“Use the throttle. Use the brakes. Use the steering wheel. Douchecopter.”
As advice goes, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Thanks Conor.
I’ll be honest. I was really nervous. Well, maybe not nervous. Apprehensive is maybe more accurate. Apprehensive, but so excited.
Snetterton on a glorious British summer’s day (overcast, grey, with rain looming on the horizon) seemed a million miles away from Monaco, and yet it was in the Principality that Jonathan Palmer had, off the cuff, thrown out an offer I leapt upon.
“You should come and test the F4 car one day,” he proffered.
Having only ever driven a few fun laps of a Formula Yas at Abu Dhabi a few years ago, and taken some incredible two seater F1 and Indycar runs, naturally I jumped at the chance to get behind the wheel of a proper single seater, under my own steam.
Cue a few emails, some suggested dates… and then the question.
“Do you have a race license?”
“Not to worry, we’ll do your ARDS test when you get there.”
And so I arrived at Snett, ready to take my license examination and, so long as I passed, jump into Britain’s latest and greatest entry level formula car. I’ve been writing and talking about racing cars for over a decade. I’ve raced karts and driven some pretty awesome cars over the years, but now was the time for me to quite literally put up or shut up. No pressure.
The first job was to learn the track, and so I stepped into the Peugeot RCZ GT THP 200 Sports Coupe with my driving instructor and coach for the day, Le Mans and Sportscar ace Christian Vann. Having never driven or commentated on Snetterton before, I’d watched a few youtube clips the night before to try and get my head around the relatively new “300 track.” It’s not an easy track in the slightest, with some tricky corners that can easily catch you out… and the trick of passing ARDS is just that. You have to show consistency, knowledge of racing line, improvement, pace… and not chucking the thing off the track.
My examiner for the written and track test was Andrew Crighton. We went through the MSA DVD on flag etiquette, race weekend timetables, dos and don’ts etc… and then I had a folded piece of paper put infront of me with a bunch of questions and spaces to write my answers. I am 13 years old again and sitting my exams. I’m in a cold sweat and nervously tapping my pen.
Boom. 100%. Apparently most sensible people get 100% on it. It’s mostly common sense. Rumours have it however that when the ARDS was placed in front of 32 current British racers only 6 got top marks. Make of that what you will.
Next up, the driving test. Andrew is vocal over the first few laps. The lines he’s looking for are slightly different to the lines I’ve learned with Christian so I have to make a sudden mental note to alter turn in points… and then, all of a sudden, he stops talking. This is it. I’m now being tested.
I have no idea why, but my hands become clammy and the steering wheel feels loose in my hand. I’m second guessing myself on every corner. Is that the right turn in point, where’s the sodding apex, where should I be braking? The lap feels like it takes 10 minutes. But then it’s over.
“Well done,” Andrew smiles. “You passed. Really smooth, good lines, you’ll be great in the F4.”
Andrew and I get to talking about where I started karting. My very first foray was back in Guildford when I was about 12, and then on the indoor track in Weybridge before it closed down and I was recommended a new track in Esher, at Sandown Park. It was a modest affair to start with, a car park with cones marking out a track. I never raced properly. Just fun days out with my parents and friends.
Andrew grins. He ran the track at Weybridge. And Sandown. He laid out those cones.
Back in the day, 20 years ago, Sandown gave you a little laminated card to show that, as an underage kid, you knew what you were doing and were considered good enough to drive. Andrew gave me such a card. Two decades later, he’s giving me my race license. The moment isn’t lost on us. But I’m not the first. Many a racer started out at Sandown, or that indoor track in Weybridge. Tom Gaymor (racer turned commentator) forged that path… so too my good friend Sam Bird.
It’s a small racing world.
Want to get racing? Learn how you can take your ARDS with Jonathan Palmer’s Motor Sport Vision at some of Britain’s finest race venues, here.