Back to Silverstone

I was back at Silverstone today for another new experience. Despite it being the home of British motorsport and umpteen Grand Prix, for me it will always be the place I ran my first ever half-marathon. When arriving at the circuit we couldn’t help identify bits of it that we ran around. It will always be so.

But this morning was about driving. Quite quickly. Well that was the plan. I have no idea if I did or not, because the package I had didn’t involve timing the laps I did in the rather lovely Formula Silverstone car. Now, I won’t bore you with technical details other than to say this is a single-seater race car and is enormous fun.

We arrived at the circuit in good time, despite being sucked into following another car down the wrong turning on the way there, checked in and arranged in-car video and photos (which will follow sometime). The group of 11 of us were what I thought was a surprisingly varied bunch, and we had our instruction from a bloke called Chris Alford who apparently has been racing cars since the time of dinosaurs or thereabouts. Good guy actually. Not crashing racing cars is a serious business but he presented and instructed well.

Half an hour later we went out to get helmets on (eventually – I clearly need more practice at that but) and to get fitted into our cars. I was going to be the first one out, so we fired up the Ford engines.

And stalled. A few times.

You see these cars don’t respond to gentle treatment when starting. You have to force them into first gear, and they’ll stall at any revs that aren’t high enough to be rearranging your spinal column a touch. I stalled a few times but got the hang of it quickly enough.

We did around eight minutes (3 or 4 laps) behind a pace car before we were released. We started slowly enough but built speed very quickly, and before long I was in top gear hammering along, then the pace car indicated and pulled off.

The next ten minutes shot by in a blur. I think I had a reasonable pace but it’s so hard to tell. I overtook 4 or 5 cars and was overtaken by one, but when I was passed I set about re-catching them which I did right up until catching a slower car I couldn’t overtake at the time – there’s strict rules about that.

There isn’t really one overriding memory of the whole thing. The sheer speed along the main straight was extraordinary (about 100-110 mph I think) and eventually I got the hang of really attacking into the corners, such that I do think I was going OK. The forces on the body even at our relatively tame speeds were really surprising. The feedback through the steering wheel really does take it out of your hands, but overall I just think I was starting to stretch the cornering speeds to the limit but never quite made it there.

I do now have an insight into how useless the mirrors are on single-seaters – they’re small and have a narrow field of vision and actually you don’t have all that much spare time to be looking in them, and when you do things seem to appear and disappear in them too easily.

And then the chequered flag came out, and that was that. I’m going to have a look at the video that was taken and try and get an idea how fast I was but the main thing was I loved it and would love to do another session around the time of next year’s half-marathon. What a day. Just brilliant!

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