My Best Driving Experience Ever : Tom's Opinion
Genuinely is not clickbait, I would reccommend this to anyone with a crush on petrol and rubber.
It is the day after my driving experience at Thruxton, the fastest circuit in the UK. I thought I should add that little tagline in there, they love saying it. This experience was nothing short of brilliant. I may just be bubbling over in my late-teenage excitement, but I really did enjoy it, more than I thought I would, and I would highly recommend this experience to anyone considering doing it.
You may be wondering why I was doubting the fact that this supercar experience might not be fun, but it was due to the weather. Now, any residents of the UK love to flex the phrase “British Summertime”, which, as a translation for anyone not from the UK, just means crap weather. We love to have a reserved giggle to ourselves that our summers consist of rays of sunshine, making us boil with the high humidity, followed by many days of depressing clouds, showers and more clouds. That’s why you might hear people say, “Oh yeah, I’d love a convertible for the 3 days of the year that you can actually use it!” then they do a smug but sad scoffing noise, as they know they’re right but don’t want to be. So, back to my day. We’ve had some very nice, hot days consistently for about a week and a half, which is pretty good all things considered. But of course, it had to be followed by a lovely downpour. I’ll say at least that it was good for the plants to finally sip that couple of hydrogens and an oxygen. But I have hands. And sentience. So, I can operate a tap. Therefore, I did not want rain that day, since it was the day of my experience. We were teased on and off with the chance that it might not rain that day, however the weather was not on my side. This caused me to think that the whole day was going to be less enjoyable, since I was petrified of throwing a McLaren into a wall at 100mph.
Now let’s fast-forward onto the more car-y part of my story. So, I am booked to be driving a Porsche Cayman, a McLaren 570S and a Formula Renault and first up to bat is the sportscar from Stuttgart. After being briefed about flags and knowing what tarmac is, we were walked over to the Caymans and assigned a car to do 3 laps in with an instructor alongside. There were two generations of Cayman there, the 987 and the 981. The former was manual, and the latter was automatic. Now, I know what you’re thinking, I should be taking the manual, but I did not have a choice. Even so, I wanted to try the 981, since I’ve had a 987 Boxster. I wanted to try something new and I’m glad I did get the auto, since the flappy paddles were very decent to use. They had a cool aluminium feel to them with and were responsive. However, they were the second-best flappy paddles I used that day. As we got driving, I realized how daunting this was, a wet track, that I had never been on, virtually or in reality. I did get used to the track over the next few laps and I was really enjoying the Porsche on a circuit. I always hear car journalists blab on about how good Porsches are on a track and now I understand, even in a base 981 Cayman, topping 80 on a wet track. They have a certain dynamic to them that feeds you confidence throughout the corners and beyond. After my few laps were over, I was very smug that I had overtaken about 5 different Caymans and was the first in. They say this experience is not about racing, but you know…
After standing out in the rain for about 30 minutes, whilst wearing shorts, which I don’t advise, I moved on to the scary one. The 570S. The instructor this time was a very cheery guy who was asking me about myself and if I’ve done much track driving and also cars I’ve owned, so some relevant and some small talk. This in itself was quite intimidating to me since it reminded me of getting a vaccine where they try to talk to you to distract you from the pain you’re about to feel. But rather than a little prick of a needle, it was standing water and a near 600hp V8. As I got in, I remember hitting my butt-cheek on the side of the bucket seats and I was surprised with how supportive they were. Like, they really hugged you. Really, really hugged you, as if it was a family member that you haven’t seen in an eternal length of time, holding you and carrying you around for a few miles. It was very comforting. The next notable thing about this car was the paddles. Trust me, I’m not a freak for paddles, but my lord were these amazing. Two little carbon fibre ears stuck out from behind the alcantara wheel, each with a little orange plus or minus on them. The instructor told me to put it into first, so I clicked the right paddle and felt as if I was changing the morals and peace of the world with one little click. It was the crispest gear change I have ever experienced. It completely made me forget about the fact that it is attached to a supercar that I’m about to amateurly throw around “the fastest track in the UK”. The best thing I can think to compare it to would be the perfect snap of a carrot upon making the first bite but multiply it by many big numbers. Onto the actual driving of the car. For me, quick would be an understatement. The furthest I went in terms of throttle percentage was possibly 60% and that felt ridiculous. It felt stupid in a good way. I was in awe at the performance of the car, how it elegantly and intuitively slowed for a corner, how it darted towards the apex and how it shot out, ready to tackle another corner. Whenever I’d go to overtake another driver, I’d move my foot a millimetre and I would have passed way before my brain realised what had just happened. The car was awe inspiring and I loved every second of it, despite stepping out of it with an aching jaw and forearms, due to all the nervous tensing of the lap.
Lastly, but certainly not least is the Formula Renault. I began with a bit of disappointment, since I couldn’t fit into the regular single-seater. I got my legs, bum and torso into the cockpit, but my shoulders were wedged against the sides as if I was a sardine. This meant I had to hop out, as I was told it is important to steer. Sitting in the briefing garage, waiting to see what they were going to do, since my terrible hearing only allowed me to understand about 20% of the words that the marshal said, I see a slightly larger car roll up. My excitement peaks and I hop into this two-seater, feeling like Kimi Räikkönen, waiting to be handed my steering wheel. The next big thing is to not stall upon setting off. We were told how to do it, but surely enough I didn’t really hear what they said. I knew I had to double de-clutch to get it into first and keep the revs high. To my surprise, I managed to pull away completely fine. No stalling and not even any juddering. I had 5 laps this time and no instructor next to me. I was all on my own and the track was wetter than ever. I start getting used to the car and begin putting some decent power down. Meaning I have to change gear. You thought I got excited about how the last car changed its cogs, you haven’t seen anything yet! This was genuinely the most satisfying experience known by any human over the history of living beings. There was a drum-roll of the engine revs building up, then a small silence of your right foot lifting off the accelerator and a mechanical clunk of the clutch being depressed, and your right hand majestically thrusting the shifter into one of four non-synchro gears. The silence fused with myriad of clunks was finished with the climax of the suspense as the car continued revving, ready to do it all again. I was enjoying myself like I never have before, and I barely even topped 70mph.
One small note onto this whole experience is the madman that is Tiff Needell. He was the host of the briefing video and also the pilot of a BMW M4, which was essentially a flash of luminous green-yellow and two huge kidney grills. When I felt like Lando Norris, flying around in the Papaya 570S, this mentalist flies past, going well over 100mph, skating around lake Thruxton, with the rear of the car trying to overtake the engine, weaving around us slow mortals. I simply do not understand how a human does this, with such finesse and precision, it was a truly awesome sight to behold. That was until I come around on another lap to see him out in the grass, about 30 metres away from the flooded tarmac. You can still be sitting facing the wrong way nowhere near the track in a majestic fashion, right?
I will conclude by basically saying what I said in the introduction, since that’s sort of how this stuff works. If you are considering purchasing this sort of experience for yourself or a friend or relative, I could not recommend it more. Just do it, you’ll certainly enjoy it, regarless of the weather.