Cast your minds back to Christmas 2011. A long time ago I realise, but it was that Christmas Day that Mr C presented me with a voucher to for a track day experience in a single seater racing car. The pair of us are huge F1 fans and years ago he went for a Porsche vs Ferrari driving experience that I was still rather jealous of.
When I came to actually book my driving experience in late January there was a bit of a niggle in my mind as I read all the T&Cs about medical conditions that might preclude you from taking part. One quick pee on a stick pregnancy test later and I realised that I wouldn’t be driving any single seater racing cars anytime in 2012 and so Mr C benefitted rather well from the Christmas present he’d bought me.
Fast forward to Christmas 2013 and a replacement gift was finally under the Christmas tree and so yesterday Mr C took a day off work as we headed up to Leicestershire and Everyman Racing’s Prestwold Driving Centre. Finally I was going to get to be on the race track myself.
After a comprehensive (and strangely rather amusing) drivers’ briefing I was taken out onto the track for a demo lap in a Skoda. Round we went a couple of times having the various points for braking, turning and accelerating on all the corners explained to us, along with the general rules for overtaking etc.
By this point nerves were beginning to set in a little bit. Everyone else there seemed to be going on a standard experience in a super car where they got to have an instructor sitting next to them. I was going to be able to do that in a Porsche, but then I was going to be out there on my own in the single seater. Every member of staff that saw this on my driving ticket just responded with a “ooooh you’re doing the single seater. Brave lady!” What had I let myself in for???
The Porsche experience was first and I was taken to the Porsche 911 Gumball Turbo by a lovely female instructor (whose name I never did manage to catch – sorry!) and I finally got that experience of having some real power under my right foot. It certainly went a hell of a lot faster than our Skoda estate does and it felt really strange being able to just put my foot down totally and not worry about how fast I was going, other than to get round the corners safely. The thing I found hardest though was the lack of mirrors. To ensure your safety on the track the instructors set up all the mirrors for them so they can be in charge of overtaking and being overtaken by other cars. I had no idea how much I used my mirrors when driving until they were taken away from me.
My experience was for 6 miles in each car which was 4 laps of the track at Prestwold. I’m glad it was such a distance as I really only felt that it was by the fourth lap that I’d really relaxed into the car and had got a proper feel for it. I struggled to remember to change gear at all, mainly as I was busy trying to remember everything else I had to do. I think also the nerves about the single seater experience were also taking hold.
After the Porsche experience was over I was directed towards where they run the rally driving experiences from to get a race suit and helmet and then headed back to find the man that they seemed to affectionally call “Stig’s Granddad”, Alan Smith, who was my instructor for the single seater experience. It was when finding a race suit that I found another brave sole that was also down for the single seater experience, although with him being 6’4″ tall it soon became apparent that he was too tall for the car and I think he later went out in the Caterham with Alan instead.
So there I was all suited and helmeted up and I Was taken over to the Formula Ford car that I was going to be driving round the track. Luckily at this stage I didn’t notice (and Alan didn’t point out) that it was car number 13. If he had I think I would have pulled out there and then!
The Forumula Ford car is really so very stripped down compared to what I’d been driving earlier. There’s not much inside other than the necessities for speed and safety. With my short little legs it was also a bit of a challenge to make sure that I’d actually be able to reach the pedals. A few cushions behind my back pushed me forwards enough though – and also prevented me from getting the bruised spine that Mr C got when he did his single seater experience.
After a quick lesson on the gears – very basic and easy enough to take the skin off your knuckles when you changed gear – and a realisation that these cars weren’t really built for women who had hips at all it was time to be off on to the track. I had worried about being out there all on my own and being a hazard to other drivers, but they way they do the single seater experience is that an instructor goes in front of you in a Skoda and you follow. They then keep their window wound down and use arm signals to tell you when to stay to left as you’re being overtaken, or when you need to move to the right to overtake someone else. Alan was the kind of guy that you just put all your trust into straight away so instantly I could forget all the worries that I’d had about being a danger to other drivers and enjoy the experience.
And enjoy it I did! The Formula Ford was so different to drive, but having had the experience of going out there in the Porsche first I felt that I knew enough about the track that I could apply what I’d learnt to driving the single seater. Certainly the experience of having your foot flat to the floor as you fly down the long straight was an amazing one, and not something I’ll forget in a hurry. I completely loved the whole experience and am so glad that I finally got to have a go.
In true review style I should say something about the day as a whole. Mr C didn’t book directly with Everyman Racing, but through some other gift company, but all my experiences with Everyman to book the experience itself was very professional. Promised emails telling me exactly what I needed to do and what I needed to send them in advance were all done in a timely manner. They were very helpful on the telephone and there were clear instructions as to what to take on the day paperwork-wise.
At the venue all the staff I encountered were very good. There was excellent customer service and the instructors were fantastic. The drivers’ briefing was very good, but did go on somewhat longer than I’d expected meaning that the rest of the times on my race ticket were pushed back a bit. Not a problem, but had we been dashing off later we’d have been late. Luckily another mum from school had collected Little Miss C for us so we didn’t have to worry about that.
The only thing that I would say let Everyman down at Prestwold were the physical facilities on site. The buildings (or portacabins as many were) looked very tired and it really looked like they could do with some money spending on them. The toilets were all adequate and generally clean, but again it looked like they’d not seen much investment lately and they could do with some. It was a shame as it jarred slightly with the luxury experience of driving a super car and when you see the prices for things like getting photographs of your experience it made you wonder why they didn’t invest some of that profit into the facilities at the site. In fairness they might be due an upgrade over the winter for all I know, but if they’re not I hope the management there will read this and consider doing so!
It was an excellent day though and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Everyman Racing for anyone looking to book a driving experience for someone as a gift, or even for themselves. Thank you Mr C for the Christmas present.
Disclaimer: I was not paid in anyway for this review. My driving experience was a gift from Mr C and we chose to pay for the photo package whilst there.