Posted: August 31, 2016
I’m not a great driver, I’m barely average in fact but like many blokes, fast cars that outstrip my talent hold a strong and beguiling appeal.
In 2012 I bought an M3 CSL; “a tricksy’d up, hunkered down road racer that’s come amongst us, shaved and spruced” as someone once said. The CSL’s a car so far above my then (and still) limited driving ability that I felt if I was to unleash even a part of its potential, and keep the car and myself in one piece, I needed help. Serious help.
Image courtesy of MSVT
A brief hunt around the forums followed by a brief email exchange and I was booked onto CAT Driver Training’s Academy course. The reason for choosing this, apart from the glowing reviews by past attendees, was that the company is based within the Millbrook Proving Ground facility and has the whole place at its disposal to really get down into the nuts and bolts of performance driving. There is the Alpine Route, a twisting, turning circuit full of grade changes, the high speed Bowl, the handling circuit, a vast straight for braking learning, grip circles and skid pans and of course CAT’s classroom back at their base camp invisibly nestled within the Alpine Circuit itself. Not only are all these facilities available, students have them to themselves so it’s not like training within a track day where there are numerous other cars on track crowding each corner. The training is eight or so hours of one-to-one with the company’s founder Colin at your side on empty high-speed tracks. What’s not to love?
From now on, I will refer to Colin rather than CAT as he becomes your co-driver for the day. I have no hesitation in saying you will not only respect Colin, you will like him immensely; this is so important as he is not only your guide through a very dangerous activity but because a lot of the training is based on the exchange of information regarding the car, the technicalities and the circuits. His huge laugh, equally huge patience and ability to build rapport and get the ideas and goals across help immensely bringing confidence and surety to the sessions. Believe me, there is no holding back and make no mistake, this is full on high speed training and having someone calm and reassuring at your side is very welcome. I’d liken Colin to a great ABS system, cutting in only when needed but staying in the background otherwise merely giving you the confidence to push as hard as you can, as hard as you dare and then some.
“Right, we’re at 100 mph on the high lane of the Bowl – please take your hands off the wheel” . . . “errr . . . yeh . . . ok . . .”
So I have the perfect circuit at my disposal and one of, if not the best possible trainer at my side and of course my CSL. How many days in my life will be like this?
Anyway, enough waffle and on to the experience itself.
Image courtesy of MSVT
A small caveat is that this is an article about training rather than a training article so I won’t attempt to explain the dynamics, the tips and tricks, the techniques and strategies that come with instruction. In common with Colin, I believe these nuances must be felt first hand rather than absorbed through print, I believe you have to feel the G yourself and you have to feel the fear generated from being at the helm of a car on the edge of its limits or perhaps just slightly beyond.
To start, there are the necessary safety elements, do and don’ts and the mess about and you’re out type stuff. There’s a quick discussion on what the trainee wants from the training and then outside to check over the car for the task ahead, geo set-up is checked later on the grip circle – these are tyre pressure and condition, oil leak type checks. There’s a choice of CAT car or own car and for this, I chose my own car. I’d shod the CSL with new Supersports for the sessions and as a rule, Colin is looking for a minimum of 3mm of tread (I went through 1.8mm on the first day). I would have preferred fresh Cups but the weather was unpredictable. I also put on a fresh set of Pagid RS-29s (fully bedded in). On following days, I forced my frame into CAT’s crazy Subaru for the most part of the training but today it’s me and my CSL. Colin took me out in one of CAT’s cars for a familiarisation trip around the circuits to give an indication of what’s ahead and also to add a few moments of calm before the impending storm enveloped my world.
I’ve been in the car with a number of “real” drivers now; Colin, a few demos here and there with racing drivers on track and drift days, recently some IAM drivers and of course with Supercar Driver’s resident expert, Ollie and they all have one thing in common. They make progress effortlessly, the skill of balancing a car around a circuit is making it seem like you’re drifting around on a cloud and the silky-smooth progress almost belittles the skills these drivers have built up in their racing DNA across the years; it seems so easy yet their lap-times are so inexplicable fast that you have to rub your eyes in disbelief – surely the clock is lying; they were hardly trying? The point here is that it’s almost as if the training is designed to hide itself and as with many things, once you have a little knowledge the task ahead becomes ever taller as reality dawns. Looking back, on the first morning, I couldn’t pedal a car if my life depended on it; I was a complete novice on the start of a long journey.
Day 1 is Performance Driving. It starts as one might expect with braking. This starts slow before quickly reaching threshold braking at three-figure speeds on a long straight with a small bowl at its apex. Because of the circuit layout, there’s a chance here to grasp single-input steering and the importance of observation i.e. looking to the absolute limit of where you want to go and scanning back. This is quite un-nerving at first.
