They say the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know… and that’s very true (in a positive way) of my experience last week with CAT Driver Training.
I’m a car lover and an armchair racer… put any motorsport in front of me (or even still pictures of racing cars) and I’ll happily sit and stare for hours watching, learning and of course – believing that I could probably do a better job myself when drivers make mistakes. Desperately clinging hold of the very last of my “thirty something” years – I hark back to my teenage times, living in the countryside, racing around the country lanes in whatever tin box with wheels I could find with an MOT for under 500 quid. I was a good driver then (or so I thought) – good reactions, good awareness and ability to really feel what the car was doing beneath me. But the lure of London was great and with age and circumstances against me, the sporty hatch slowly morphed into a family saloon and my driving experiences have become restricted to the weekly shop and hanging around in traffic jams.
So it was with a mixture of both nervousness and excitement that last week I met Colin from CAT Driver Training for a novice track day course. I had done a drifting “course” a couple of years back, which consisted of sharing car time with about 8 other people and getting 10 minutes of tutorage followed by a further 10 minutes of experience over the course of 4 hours and so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
The first thing you notice when you pull into Millbrook circuit is that this is a place for automotive enthusiasts. There’s top tier road cars everywhere… many of them yet to be released and still going through their testing phases. Colin and his team are fantastically friendly and after a quick cuppa and a safety briefing we’re straight out on to the track. There’s no-one else, just Colin and I so it’s all about what I want to get out of the day (cornering at speed is what I’ve chosen to focus on). First task… to learn how to brake as hard as you possibly can at speed in a straight line. With today’s ABS fitted cars, you might think that this is a fairly irrelevant task… just stamp on the brakes and let the technology do its best, but that’s not the case. Braking hard, at speed can be done far more efficiently by a human if it’s done right. Shorter braking distances mean later braking and faster lap times, so learning this skill could make the difference between starting a race towards the top of the grid or somewhere in the middle or end of the pack.
We move on from the mile straight to the 3.2km circumference banked high speed circuit where we look at driver focus (driving is a lot easier it turns out, when you’re not looking just past the end of your bonnet) and how to handle the anomalies that come into play when you’re belting round a circuit at 130mph as I was. Bump and compliance steer were the topics of learning during this high speed part of the lesson. Learning to understand these and how they affect the car would make me a smoother and more efficient driver.
2 hours into a lesson which had already taught me more about driving then I ever thought possible, we’re off to learn about maximising my speed through a corner… and in particular, how to use the accelerator as a steering aid. We broke the corner down into 6 components or “phases”. Each phase demands something different if you’re to be successful at taking the corner at the optimum speed. There was a lot to learn in this part of the course, but a key takeaway for me was that, contrary to what you might think – you’ve got more control of the corner with your foot on the gas then you have when you allow it to coast.
The day came to a close with a session on the handling circuit. It was a time to put my new found skills to the test and I was genuinely amazed at how different a driver I was at the end, compared to when I stepped into the Nissan 350Z at the beginning of the afternoon. I’m not going to pretend I was the next Nigel Mansell, but Colin’s attention to detail and depth of knowledge had made me a different kind of driver. This wasn’t just about driving fast – it was about understanding how to drive fast and what I could do to drive even faster. I’d transformed from the driver of my teen years – who would rely on guts, instinct and a great deal of luck to get round a corner and I’d become someone who could put an ongoing, ever changing plan of attack in place for the track ahead of me.
So whether you’re a seasoned armchair racer like me or a track day enthusiast or racer, I would recommend giving the guys at CAT Driver Training a call. This is no “run of the mill” driver training session… what these guys offer is a transformational driving experience and it’s worth every penny.
For more information and to book your course with CAT Driver Training, call us today on 01234 757 633 or email email@example.com