By Ralph Coulson, WAM member
Monday 8th April 2019, 05:40 hours. Headlights appeared on my drive announcing the arrival of my close friend Keith who was to be my ‘guest’ for todays ‘boys day out’ at Thruxton.
I enrolled for today’s course way back in October last year, opting for the AM session. This, of course, necessitated an early start to allow 1.5 to 2.0 hours travel to Thruxton in time for registration from 08:00 to 08:30 and more importantly, the compulsory driver briefing at 08:45.
I had prepared the car over the weekend, following the advice from the Skills Day team, plus adjusting the tyre pressures by an extra 3psi.
With a full tank, coffee and snacks; we set off in good time excited at the day’s prospect. It had been 3 years since I last experienced a skills day, so knew a little of what to expect.
Registration and disclaimer completed without a problem, rewarded with a free (?) bottle of water, ‘to maintain hydration’. At just before 08:45 we were ushered into the conference room for the compulsory safety briefing.
Understandably we were immediately advised, if we did not attend the safety briefing, we would not be allowed onto the circuit. Afterwards we were paired-up with another driver and allocated an instructor. Thus I found myself paired with Roger (Jaguar) and Dennis our instructor.
After a detailed discussion regarding our cars, the circuit, best line, overtaking protocol, the schedule for the morning; I found myself first in the driving seat, to be followed later by Roger.
Before settling himself in the passenger seat of my car, Dennis gave the car a ‘casual’ inspection, casting his eye over the car and most importantly inspecting my tyres for tread and any obvious damage.
As we were split into two, there would only be upwards of 15 cars on the circuit at any one time. All eager and slightly nervous to get going, we were about to learn new skills and how to get the best out of our cars at much higher speeds than that allowed on public roads.
Cones had been placed on the circuit indicating braking and turn-in points plus others at faster sections to provide chicanes, thus slowing us down at critical parts of the circuit. Their purpose was to mark where we were to start braking, to turn in, to align for the next cone/corner. We proceeded at a reasonable pace, guided by Dennis who ‘took over’ the rear view mirror so he could keep an eye on following traffic, and advise me when to allow faster cars to overtake.
After a few ‘sighting’ laps, I began to settle in and following Dennis’s advice, increased my speed and used heavier braking (my poor tyres). At higher speeds, you quickly find how the car will follow the chosen fast line around the circuit, how it handles and can become ‘unsettled’ if you get it wrong. Given the right inputs, the car picks up speed and drifts towards the outer edge of the track – without me ‘oversteering’! We were advised not to exceed 90 mph; who’s got time to look at the speedometer? I received no comments from my instructor, so either I was behaving or he was enjoying himself, I shall never know.
The routine was for each driver to complete 5 laps before coming in to hand over to your partner, anxiously awaiting his 5 laps.
The morning session lasted from 09:30 to 12:30. By the time the final sessions were completed, 12:30 came around all too early, I believe we had all enjoyed ourselves and learned a great deal about the cars limitations, personal discipline and new awareness skills.
Many thanks to the IAM Skills Day team and instructor Dennis for his advice, confidence and most of all his bravery, he was to repeat all this with new and unknown drivers in the PM session. Brave man indeed!
If you have ever considered a Skills Day, I strongly recommend it. It will be challenging, enlightening and exciting and it’s another step towards being a better driver. Enrol early as places go very quickly. One thing to remember – your normal road insurance is null and void directly you pass through the gates. However, specialist companies will cover you.
As I said to Keith as we drove from one traffic hold-up to the next, on the A303 home:- You’re never too old to learn. No personal photographs, I’m afraid – forgot to charge the camera batteries, it’s an age thing.
For proof photographs of the day, go to kellydowlingphotography.com/proofing/pages.php?gid=425 Look for S200 & for Roger, AY18-Roger.