A shout of "All non-team personnel please clear Jakes half of the garage and make room for the mechanics" rings out across the small garage at Donington Park as the mechanics are rushing round Jake Hills car, following another shunt in Race 2 caused by, what can only be described as, Alex Martin's over exuberance in defending his position on the Leicestershire circuit.
As the team beaver away with the clock ticking down, with just seconds to go Jake’s Chief Engineer Ian Benson signalled to push the car out of the garage and onto the grid for Race 3 of the day. Just in the nick of time and right in front of my very eyes, a rather second hand looking Toyota Avensis rumbles down the pit lane and into the sunshine of Donington Park. It was at this point I had a moment and pinched myself, how does a random bloke from Chesterfield get to be this close to the action, it's not as if I have I have any discernible skills in the motorsport industry. This however is just part of the experience with Team HARD and their quite frankly astonishing VIP experience days. For less than the price of an F1 Grand Prix Sunday ticket, you get to experience more in a day than you could ever imagine.
Let me take you back to the beginning of the day so you can understand what kind of an experience you are getting. Following a quick phone call to our contact David Boor upon arrival at the circuit, we are swiftly picked up and driven on a motorised buggy to our hospitality area and given our VIP lanyards for the day so we are instantly recognised as guests of Team HARD and also grants us access to the hospitality tent and garage areas.
As we enter the Hospitality tent we are greeted by the lovely Andrea, and being the childish excitable individuals we are, Byron and I immediately got giddy and started flirting and joshing poor Andrea, even this wasn't enough to put her off her stride as she took it all in good humour and explained the format of the day. The banter doesn't stop there as you sit at a table full of strangers in a tent full of strangers but who have one common interest, Motorsport. Very quickly as you scoff your way through a full English and a coffee that is laid on for you (or continental if you are of that persuasion) the conversation flows and you find that everyone is equally as excited for the day as you are.
For those of you who are familiar with the prices of Coffee and a Bacon Butty at the UK's race circuits you will already know that you need a small mortgage to get something to eat so it's already worth the asking price at this point as I sit with a full belly and to think I've got a roast dinner and afternoon Tea and as much Apple Tango I can drink to come yet.
But now down to the nitty gritty and the very reason you are sat in this hospitality day, what can we expect from our day with Team HARD. In steps Simon Hill to explain what to expect from the day, for those of you who don't know, Simon was (in his own words) an OK race driver and a commentator on the BTCC circuit for a number of years with ITV. What he doesn't know about motorsport at this level is not worth knowing about.
He quickly reels off the team that make it possible to be here today and explains the format of the day including the support races and timetables, sticks in a few innuendos and anecdotes for good measure but in short explains that we are in for a cracking day
It goes a little something like this, we are free to roam about the hospitality area and garage, as long as we don't get in the way and move where and when told to do so, we are free to watch the races from the monitors in the garage and experience the race with every ooh and aargh from the Team perspective and believe me if you read the write up of Team HARDs days at Donington in 2016 you will understand that there was a lot of oohs and aargh’s (amongst over expletives) radiating from the garage, the experience of this is one to savour.
We also get a meet and greet including Q&A and photo opportunities with all the Team HARD drivers and grid girls, again the guys are not backwards in coming forwards if you ask them the right kind of questions. My question was how long does it take to bring the rear tyres in (as Jake spun the car on the warm up lap) which prompted a bit of ribbing from Michael, Chris and Simon.
We also get a bit of fun including a prize draw and an opportunity to be part of a unique mosaic picture brought to you by a great bunch of guys and talented photographers and other sponsor based prizes. Along with the afore mentioned food and drink, I think it's fair to say the day is going to be fun. But just as you think the itinerary is packed enough the Team Hard experience just gets better.
I have just two words for you... "Grid Access”, which leads me right back to where I started this article.
Whilst waiting to go out to the Grid for the 3rd and final Touring Car race of the day Jake Hill's car had taken a battering and the guys had been put under an immense amount of time pressure to get the car back out. Finally, the car was pushed out and the Team Hard VIP's are led out through the garage, up the pit lane and onto the Grid.
I couldn't believe it, I was stood inches away from the cars and drivers I have watched for years from the TV or at the trackside. As I snapped away with my camera at all the cars as they rumbled into their grid slots and at the girls that were stood there waiting for them, I caught a glimpse of people trying to get as close as they could trackside to get a better view and thought to myself, how lucky and privileged I was to be given this opportunity, the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and what great feeling to be that close to the action.
Still in awe of what is happening we walk back off the grid and back to the garage to watch the race, the feeling amongst all the VIP's is that the experience of what has happened today is immense. All the guys at Team HARD will have our support for the season ahead and we will all be looking to book again either next year or at another race meeting down the line.
The greatest thing about these VIP days is that they are accessible, if a random fan with a social media account in the Midlands can book in one, what's stopping you? These are run by Motorsport fans, for Motorsport fans and it shows in every detail of the day.