A short chain of events led to me racing my mini at Brands Hatch last Wednesday night..
Following my go in the Aston last year I told MrS that whilst I loved it, I was so worried about driving the actual car I and listening to the instructor that I wasn’t sure I’d got the full benefit from it
A few months ago I declared that what I’d really like to do was drive my own car literally as fast as I could
Just over 2 weeks ago while MrS was working in Milan I had a huge ass injection in my huge… hip. A cortisone injection, for anyone who is unaware, is bloody horrible. So while I was feeling sorry for myself MrS booked this as a surprise.
The deal was I get to do 4 x 20 min sessions at Brands Hatch at a Novice evening and MrS would be my passenger.
Except last week he discovered he had to attend a meeting, but that was ok because I “could go to the briefing on my own and he’d still be there on time”. Okaaaaay. I didn’t want to go on my own to ANY of it but he promised he would be there before the end of the briefing session.
Then Tuesday happened. The hottest day of the year so far. Cue rail chaos and SERailway announcing they would be slow running trains in the afternoon of Wednesday. By now I was freaking out. I had taken the afternoon off work so I would be able to get to Brands Hatch in plenty of time. MrS now would not be leaving the city until at least 4pm and then he would be lucky to get a train.
If Tuesday was hot then Wednesday was one of Dante’s circles. So hot the patio doors at the back of the house warped and wouldn’t shut without me wrestling them back into the frame. I was dripping before I even left the house and I’d had an email that morning saying that all drivers must wear long trousers, and drivers of convertibles must wear long sleeves. Not leathers, just long sleeves. Because you know, if you turn over a convertible a long sleeve shirt is going to protect you… Anyhoooo, I was wearing chinos and a white shirt, the coolest things I could find.
Now obviously I don’t frequent race tracks, I had no idea where I was going when I got there. The lady on the gate told me to follow the road until I got to the tunnel. The only tunnel I could see said “Pits”. I followed the signs tentatively expecting any minute to be yelled at for going the wrong way. I was getting crosser and crosser that MrS wasn’t here with me because HE would have known where to go. I drove up and down, there was nothing to say where I could park so I landed and went into sign on. At this point I had a text from MrS saying he was on the way, but I should get an instructor for the first lap! The lady behind the counter was so lovely, when she asked whether I was driving and I rattled off nervously the tale about MrS being absent she immediately asked if I would like an instructor. I couldn’t get one for the first session but she said that I’d be ok, because it was just a ‘sight’ session, where the instructor car drives the lines of the track and everyone follows it. MrS had explained that this would happen. She said as soon as the sight car finished I could just follow it in if I didn’t like it solo.
I had to go and get my car noise tested which was hilarious – he asked me to rev it to 5.5 but it only went up to 4, although we since decided that it probably has a rev limiter when it’s in neutral. Next was the briefing session. I’d been to one of these before when I did the Aston track day, so at least I knew what the cones meant (they have a yellow cone at the point of turning, and orange cone on the apex of the bend and then another yellow to aim for as you leave the bend) and I knew what the flags meant. I listened carefully to the bit about overtaking, you are only allowed to overtake on the straight and you must move over to the right and indicate to show you are happy to be overtaken. So on the straight it’s your business what you’re doing and on the bends it’s everyone else’s look out what you’re doing.
After the briefing we went to the pit lane for the sight lap. I couldn’t do my helmet up properly so had to get one of the pit mechanics to do it up for me. I felt so sick. But in what seems to be my way I was telling myself it was too damn late now!
Then we were off. I was several cars back so really it was like a game of Chinese whispers – the line was lost to any car more than 3 cars back so you were just getting the car in front’s interpretation of the bend… after 3 laps the sight car went off and so did I.
The mechanic who helped me with my helmet had told me I needed to screw my tow hook in (not a euphemism) so I found that out and struggling with removing the cover from the front bumper when a guy wandered over and offered me a screwdriver (also not a euphemism). The 20 minutes between sessions seemed to fly by. Just as I was about to go off and find my instructor MrS finally showed up. (At last!)
Anyway, he stayed to take some pics and off I went with Ryan. He was BRILLIANT. He basically took my mirrors for me and then talked me through the course as we went round it. By the end of that session I’d got the corners but was still intimidated by others on the track. This was a novice session, which by MSV’s definition means anyone who has driven on a track for 4 times or less. What it doesn’t mean is everyone is driving ordinary cars. Sure there was a Renault 4 and a couple of every day Mercedes (and in a different group there was another Mini) but there were also Porches, really high powered BMWs and also, a couple of Caterhams and Westfields.
In the time before the next session I went and found MrS who had been busy taking photos and while we were waiting the lady driving the Renault 4 came over and had a chat.
Then it was time for us to go again, this time with MrS beside me. I felt more relaxed and like I knew the circuit. MrS took my mirrors again – essentially letting me know when anyone was coming up alongside me. And to his credit, not being impartial like the instructor was, that was pretty much all he did. I stopped thinking so much in individual steps; as when you first learn to drive you repeat “mirror, check blind spots, signal, manoeuvre” I had been having an internal monologue with myself - “brake, aim for the yellow, turn towards the orange, accelerate, aim for the next yellow, get the feck out of the way of anyone wanting to overtake…”.
I was thoroughly enjoying the fourth and final session – MrS had limited himself to just yelling “brake!” or “power!” however we noticed a change in the driving of others in this round – it was suddenly like all bets were off. People (men, for it was all men apart from myself and Renault lady) started overtaking on the bends and the Mercedes who had been eating my dust for several laps tried to overtake me as I was pulling out to avoid a car joining from the pit lane. Even I could tell the difference at this point between those who understood what they were doing and those who just wanted to drive their car really fast. The big black Mercedes just couldn’t summon the acceleration to pass my mini on the straights. Several cars got flagged for poor driving at this point, and I found out afterwards that several drivers were spoken to. I was starting to get tired and we were both really hot so I pulled out of my last session a couple of laps early, but I really wanted to keep going!
I loved the evening in the end. I was utterly terrified at the starting line and euphoric as I crossed the finish line. I felt the fear and did it anyway. This wasn’t on my fuckit list, (although it should have been! The Aston was) but it’s something I’ll never forget.