow what a noise! The F458 really howls and the gearchange is lightening quick. All very well, but it was a bit wiggly on the brakes and it’s a very sharp handling car which I didn’t really feel I was getting to grips with. I felt like it was calling the shots rather than me! Into the pits and marked 32 out of 40 points from John.
Car #2 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Convertible
Next up was the 911. It was a bit of a wait for this one. I politely enquired whether I had time for a coffee and she said ‘oh yes I forgot about you.’ Easily forgotten, me. Anyway, I hopped in with Lochlan (spelling?) the instructor. I told him that the Ferrari had scared me to death and he assured me that the Porsche was a different kettle of fish although he warned me to be easy on the throttle as it ‘had a kick’. As this was the second time out for me, I was feeling a bit more comfortable and the easy-going Porsche was just lovely. I’ve read so many times about the feelsome steering, and here it was in all its glory. I can certaintly vouch for that legendary ‘alive-ness’ of the whole car, you really do feel exactly whats going on. I did mess up my turn in once so I wasn’t lined up properly when I fed the power in and it was a bit squirmy, but not a big issue. It had a good turn of speed, and that legendary flat 6 howl but was much more refined and controlled than the bucking bronko Ferrari. Score from the instructor was 34 out of 40, an improvement.
Car #3 McLaren 570C
Last car of the day was the exceptional McLaren 570C. As I opened the scissor door, I had a feeling this was going to be completely different. My instructor, Sarah, was a lovely women, slightly older than myself and straight talking. ‘its got over 500bhp, its rear wheel drive and its a bit snappy at the rear’. Okay then. I needn’t have worried as the McLaren is very user friendly with lovely precise steering, extremely effective brakes, linear acceleration (how much do you want, its seems to say?) and an overall stability that built my confidence. That’s not to say it wasn’t exciting. We had a busy few laps with a lot of traffic to clear, but with Sarah giving clear instructions and lots of encouragement we blitzed most other cars out there. Two notable moments. The first requires some explanation. Overtaking at this event was ‘with consent’ with the instructors looking out for a positive sign (indicators, or a hand wave), to indicate consent. Having passed two cars already, I assumed that we had consent to pass the 911 ahead but as I whistled past Sarah pointed out we hadn’t actually had confirmation. Whoops. Second notable point was the fast corner which was an open left kink which if the instructor thought you were up for it, you could take with just a lift and no brakes. I had done this with throttle on in the Porsche earlier and it was exciting, if a little daunting to just ease it in and power through. In the McLaren I think we going a bit faster so I followed advice and lifted on the approach, but then powered through and opened up the throttle on the exit. It was really exciting. Sarah was complementary about my driving and claimed to have enjoyed it. We both agreed that the traffic had added extra spice and complication to the laps, which actually added to, rather taking away from the experience. Score 36 out of 40, so a continuous improvement over the day with which I was very happy.
After a hot lap in an M3 driven by an instructor (which was alright), it was time to grab the photos and head for home. So what did we learn and could it apply to the road? Well I think I did learn a few things and I think these events actually make you a better driver. Firstly, you get all the speed out of your system on the track. Secondly it teaches you these things:- 1) Smoothness in acceleration, 2) Firm braking in a straight line and off the brakes before you turn, 3) Looking up the road for hazards. I really enjoyed the drive home in my humble Honda CRV. I felt that I was anticipating hazards better, which allows you to brake earlier and smoother. I was more careful around other traffic and I was just generally more relaxed and in control.
All in all a great day.
In other news the Carbs for the MG have arrived back from the engineering firm all fixed up and ready to go. Watch this space.