Following this, there’s a session on a wet and semi-wet track comparing cadence braking and ABS braking. I was recently caught on a snowy road and used cadence braking to great effect; these are not just track skills.
After braking, it’s car balance on the high-speed bowl using snap single and double-lane changes. This takes practice in keeping throttle constant and the car level as you literally throw its bulk across the bowl’s lanes but once you get it, it sticks and your slamming the car around at 50-60 mph and beyond. Still on the bowl but now in Lane 5, we look at some serious speed stuff; compliance steer, bump steer and again looking at where you want to go rather than holding a fixed gaze at the unfeasibly small barrier a foot or two to your right. Here’s where you pray to the automotive gods as your hands come off the wheel at eye-watering velocity.
After a lunch break in a local pub, there’s a session on the local roads to give Colin a chance to assess your road driving and look at how a few of the track techniques are used on the roads in particular making smooth progress. This has helped a lot in my recent IAM training where balance and limit points on bends are very important.
The afternoon sessions involved the grip circle (or centripetal circle as it’s more properly known) outside the iconic Millbrook buildings. For me, this was the toughest part of the day as I explored under and oversteer together with rear-wheel drifts, and for the first time was feeling and hearing the CSL beyond its grip limit as we pirouetted across the tarmac and it was nothing short of brutal. Perhaps using a CAT car might have been a good idea!
Following this, we’re back on the Alpine Route for more work on observation and single-input steering, as well as strategies for hairpins and how to take crests and dips at speed plus some sessions on the tight handling track where for the first time Colin started to look at timings.
It was on the handling circuit that there was a realisation, a revelation, a dawning perhaps and I’ll try to explain it as best I can. The culmination of the day is to get three consistent laps of the circuit complete within 0.5 seconds of each other on a roughly sixty second lap – so realistically, I felt I hadn’t a hope in hell. A mere few hours ago, I was an average driver with little or no skills other than mis-placed bravado but I found at the end of the three lap task I’d completed two laps at full race pace within two tenths of each other and the final lap, although I’d missed the 0.5 sec window just slightly – I was on right side of the clock and I’d gone a lot faster. The whole day distilled into those laps and the result of the training, the outright proof of its efficacy was there on the stop-watch and I was absolutely speechless; shocked would be an understatement at what I’d just achieved with Colin’s help.
Interspersed during the day were a couple of classroom sessions looking at the mathematics of vehicle dynamics and grip which also gave a chance for the car and I to cool down and a cup of coffee.
Image courtesy of Supercar Driver
I went on to do another couple of days with Colin to improve my driving. A full morning blasting CAT’s race-prepped Suburu through 300m of cones sounds dull on reiteration, but it’s one of the most addictive things I’ve done as my times eeked ever closer to a 24 sec target; this was followed by single lane changes (dare you keep the foot firmly planted?) and an afternoon of race pace training on Bruntingthorpe’s tracks first in the Subaru and then in the CSL looking at turn-ins and trail braking. On the third day, it’s eight hours of consolidating my new skills on Millbrook’s circuits in the CSL once more. The final task on Day 3 being back on the handling circuit where I smashed my previous time from Day 1 at race pace with the CSL’s track mode switched off.
In conclusion, the days spent with CAT were very expensive on the surface, people look at me in disbelief when I say how much they cost but you get what you pay for. Costs can be reduced by using your own car where possible and if necessary, by sharing the training. The choice is yours but I have no regrets that I took the days 1-2-1 and if possible, that is undoubtedly the way to do it. They were and remain three of the toughest yet most enjoyable days of my life so far.
Rick Heard - Supercar Driver Member & CSL Enthusiast
"The best decision I ever made! I have trained with CAT Driver Training twice now & looking forward to coming back in the future. I trust in their expertise & there is always something new to learn, a habit to be explored & an exhilarating experience that pushes me to my limit & builds confidence in myself & the car. The knowledge, experience, understanding, patience, compassion & professionalism of the team are just some of the qualities that make them unique & I highly recommend them."
"Performance Driver Track Day Course I participated in the course arranged by Porsche Club GB and very happy to give 5 stars all round. The team has put a huge amount of thought and effort into making the facilities and training Covid-secure, which is indicative of their professionalism. I found the whole day both fascinating and a lot of fun, in briefings, on the various driving segments, and chatting with the team and other participants. I was genuinely in awe of how much Colin moved my theoretical and practical driving on, and what he got me to get the car to do in the space of one day - always building confidence, encouraging me to explore my limits, while not pushing me beyond them. Can't wait to return!"
