If I could get away with a one word review for this, it would simply be “Incredible”. But even that single word on it’s own doesn’t do justice and it doesn’t make for a very helpful review, so read on below to find out why you need to get booked in for one of these experiences.
Thanks to the great people at Red Letter Days, we popped over to Silverstone to give this “Single Seater Experience” a go, first hand.
When booking your experience, you’re given a time slot and advised to arrive 30mins beforehand. I’d suggest you arrive an hour beforehand to make the most of it. Firstly, you’re driving to Silverstone, which is an experience in itself and it’s eerily quiet compared to an F1 weekend, which feels special. Upon arriving at the track gate, you’re welcomed and directed by helpful marshals, and then in order to get to the experience centre you have to drive around the perimeter road around the track – this is good!
The speed limit is a frustrating 10mph, but the view is fantastic and gets you in the mood for some racing, as you pass by some of the most iconic corners in motorsport history before driving via the bridge over the Hangar Straight and towards the “Silverstone Wing” complex. Forget the old shed that used to be the experience centre, oh no, nowadays you’re in the Wing and get to watch any track action that happens to be on that day. There’s some tasty food and drink on offer and a well stock merchandise store too.
After registering, the timetable for the day is confirmed and you’re waiting to be called into your briefing. The Wing is a pleasant place to hang out and before long you’re called into your briefing session.
Before getting sight of your racing machinery it’s time for an informal, but important Drivers Briefing where an experienced instructor takes you through the basics of your track time, the car, regulations and basic race driving tips. You may think you know it all from driving your hatchback quickly on country roads, but no – with racing cars it’s a bit different. No handy electronics, it’s proper driving, get it wrong and you’ll not get the most from your experience.
The Briefing covers the track layout, flags and as mentioned the basic essentials of driving what is essentially a Formula Ford racing car. No powered steering here, but we have racing clutches, racing gearboxes and tips on when to brake, when to change gear and how to deal with over and understeer.
The briefing is kept fun and as well as getting some useful info, you feel even more excited that you already did upon arriving at the track. Time to head over to the pit lane.
Now that you’re fully clued up on the track, regulations and how the cars work, you drive over to the Silverstone Stowe circuit, park up and get your balaclava and helmets fitted in the pit garages, surrounded by the racing machines you’re about to drive. This is suddenly feeling real and seeing even a FF car up close gets the adrenaline going.
You’re sent over to your car, told how to get in (not immediately obvious), basically like you see F1 drivers, step onto the seat then lower yourself in, keeping legs straight and using your upper body to lower yourself into position. You’re then strapped in and shown the controls.
I have to say the cars are wonderfully old school racing machines, in a good way. Proper switches and no extras. Engine start button, rev counter, tiny racing wheel and a gear stick that essentially a chunky piece of metal – no nice leather trimmed gear knobs and spring loaded gear change assistance here.
It is rather daunting – you’re so low down, barely inches from the ground and about to enter a race track in a proper racing car. Thankfully, they ease you in – for the first 20 minutes you’re following an instructor who’s driving a tuned up Renault Clio, ragging it around the track. They get progressively getting faster as you and your fellow rookies learn the track and gain confidence with your machinery. These 20mins fly by and before you know it, you’re called into the pits.
Let’s get racing.
As long as everyone’s happy, you’re pretty much sent straight back out onto the track for your 20minutes of racing. This is when the fun factor goes through the roof, you’re in a racing car, on a racing track and encouraged to drive as fast as you feel confident to do so.
During the briefing session they do warn you that if you spin off and can’t get going it could be the end of your session, especially if you do it twice because you could be deemed to be unsafe. With this in mind I took a sensible approach to these 20 minutes, each lap pushing the car and myself to go quicker than the last. When doing over 100 down a straight and approaching a quick left-right chicane it does take a while to train your brain that you’re in a car with wings and plenty of grip that you all you need to do is scrub a bit of speed off and turn in at the right point to drive through at what seems to be an insane speed. The thrill of the G-force as you do this is simply incredible and I could feel my crash helmet getting tighter as my grin got wider, to almost Ricciardo standard.
As you get quicker, it just gets more fun and driving a racing car around a track puts any video game experience to shame, this is amazing and so satisfying. Unlike video games, you cannot pause and restart, so I would advise listening to advice from instructors and building up speed gradually.
By lap 18 of my 21 laps I was running out of
race track talent as I tried to carry more speed through the first corners, locking up a front wheel and drifting out wide. Thankfully I caught the car and carried on just fine, waving to the marshal who was having a giggle at me. This made it just more fun though, I’d found the limits there and knew I’d got the most of out of it. And I continued to try and find more speed elsewhere before the chequered flag.
