It's no secret, I absolutely love motor sports!
Because of that and my passion for photography I'm lucky to have attended the pre F1 season unveiling of the Williams Martini Racing F1 car and the unveiling of their new motor-home at Silverstone.
Well last Monday I was invited by The Racing School with Chrystall Toomer (co-curator of online mag "Alright London?!") to a full day driving experience at Donington Park.
Now let's be honest. When you know you're about to drive 6 different cars and be driven around by either 2013 British Touring Car Champion Andrew Jordan or 3 x Champion Matt Neal on such a legendary circuit, the adrenaline starts pumping.
On arrival we were welcomed with breakfast and a safety brief before being divided into teams ahead of a full day of racing. We went easy on the food, just in case...
With no time wasted we then proceeded from the hospitality suite to the pit lane, trying to digest our (light) breakfast whilst downplaying the fact we were about to drive no less than 6 racing cars, each 3 laps around the 2.5 miles Donington Park circuit.
Racing suit on, helmet on... yes that's right, the first car I was given to drive (or rather thrown into) was a 600kg single-seater with a maximum speed of 145mph!!!
I have to admit at this stage I was as excited as I was worried. Really, that's what we are given to drive as an intro to the circuit??? Fine then.
I got into it as if I was entering a very hot bath, both in terms of speed and in terms of how I slipped into my seat. A quick 3 minute brief on how to get it started, rules for overtaking and off we were right behind the pace car.
Turns out this was probably the most fun to drive even if I got the gears a little mixed up a couple times. Such raw power and so close from the ground, whilst not having anyone telling me what to do. Brilliant. That thing sticks to corners even flooring it in 4th gear, and the sound, the vibrations!!!
Andrew Jordan (British Touring Car Champion 2013) was going around the track at the same time and overtook me before I could even see him in my rear view mirror and disappeared equally as fast. I never felt so good with so little shame being overtaken.
Next was the Abarth 500. Well what a sweet little car. Did I say sweet? Sorry I actually meant a wolf in sheep's clothing. It drives just like a go-kart and again sticks to the road whatever you throw at it. Not as exciting as the single-seater but having the instructor next to you means you start learning the track properly and progressively.
3 Laps driven by Andrew Jordan
What I love about the experience, the whole day in general, is that you're never quite sure what's coming next. Not that it would really make a difference to be honest, but it keeps it even more exciting (if it wasn't already exciting enough).
What makes the racing school's experience different from any other is that you're not just driven around by some old bloke in some old car that's 6 years old.
You get driven around by either Andrew Jordan or Matt Neal, both touring car champions, in their actual up-to-date racing car as they would be for qualifications.
If you're a car fanatic it's the equivalent for a Tennis fan of hitting a few balls with Andy Murray!!!
So in you go, strapped to the seat totally incapable of moving...and why would you anyway?
Andrew Jordan took me around 3 laps of Donington Park and it was the most extreme experience of my life. As you reach lap 3, Andrew gradually increases the speed and it just feels unreal.
I've done bungee jumping, white water rafting in the Alps... but that was something else. One guy in our group said it was more extreme and scary than sky diving.
Being driven at 135 mph (about 220 kph) with no control is just the best. The G force in corners and breaking is impossible to describe.
I did not scream, I did not use the imaginary break pedal... I just bit my lip and watched with my eye wide open.
I left the car with a smile I couldn't wipe of my face for the rest of the day.
Aston Martin V8 Vantage
Who hasn't dreamt of driving like James Bond on steroids? The classy one of the lot and a fantastic experience. Maybe because I'm a big fan of a good old manual transmission and I'm slightly patriotic too.
Ferrari 360 Modena
I drove the Ferrari 360 once before around Silverstone and somehow didn't particularly enjoy it... Well guess what? Once again I just didn't really like it. Sounds mad I know but of all this was my least favourite. (Check out this photo of me shaking the hand of the faceless instructor!!!)
Having just mentioned my least favourite, in comes my favourite, the Lamborghini Gallardo. I think it had something to do with the fact it's a 4WD (Four Wheel Drive) and also for its beautiful looks. It just felt right. We weren't told the times we achieved but I'm pretty sure this was the fastest I drove, or maybe the best I drove. I felt completely in control, no over or under-steering, perfect breaking and the sound...oh....the sound...
Many in our group enjoyed this one most although it's apparently less powerful than the Lambo. I felt to me as if it was a lot faster, lot more agile but also a lot more difficult to control. I can't deny it is a beauty and probably my 3rd favourite after the single-seater and the Gallardo.
After driving 6 cars and being driven by Andrew Jordan, a total of 21 laps around Donington, well... we felt very excited, very happy and exhausted. Tired actually came once the adrenaline stopped flowing an hour later and we'd had a well deserved glass of wine.
This is an experience Chrystall and I will never forget. I'll also add that Chrystall has now earned total respect from me for driving like an absolute champ!!! Real balls of steel.
Check the video of the day here! VIDEO
THE RACING SCHOOL is Europe’s longest-established performance driving school. It offers the most diverse range of experiences of any provider. It maintains a racing fleet of more than 80 vehicles. Circuit passenger rides start from as little as £40, and driving experiences from £125.
THE RACING SCHOOL’s other driving experiences include: Formula 1; Off-road; Single-seater; Supercar; Multiple Supercar; Race training; and Junior. In addition to Donington Park, it operates at the Brands Hatch, Oulton Park and Three Sisters race circuits.
To book the ultimate driving experience call 01942 270230 or visit www.racing-school.co.uk.