"I have had a reasonable degree of driving training over the years as am ex police officer and advanced police driver. I took the performance driver driver training to learn about track driving, and found it excellent. My instructor was Paul who was fantastic. The training built up during the day and I learnt so much about the capabilities of my own car and although I was nervous about using my own car realised afterwards it was the best thing for me to do. The instruction was extremely informative from an engineering perspective coupled with driving, friendly and tailored to your individual needs and abilities. At no time was I encouraged or pushed to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. It was extremely professional throughout. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone whatever your standard of driving."
"Truly exceptional In my experience, driving instruction has generally consisted of being repeatedly told that you are 'doing it wrong' accordingly to some unknown standard or principle that you had hoped to learn about by taking said instruction. Then there is Colin. It is not that common to find an individual who genuinely understands both people and engineering. It is incredibly rare to find one who can actively apply both to deliver a sustained behavioural change. Colin adapts his teaching style to the way you learn. For me, he lead with the WHY of the learning point, grounded in physics and engineering. We'd then put it in to practice, often doing several variants of an excercise to explore how the car reacts to differing inputs, providing valuable context for what good feels like and reinforcing the learning point. Each point built on the previous ones, layering up and coming together in to a whole, one far greater than the sum of it's parts. Subtle changes to huge effect. I was concerned on the day that the learnings would rapidly fade, but I have found that because Colin has taught me an understanding the lessons have persisted, even if I do still need some more practice (48 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit last Thursday definitely helped!). Add to this the fact that Colin is great company and an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and you have one of the most positive learning experiences I've ever known. Truly exceptional. I could not recommend more highly. Thank you!"
"Superb day with calm knowledgable and professional guidance from Paul. Thank you Paul. The course is so well structured consistently building ability and knowledge in complete safety. I fully recommend anyone wishing to increase their knowledge, confidence and experience to attend."
"Far better than any track day you can imagine! There is a massive difference between a typical driver experience or track day events and CAT driver training. The main difference is that you drive your own car to the full extent of it's capabilities, and your own, while being given expert one to one tuition by brilliant trainers Colin and Paul, who come from a Motorsport and auto engineering background. Their combined domain knowledge of engineering and competitive Motorsport allows them to explain the physics of why the car behaves as it does and how you can exploit the cars characteristics for maximum performance., in a safe fun environment. The frankly brilliant experience on the track is matched by the quality hospitality hosted by Jo, and classroom training, which prepares you for what you will experience on the next stage. These stages include such delights as the ring, where you will drive with no hands on the wheel at 100MPH, providing you with a clear understanding of the fact the car finds its own balance , and my personal favourite the alpine stage, with hairpins a plenty and 'character building' drops and rock faces. I have to admit to being slightly 'corner shy' before the training, however after some brilliant coaching from Collin urging me to 'stay on the gas, stay on the gas!' I am now far more confident and safe in the twisty stuff!"
"I don’t want to make this review too long and detailed, so I think the best way to summarise it is this: I think I possibly learnt more in one day that I’ve ever learnt before and the skills are relevant to all driving and can be practised daily. On the way home, I drove the ‘long way’ just to practise and feel the difference in the attitude of the car. I used to do this now and again because there are a few good straights and it’s nice to give the car a ‘blast’. This time, I drove that way home because I wanted to drive round the corners properly."
"Extremely professional driver training. Period. I wanted a course that would deliver a very high level of training, in an organised and professional manner. The course exceeded my expectations in every way, I wish I had started working with CAT Driver training years ago. There is no doubt that if you are looking for absolute top level training, there isn't anywhere else to look. Somehow they manage to follow a very tried and tested course structure, yet it is tailored all the way along to meet your requirements and current skill set. very impressive. I cannot rate this company highly enough. I have more dates booked already."
"Very structured training Paul was very clear and methodical in his coaching. The training technique was built up in various sections during the day and all came together like a jigsaw puzzle in the end for a great result."
"It's hard not to be enthusiastic about the lasting impact CAT Driver Training will have on your approach to driving. I spent a day with Paul exploring the potential of my new vehicle. The coaching is clear, methodical and structured to allow you to go on learning for a full day without overload. The training venue is superb and quiet enough (on the day I attended) to allow uninterrupted driving. Brilliant admin team too. Absolutely 5 Star!"
"Everything you read about these people is true and i cannot really add anything apart from clicking these five stars and to say they are truly incredibly knowledgeable, professional and nice. I did the Performance Driver Track day in my amazing six-month-old 911 GTS 4 and I now know so much more about my car and myself. I was in a group of six people all with different driving skill levels from the complete novice (me) to regular track day enthusiasts and the day was a journey of discovery for everyone. I am so pleased to have done it."
"First class performance car training day. Many thanks to Paul & your great team for a really enjoyable training day at Millbrook on Friday. I learnt a lot more about the capabilities of my F430 and found many new limits! The attention to detail in the delivery of the training was exceptional. I would recommend this to anyone with a performance car who wants to fully understand and enjoy their vehicle."
