‘Don’t crash the car and don’t embarrass yourself’ – these were the two thoughts running through my head en route to the circuit. I needn’t have worried – I didn’t do either.
I had decided to sign up for the IAM Skills Day because we had just changed car from a Ford Fiesta to an Audi S3. Its 2ltr turbo engine is so much more powerful than anything I’d experienced before and I wanted to drive the car as it was meant to be driven – truthfully at the being of the day, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but I soon found out…
After a pre-session briefing (and the compulsory health and safety chat), we were allocated to our instructor for the morning. I was fortunate to have 1-2-1 instruction with Chris Tatlow. Chris is a police driving instructor with South Yorkshire Police, now retired, and to be honest, I felt slightly sorry for him. He didn’t get the Porsche Carrera and got me instead!
My co-attendees were driving a mixed group of cars ranging from the Porsche through to a couple of Mini Coopers and Fiesta ST all the way to a Vauxhall Corsa – there was even a Landrover Discovery and Transit Van! There were around 20 drivers going on track – predominantly male of course but I was pleased to see a couple of other girls in the group too.
Straight out on track, my first few circuits were – well a bit of a disaster! I panicked my way around, hit the brakes a lot and got overtaken by everyone but with Chris’ guidance and encouragement I got better and better and then suddenly started to really enjoy myself.
The Croft circuit is 2.1 miles long and set in beautiful North York countryside. I took to the lovely sweeping bends of the Jim Clark Esses straight away getting faster and faster as the day went on but it quickly became apparent that I had two nemeses that I was determined to master.
Coming out of Hawthorn into the Chicane was frankly terrifying – I could either brake and breathe or not brake and not breathe. This went on for quite a while until Chris showed me how to do it. The circuit had provided an Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Chris drove me round a couple of times. It was a revelation – I was coming into the Chicane at too much of an angle. Taking a much wider line out of Hawthorn, I needed to come into the Chicane square on – using it like a gate rather than a bend. By the end of the morning, I hit the 50mph that Chris predicted at the start of the session and conquered the Chicane!
So that just left the pit straight. Going into the day, I didn’t think that a straight line would be so troublesome. Just go really fast – how hard can it be! Coming out the slow hairpin bend, I needed to get up speed while hurtling toward the first bend ‘Clevaux’. Added to that, I had to keep an eye out for drivers joining the track from the pit lane (opposite Paddock 2). Chris was hoping for 100mph – I got to a presentable 96 before we decided enough was enough and I had reached my limit.
And that summed up the day for me. It wasn’t about being the fastest – it was about mastering the bends with positioning; getting the right speed and gear before going into the corner; finding the best line through and out the other side; feeling the balance of the car and getting it just spot on for me to feel in control and confident.
My reward was Chris telling me that he had enjoyed the morning – thank goodness! I hadn’t let him or myself down and he made my day. His instruction was the perfect combination of infinite patience and calm with gentle encouragement and I can’t thank him enough. I learned an enormous amount about myself, my skills and my car but most of all I had lot and lots of fun.
The next day, I had some time on my hands and drove through of the stunning North York Moors. The B1257 out of Helmsley takes you through dramatic countryside on a road with sweeping bends and sharp corners. Putting my skills in to practice, I felt more confident and at ease with the car then I had felt before – mission accomplished!
If you’ve considered doing IAM Skills Days but weren’t quite sure, I cannot recommend them enough. They are advertised on the IAM website (http://www.iam.org.uk/drivers/motorists–courses/driving–assessment/skills–days) and my day at Croft cost £129 – with around 4 hours on track, it is a bargain! But they are becoming increasing popular so keep an eye on the site and get in quick.
Oh and there are quite a few less bugs in Yorkshire than there were before!
Jen Rainnie – AAM Membership Secretary