In which I take a photo every day that I'm 50, and post it here on this blog, with a bit of related blurb.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Day 331 - Boy Racer

let's go racing

Another significant 50th Challenge List tick today - drive a single-seater racing car!

Anna bought me a driving experience at Silverstone for my 50th birthday...nearly a year later, I finally got to complete the challenge.

I was sure it was going to be disappointingly wet today...and sure enough, when I got up it was soaking outside - although at least not raining.

We're only about 30 miles from the famous Silverstone racing circuit, where the first World Championship Grand Prix race was held in 1950, and on the drive down there, I realised the day had become drier and brighter, and the roads were fairly dry. 

Sure enough, upon arrival at the circuit, the track was dry...or at least, drying.

The cars are of a specification known as Formula Silverstone...1.6l normally aspirated engines generating around 150bhp...

That's not much more than my Mondeo diesel estate, which has 140bhp, and less than half my Toyota Supra, which had 325bhp...but these cars have great grip, and weigh about a third of a normal road car...they'll do 0-60mph in around 4 seconds (which is faster even than the supra), and top out at about 145mph.  

The circuit we used was the Stowe Circuit, which actually sits inside the Formula One track, and is just over a mile long.

After a number of laps behind a pace car, we were allowed to drive at racing speeds for about 20 minutes!

Here I am on my opening free laps, getting used to the gears and brakes, and starting to push the car faster.

picking up speed

There were 12 cars out on the track, which to be honest was a little frustrating, given the very wide range of abilities.    Whilst the faster of us were lapping in just over a minute, the slowest were taking over a minute and a half...

(for reference, a Mercedes F1 car recently set a lap time around this short circuit of 36 seconds!)

Of course, we weren't actually allowed to race...we could overtake, but only in designated areas (basically the pit straight, and the back straight), and if you were blue flagged, you had to cede a place to the car behind.

This could be frustrating too, as if you overtook someone, then made a minor mistake such as missing a gear change (easily done), they would blue flag you to tell you to let the guy you'd just overtaken back through! 

The effect of this was to break up the flow of the session quite a lot, and make for many disjointed laps!

Here I am pulling out to pass someone on the pit straight...

outta my way

I'm on the right, and I had to hold back and hold back until we passed the black sign just behind me, which is the start of the overtaking area...

Below, you can see me overtaking the red car on the back straight...we're probably doing around 120mph at this point...

coming through

However I was immediately held up by the two orange cars in front... 


Half a lap later and I'm given the opportunity to pass the first of the two, but there's no way past the one immediately in front of me.  


Only being allowed to overtake one car at a time, and with only two overtaking areas on the circuit, it was noticeable how many laps were lost to sitting in traffic like this.

After 20 minutes or so, which seemed like about 5 minutes, the chequered flag was waved and we all headed back to the pits.

pit stop

Overall, it was the most fantastic fun...even getting through the traffic was challenging, and it was amazing to actually drive a race car for the first time.

Of course I've done a lot of SIM racing in the past, and it was gratifying to discover how close to the real thing the computer simulation is...driving a race car in this way seemed quite familiar to me. 

challenge complete

I was pleased to find that I'd held the fastest lap for most of the session, until a couple of other guys found some clear track right at the end and nipped in front of me, placing me third in the standings.

I would have loved an hour in the car to familiarise more with the gear change and the brakes, and to start to really push the lap times...I've always been a bit of a hot lap specialist, and there is definitely lots more time to find in that lap (the lap record is some 9 seconds faster than I did today).

Overall, it was just brilliant fun all round...and my shoulders are aching even as I type - it's always good if it hurts later!

Anyway, it's a big tick from my list...

...and suffice to say, I was grinning like a loon inside my helmet in that last photo!


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