Single Seater Thrill at Silverstone - Reviewed and Videod!
Adrenaline rush - guaranteed!
When the rare opportunity comes along for a petrol head like myself, to drive a powerful single seater racing car at Silverstone, there are no prizes awarded for guessing whether I said yes or no!
The Single Seater Thrill at Silverstone is the perfect chance for any F1 fan to test what they think they know about open wheel driving in a relatively safe and controlled environment. You hope all those years of listening to Jonathan Palmer, Martin Brundle and David Coulthard on the TV will have turned you into a racing God or Goddess... but it's impossible not to feel ever so slightly apprehensive when you switch that engine on and engage the clutch...
Before we get into that, let's take a look at the machinery you're going to be bolted into to show your stuff:
- Engine: 1600cc Ford Duratec
- Power: 291bhp per tonne
- Acceleration: 0-60mph: 4.3 seconds
- Top Speed: 135 mph
- Transmission: Four speed H-pattern manual racing gearbox
OK so it's not a full beans Formula 1 car, but for your first or second time behind the wheel of a single seater, this is going to get your heart ticking pretty fast I promise. Being just a couple of inches off the ground will also make these cars feel even more spectacular than they already are.
The circuit you drive around is called the Stowe Circuit. It's actually a track inside the main Grand Prix layout and uses part of the runway you may be familiar with from aerial shots of Silverstone. It has two straights, two hair pins, a quick chicane, some esses and a couple of other corners that will require your full attention, so it has it all.
Before you are allowed onto the circuit, a 25-30 minute briefing takes places which is a mix between a safety DVD and an instructor who will give you extra guidance and answer your burning questions (like 'Where is the toilet Mister?'). You will be briefed on the car controls, safety, flag signals, marshal posts as well as the all important technique for driving these cars fast and smoothly.
Depending on your instructor, you may have a few horror stories shared like the time two cars connected wheels and an aeroplane style accident took place. These stories are apparently true but accidents are incredibly rare on experiences like these. It would take a real plonker with absolutely no regard for yours or his own safety to cause an accident in this type of environment...
Once out of the briefing you'll start getting strapped into your car by a new instructor who will help you get comfortable and make sure you can reach the pedals and change the gears. The H-pattern gear stick is incredibly stiff and not like anything you'd have likely driven before. My advice would be give it a good go before you switch the car on and make sure you are happy.
The session format is 8 minutes behind a pace car (to learn the lines of the corners) and then 10 minutes on your own to give it some stick. It felt like the other way round to be honest as the pace car was in front of me for what seemed like an eternity.
Once it was gone I got the tyres and brakes up to temperature and gave it my all. I concentrated on using all the brake, turn in, clipping and exit points/cones on the circuit to good effect. However, I think in the whole 10 minutes I got one clear lap, the rest were blocked by the other drivers who were taking it pretty easy in all honesty.
The briefing tells you that you can only overtake a slower car, once it has been shown a blue flag and only on either of the 2 straights. So it can be quite frustrating if you get behind a few cars as you have to follow them at what feels like a walking pace.
As you'll see in my video above, at once point I came off the brakes and back onto the throttle for the quick chicane, and the car in front of me was actually slowing down right in the middle of it. Pretty dangerous!
When you do get a clear lap these cars are awesome fun. They are built to grip and go very fast. If you get the chance to gather some momentum, they can be very rewarding to drive.
This is the second time I have had a go at the Silverstone Single Seater Thrill and highly recommend it to anyone who holds a driving license and wants to taste what it feels like to thrash an open wheeled racing car for the first time. If you have experience with driving fast cars on a circuit environment, personally I'd save your money. Why? This time round there was only 10 of us on the circuit, and as mentioned above, I only got 1 clear lap to really give it my best. The rest were stuck behind other cars. I'm told the Stowe Circuit can hold up to 28 drivers at once so you can imagine the frustration and potential pandemonium on hot summer days when it's busy. Don't get me wrong, driving a single seater will always be thrilling so perhaps the Silverstone experience is one you should tick off your list, regardless of whether you've done something similar before.
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