As the 20 minutes of free-running came to an end, we’re called back into the pits, unbelted and stepping out of our machinery, taking a moment to reflect on what we’ve just done. Sure, we haven’t just raced in a grand prix, but the feeling was pretty epic as you remove your helmet, balaclava and step away from your car.
We’re then taken through for a quick post-session de-brief, given print outs of our lap times and data and you can then collect images and/or video from your day (a cost extra, but well worth it). As I looked over my lap data, I was chuffed to see that from my first lap of a 1,15.600 I improved by nearly 10s to end my final racing lap with a 1,06.600 with each lap progressively quicker than the last, bar the hiccup lap where I ran out of talent.
It’s called a Silverstone Single Seater Experience and that’s exactly what it is and it is brilliant. I want to do more now and, given the opportunity I’d jump right back in for some more laps. It’s addictive. The whole day is well managed, stress-free, the staff are welcoming, helpful, good fun and nothing is a problem. Our instructor was excellent and you can tell that he and the rest of the track staff enjoyed seeing people have these experiences. The photo from my day now sits framed on the wall of my studio.
If you are tempted to have a go yourself, go book yourself in now at Red Letter Days Driving Experiences or treat someone you know to have an experience they’ll treasure. It’s a great gift and booking through Red Letter Days gives the recipient a voucher they can use at any time they wish. At under £200 it’s well priced and from my experience it’s great value for money, I hope someone buys me another go at some point, or I may just go myself.
Want more info?
Want more details? Read on below for yet more info about the day – I’m including this because when Googling for info about other people doing these experiences, it’s tricky to find much useful info besides the promotional stuff, so if you’re like me and want to know more, read on:
It’s referred to as being a Formula Ford car and that’s pretty spot on. They aren’t quite as quick as the cars you’ll see in actual Formula Ford (FF), they have harder wearing tyres for starters and are geared differently to give anyone and everyone the best experience around the experience track. This isn’t a bad thing though, quite the opposite.
The cars are Ford Duratec powered, 1.6 litre engines with a 0-60mph of 4.3s and a top speed of 140mph. They have proper manual 4-speed gearbox with a racing clutch, so rev it high to get going. Don’t worry, everyone stalls it at least once when getting started, just push the clutch in and press the starter button again and listen to roar right behind you and enjoy the smell as it fires up. The gears feel heavy as does the steering, until you’re out on track doing what these cars are designed to do – go quickly. Just pay attention in the briefing and follow the trackside markers to get your braking points and gear changes done at the right time. When lapping quickly you’re only using 3rd and 4th so it’s fairly easy.
Yes it’s called a Silverstone Experience, but you’re driving the Stowe circuit, which is the Silverstone test track, and this is a good thing. You can drive the proper Grand Prix circuit if you do a road car experience, but the Single Seater is much more fun and the Stowe circuit is perfect for getting to grips with these cars. The track is about a mile long and features some twisty esses, fast chicanes and 2 hairpin corners as well as 2 straights, so it’s a great layout.
The 20min pace car session is vital for getting the racing line nailed and finding the braking points, as long as you keep the instructed distance from the pace car or the car in front of you, the pace car will get progressively quicker and the trackside marshals give you pointers too.
During the free-lapping session you drive as fast as you want/can and yes you can overtake other cars, but these is controlled – overtaking is only permitted on the straights and only when the marshal gives a blue flag to the car in front. Again this is a good thing, ensures safety and you know that then when you can overtake, that it is safe to do so and you won’t get Maldonado’d when turning in at the next corner.
As well as paying attention at the briefing I would suggest studying the track layout ahead of your experience, this way you’ll be able to enjoy driving more, spending less time learning the track. I had a week or so before my experience date and found that the Silverstone Stowe circuit features on the Project Cars game on PC/PS4 and XBox. If you have this or have a friend that has it, then you should have a go at driving it (even better if you have a proper setup like this). Use the Formula Rookie car so you’re in similar spec machinery and learn the track that way. The gear changes and cornering speed will not be identical, but it gives you a head start come race day. I’m putting this down as the only reason my fastest lap was 3 tenths quicker than Badger GP editor, Craig Norman who joined me for the Experience. He doesn’t know I had this advantage though, until now! You can also find video footage on YouTube from other people, which can help too.
For the day, wearing comfy, well fitting trainers and jumper/hoodie, it can be chilly out on the track before you get racing. Take a camera or your phone too, you’re visiting the iconic home of British Motorsport!
Even if you’re just a little bit tempted, do yourself a favour and book this experience, you will not regret it, it’s the most motorsport fun I’ve had in a long time! Stick it on your wish list and hope someone treats you, or save some pennies and go for it.