On Monday 10th October my fiance took me to Donnington Park Race Course. The plan for the day – to join other MG enthusiasts on a ‘track day‘ where we could drive our own MG around the Grand Prix circuit! To say I was terrified is an understatement!
I have never done any ‘fast’ driving at all, the fastest most dangerous driving experience I have had is go-karting; and then I was thrown out of a race for being a dangerous driver (apparently I didn’t use my brakes enough…?) Still I agreed to go along despite being petrified, as I thought (as I do with most things) if you don’t try something how do you know if you like it or not?!
We arrived at the track at just after 8am in our MG ZS 180 and signed-in, here we collected the stickers for our car and our helmets. We drove round to our allotted garage for the day to be greeted by a nice collection of approx 100 different MG’s from MGB’s to TF’s, ZR‘s, Zs’s and many more. We stuck our number (36) on the passenger door, a blue sticker in the windscreen (glue group were the novice/first-time group and an ‘N’ on the rear (so other drivers would know we were novices. Then headed in for the briefing. The organisers talked us through the schedule for the day, the rules, flags, safety and tips then it was time for the first group to head out. The day was organised into 20 minute slots. On the hour each hour the red group (intermediates) would have a 20 minute session, followed by blue’s 20 minutes at 20 past the hour and green (advanced) at 20 to the hour. Starting at 9am, ending at 5pm with a break from lunch from 1-2pm, this meant a total of 8 20 minute sessions throughout the day. The session format was really good a it meant everyone would get a go without getting too fatigued and the potential risks that go with driving whilst tired, it also gives the car chance to recover a bit between sessions – as well as the driver!
Our first session at 09.20 began with 3 laps following the ‘safety car. All three groups had to do these ‘siting’ laps to get a feel for the track, where the bends, turns, dips and corners were at a safe steady speed not exceeding 60mph before being allowed to finish the session with out the guide. My fiance drove for the siting laps as I insisted I did not want to drive until after I had my training session with the instructor! It was amazing how quickly the 20 minutes went, after the 3 practise laps there was only time for two more before the session ended. It wasn’t all that exciting or scary but we were going at reasonable speeds so I guess it shouldn’t have felt too bad – there must be something wrong if it had! lol My only issue was I couldn’t’ wait to get the helmet off after, it felt like I was suffocating wearing a helmet in a normal car!
Before our next session we spent a little time chatting with the guy parked next to us in the pits. He had picked up his ZR 160 for just £150, a little worse wear, but still MOT’d taxed and road legal – bargain! After our second run we went back into the garage for another briefing session where an instructor detailed the lane positioning approaches for us, t help people understand the best lines to take round the track for the smoothest ride. I was focussing hard on trying to remember the guidance ‘stay to the left, middle, right…’ for each corner, but it was a lot to take in. At 11o’clock it was time for my session with the instructor, this meant my lesson would take me out with the intermediate group – hope they noticed my ‘N’ on the back and stayed clear! lol
Actually my lesson went really well, I informed the instructor at the beginning that I was terrified and he said not to worry he would guide me with the steering and tell me exactly what to do when… So off we went, it felt a little strange having someone moving the steering wheel occasionally whilst you were in control (I don’t think this even happened on my ‘normal’ driving lessons?) but the constant instruction – turn here, slow down, break, faster, change gear, follow the kerb, start breaking at the kerb… was brilliant, on the first lap it was hard to follow, the concentration required was so much more than I’m used to (and that is saying something as I am known for concentrating really hard anyway!) but after a couple of laps I was really getting into it much more. By the time the session was ending the instructor had said that my steering was the best he’d had yet all morning, but that I was ‘approaching corners at suicidal speeds even Schumacher wouldn’t attempt’ – in other words I REALLY needed to brake much more firmly, much sooner and for longer – oops! Guess it was a damn good job my steering was so good! lol
As it was 20 past the hour when we pulled back into the pits my fiance was ready and waiting for our blue session. He jumped in after the instructor got out and I headed out for my first real run. By the end of the 20 minutes I was getting tired, I could see why they only did 20 minute slots – and there’s me I’ve just done 40 minutes straight off on my first ever time on track – durrr idiot!!! My fiance said that he was impressed with how much I had taken in, getting the corners right, smooth driving but that I wasn’t very fast overall (don’t think I’d gone above 70mph) and I was too courteous - letting other drivers pass me. But we had been told to let faster cars/drivers past as it wast a ‘race’ so I was just being fair and safe rather than holding them up! I was sooo glad to get my helmet off after 40 minutes and had a lie down n the back seats 0f the car before our next session as I was shattered – you’d be amazed how tiring driving under such conditions is!
One more session before lunch, when we were done I had to have another lie down before we went to lunch, I’m sure that the helmet really didn’t help and that I was actually suffering motion sickness – without the nausea… much like when we were on the cruise ship… Anyway, before we went for lunch the editor of MG Enthusiast magazine stopped to chat to us about our first time on a track day, so we might me featured in the magazine soon!
After lunch I decided to let my fiancé go out on his own as I was too tired to be thrown about in the passenger seat again! lol I also wanted to try and get a few photos of the cars and session for my photography course. Unfortunately the lighting conditions were poor and I am still learning so I don’t think my shots turned out that good (what do you think, I’ve included a few in his post…). The professional photographers from Xtreme Sports photography did a much better job and we bought the disc of all the images of our car they had captured during the day.
I went in as a passenger again for the penultimate session, my fiance had been trying to convince me to drive again myself all day – but my lesson and one session were enough for me! At least I can say I have driven the Grand Prix track at Donnington – that’s enough for me! I left him to go out alone again for the final session of the day as I had been completely whacked after every single session, I really am a terrible passenger!! While he was out on that session I was hoping to get a chance to chat to the photographers a bit, maybe get a few tips. I had just started talking to the female photographer about the day in general when a crowd of people came in to purchase their images, so I never got chance to talk shop
They say that one mile on track is equivalent to 10 miles n the road, we did just over 100 miles on the track, using a full tank of super-unleaded fuel!
Well, that about brings us to the end of the day. It was a brilliant experience and one I would highly recommend!
Have you been a track day? What did you think of it? Why not share your experience in the comments below!
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