Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced

Date: 26th September 2015
Track: Drift Limits, Bovingdon
Vehicle driven: Formula Renault 2.0

After my summer hiatus from racing (and blogging), I finally got the chance to cash in my birthday voucher of a Formula Renault experience.

Setting off early to get to the track with plenty of time, myself and my wife cruised up the A3 and around the M25 at a leisurely pace (in comparison with the speeds I was expecting to hit during my first real single seater race car). I say my first ‘real’ experience because on my 18th birthday, I was invited to Donington Park as a Renault VIP and got to sit in a Formula Renault car back then.

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Throwback to my 18th birthday at Donington Park… How young do I look here?!

Having arrived too early to check in at the track, we stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast at the service station on the other side of the dual carriageway. Once I had filled up, we then navigated down this one track road to the venue. I was excited but also slightly disappointed that it was not a “proper” track, but rather some markings and cones on an old runway. Now, I wasn’t expecting to see Brands Hatch, but I did hope to see some kerbs and track limits marked out professionally.

Anyway, I checked in on the customised bus/office before heading out to the track as a spectator. As my wife and I went to watch, one of the guys on track at the time managed to spin the car completely and rolled into the field on the side of the “track”.

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The “track”

Due to the lack of any defining features, it was difficult to see where the racing lines were, or even which way you were meant to go from the “spectator area”, so watching others wasn’t useful at all.

From here, all of the drivers for my session were called into a safety briefing; there were so many do’s and do not’s that it did overload most of us sat there. Basically, the aim was not to crash (big excess to pay) but also to make the most out of the experience. One of the things I did love about the guys there, were how friendly they all were, and also that I was allowed the opportunity to use my helmet and helmet camera during the session.

Purely by chance, I was first up in the stripped out Mazda MX5 for the instructor to drive me around the track for four laps, so I could get used to the circuit, the braking points and general driving style that was required.

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Once that was over, it was my turn to be strapped into the Formula Renault and take it away! One of the first things that struck me was that it was far more open than I remembered from Donington, but yet the pedals seemed to be on top of each other (damn my wide feet!). The other thing that I noticed was that my thighs were in the way if I missed my turning in point and wanted to put a little more steering into the corners. However, my body size and shape aside, I just tried to slowly make my way around the circuit on the first lap to get used to the twists and turns under my own steam.

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A running theme of this blog seems to be the scrapes or near-misses that I find myself in (usually not even my fault!) and this was another one of those occasions. About three-quarters of the way around my first lap, the other driver obviously lost his way after three corners, and came careering across my part of the track just in front of me!

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After this scare, I ramped up the speed for the next 15 minutes, being fairly smooth (but maybe not too fast), only having a couple of wobbles where the back end slipped from under me as I pushed onto the power too early.

I loved the experience of single-seater driving, but I didn’t feel that I pushed the car to its limit or even pushed my driving skill to its limits, which was disappointing. It would be great to do some more single-seater racing in the future, but on a purpose-built track (with a long enough straight to be able to open the throttle up).

My weekend didn’t stop there with the thrills; I went to Thorpe Park the following day to experience massive acceleration on Stealth – 0 to 80mph in 2.8 seconds – the same acceleration as two F1 cars! Now that is truly rapid!

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