"An amazing day. If you drive you should go to CAT. If you have a performance car you MUST go to CAT. A day with CAT will transform your driving, you it be safer on the road in any situation and it will be the biggest performance upgrade your car will ever get. I learned so much in one day without any pressure, effort or stress. Colin's coaching is world class, he makes it simple / interesting to understand and easy to absorb / remember. The whole day and and everything leading up to it are well organised by the team. They REALLY care that you have a great day and TOTALLY deliver. You owe it to yourself to go."
"Absolutely Brilliant! The best advice I can give: believe every one of the glowing reviews on CAT! I approached CAT because I wanted to feel more comfortable with my newly-purchased BMW, the first rear-wheel drive car to be used for every-day driving after decades of FWD cars. I wanted to find out what the car's capabilities are, what it would feel like in extreme conditions, understand what it was telling me at the limits and, generally to get advice on my own technique. I wasn't a novice, having done plenty of track days and laps of the Nordschleife but I just knew that there's always plenty more to learn... A day's Performance Driver session met every one of my targets, and then more! Paul was a patient, logical and technical instructor who took time to explain what would happen in each manoeuvre and then fully debriefed that stage so that I not only knew what the car was doing but also understood what effect on the car my own actions were having. The proof of the pudding was in the final stage - setting consistent timed laps of the handling circuit. I'd worried a little about this all day as I'd have described my driving as enthusiastic but perhaps not consistent. The results were close to unbelievable to me! By remembering all that Paul had demonstrated and explained to me I surpassed my wildest dreams. Fantastic! As a result of this day, I now have more belief in my ability to read what my car's saying to me which brings confidence and relaxation. The car and I are now a team, rather than me just sitting there making it go down the road. I can highly recommend the whole CAT experience. Professional, friendly, patient, technical when required and not afraid to challenge when necessary. Oh, and the lunch is good too! I wish I could afford to go back every month..."
"Achieve your driving goals here! Can't ask for more than that! The entire experience was a positive and pleasant one. Everyone I met at CAT Driver Training contributed positively to the day, regardless of the role, so thank you to Jo, Lynne and of course, Colin! CAT have existing programmes for teaching anyone the fundamentals and advanced techniques of how to drive fast, but Colin can identify really quickly what you can and cannot do, and is quick to understand how to best use your time. I went in with my own unique set of requirements which slightly 'broke' the programme, but it was no problem at all and the most impressive thing was that I achieved my goals by the end of the day! I wanted to understand my car, be able to find and drive at the grip limit, and also understand how to be a faster and better driver. A lot to fit into a day, but Colin managed it in the most efficient way possible, and we achieved them all! Colin has great insights into vehicle dynamics, as well as the human machine behind the wheel. He understands why we sometimes don't function as optimally as we would like! His ability to listen to you, translate your input and isolate what is not working with your current technique helps focus the day on exactly what needs attention. This focus, along with Colin's 'feeling' of how the package of car and driver is behaving, makes him uniquely qualified to provide great direction and input to help you become the best driver possible. A lot of people talk about it, but very few can translate the inputs to a specific process for you to follow as a driver. The process is all about starting with foundations and building on them. It doesn't always seem to make sense, but trust the system - it all comes together in the end! The time is not cheap, but it will help you achieve your goals, so how do you put a price on that!? Thank you CAT Driver Training!!
"Best In Class Driver Training The training provided by Colin at CAT Driver training is superb. I am lucky enough to attended training days with Porsche, Lotus, Aston Martin and the day with a Colin at Millbrook has topped them all being informative, challenging, practical and above all delivered by a true Petrol Head. Thanks again and I will be back with the 911."
"Reminding how to drive fast A day with Colin on a 'One to One' basis is almost essential for anyone who lives on a small rock in the middle of the English Channel or lives in a city. We don't drive fast and don't get the opportunity to drive fast unless we are on a track. Colin spent the day reminding me how much fun it was to have 'fast feet' and to make the Tyres 'squeak' as they reach the sticky limit. I think I lost about 7kg in weight during the day as I was worked so hard but oh what a day. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who had a petrol head. Best bit was the 'Alpine Loop' at the end of the day. Full gas on the exit with all four squeaking. 👍😃"
"Excellent! Colin, Jo, Paul and the team are amazing, professional and have a unique ability to cover all areas of driving properly. My driving capability has been enhanced beyond measure. I highly recommend them and the CAT Advanced Driving Academy Programme. During the course it became clear to me that CAT Driving are one of the very few on the planet with such experience and capability. They have designed a brilliant dedicated package focused on working with you and delivered with an attentive caring personal touch."
"Paul was amazing: awesome teacher with a great brain. Made me realize my Mustang has actually way more grip and better and better handling than I thought. Top notch facilities in Millbrook. Totally worth it."