How to Get Your Racing Licence
Or: how 'ard are the ARDs?
Have you ever been to a fun fair and had a go at the Strongman challenge? You know, the one with the mallet. Having arms that appear to have less structural integrity than a cheese string I always manage to garner a couple of stunned silences when I send the marker flying up the tower to the little bell and make it go “DING!” But I’ve got physics on my side - and a brain.
The trick is not aim for the big red button but for an imaginary spot a couple of feet below. It seems to work even for the spindliest of youth because of a combination of Newton’s second law of motion and overriding the impulse you have of not wanting to suffer the repercussions of smashing a heavy object into a bigger heavy object that’s right in front of your face.
Exams are exactly the same. Practise for something you think is much harder and you’ll smash any test - your Novice Driver Training Course (more commonly know as your ARDs) included. This is the test you need to do in order to get your first race licence. You can do yours at almost any circuit. I did mine at Goodwood which is simply splendid. It’s like taking your test in a cosy bath with a cup of tea within easy reach.
But no matter where you take it, the question everyone wants to know is: How ‘ard are your ARDs?
Take your ARDs and you'll be a champion after a lot of practice. Sorry, I meant in no time at all.
Once you’ve passed them, you can throw your head back and laugh merrily about how silly you were to worry over a piffling trifle of a quiz. You can rip up your racing pack into tiny pieces and use it to papier-mache a magnificent headdress to announce your success. Showboating aside, you can’t - because the information that’s in the pack could be written on a business card. Also - you’d look mad.
Until that point, you should be aware that there are three points where you are guaranteed to fail your ARDs if you haven’t prepared. Three of them are in the exam paper and one is on the track. The 20 minute test is divided into four sections and you can only slip up in one of them. A single wrong answer for the others and you’ll be going home with your tail between your legs (which I very nearly did). On track, if you make your instructor feel unsafe or like you would be a liability on track, you’ll be going home with your tail between your legs.
You can’t do the usual nerd routine of nailing the exam by finding out what the paper even looks like (the MSA keep the booklets closely guarded) and don’t bother asking someone who’s sat it recently (they forget everything as soon as they left the room). You can, however, learn your flags by rote. Keep in mind you need to know how they’re displayed (stationary, waved, double waved, displayed with drivers’ number).
What does this flag mean?
Other than that the test is a matter of common sense. But don’t forget what sitting your GSCEs were like - most of that was “common sense” too. But if your higher power of reasoning managed to make a sneaky get-away as soon as you’d sat down with your sharpened pencil and calculator when you were 15, you might want to watch Steve Deeks on the MSA DVD that comes with your starter pack a couple of times.
It’s a pretty awful video, to be honest with you. It’s possibly the least efficient method of teaching I’ve come across - and I had Mr Samuels for Geography. The bits that are easy - any racing gear you wear needs to be approved by the FIA - is repeated a couple of times (with some nice product placement by Demon Tweeks, natch) but the hard bits, like the correct answer for how to correct for oversteer (I know what to do when it happens, I just can’t remember how to word it properly) Deeks races through as if he’s explaining it to someone that’s been racing all their lives.
Completely hopeless. But unfortunately all the answers are in there.
Next up and you’ve got some actual time on the track. You probably don’t need more than the practice sessions that they give you. During the bit where you’re being tested your instructor will go silent. If he must use the emergency break or grab the steering wheel you can kiss your ARDs goodbye (for that day). The instructors are looking for improvement, consistency and care. They don’t mind if you make mistakes, just so long as you make the same mistakes each time. While you can correct mistakes that are made consistently, but it’s nigh on impossible to tutor a chaotic driver.
This could be you. Taking your test. Jokes, you do it in a John Cooper Works Mini. 📸: Jayson Fong
Be vocal in what you’re doing. Get used to the idea of speaking out loud and explaining what you’re doing. Comment on what you see on track and show you’re aware of what’s going on around you. If you see a car coming up behind you, mention it. If you see a flag, say that you’ve seen it and what action you’re going to take. If you make a small boo boo, acknowledge it and say what you’re going to do about it next time round.
Of course, maybe I’m getting hysterical about the whole thing. Lord knows as soon as you let anyone know you’re taking your ARDs it’s all “oh yeah, they’re piss easy” this and “I turned up hungover and just told them I was dyslexic and they passed me automatically” that. But if, like me, you don’t have the luxury of being a jammy bastard, being prepared will smother those panicky anxiety dreams. And part of your preparation was reading this, so well done.
Get ready to send the marker to the top of the tower for a congratulatory “DING!”
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