Would you enjoy an opportunity to hone your skills? Practice with your own vehicle in a controlled environment with expert guidance? Skills you can then put into practice whilst on the road. If so, read on …
On Tuesday 9th August I headed to Thruxton Race Circuit for IAM RoadSmart’s Skills Day. A great opportunity, in my new role, for me to meet and chat with the people who’d signed up for the course and their instructors.
There was a wide range of people at the event, both IAM members and the public. Some had never done anything like this before. Others had done a number of Skills Days and keep coming back for more! The instructors of course take each individual’s experience into account and tailor their approach accordingly.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had similar previous experience driving at Castle Combe with the Under 17 Car Club. The club allows its more experienced members to drive their car at higher speeds in a safe and controlled environment. I found the opportunity invaluable to understand how vehicle dynamics change with speed.
The Skills Day, in many ways was similar. The instructors advised on the best lines to take, braking, acceleration, cornering, balance, stability, etc, and how to explore our own limits and our car’s. Although the event took place on a race circuit, Skills Days aren’t racing orientated but, as suggested in the title, a great way to improve driving (or riding) skills in a controlled environment. I was excited to have the opportunity to join the afternoon session, and it certainly lived up to my expectations. It was a lot of fun and a great way to improve.
Everyone I spoke to said they had learnt something new. Mary Fenton said “I have now completed five Skills Day in 3 different cars. It was thoroughly enjoyable, a great way to improve driving generally. The only time I’ve squealed on the road was when I misjudged a bend and having done the Skills Day helped. With the experience from these days, it saved me”. Two of the attendees signed up for the Advanced Driver course, as they realised whilst taking part, that they wanted to continue improving their skills.
I strongly recommend coming along to a Skills Day. Hearing some of the real life stories, like Mary’s, prove its value. Speaking to those who have returned, they believe it’s not only fun and enjoyable but very valuable. I completely agree with them, I’m certainly going to try and book to go on another course as I learnt a lot, in that short period of time! There are events for both drivers and riders, so whatever your vehicle of choice, there’s one for you.
The instruction team are not only experienced and good at what they do, but also passionate about what they were teaching. Roz Monk, at her first Skills Day said “I had a great day, improved my confidence and it was super fun! Tim (one of the instructors) is brilliant”. Two members are assigned to each instructor, and you work with your instructor in turn, for one-to-one support. As John Holcroft said, “I like the format where you have the same instructor for all of your track time as it allows you to build progress as the day goes on.” I built up a great rapport with my instructor, Graham, and each time we got back in the car, started where we left off.
Throughout the day I heard many positive comments. The track at Thruxton was modified with cones to make the course more challenging, not just focussed on speed, including various tight slaloms to practice braking and positioning, which was very interesting (especially if you went a little bit too fast into one of them and came closer to the cones than originally planned – oops, but I didn’t hit any, I promise!). Everyone seemed to be having a good day and learnt a lot! I believe Philip Casement summed this up perfectly “A great organisation and I had a great time”.
The other nice touch was having a photographer, Kelly, present who took tons of photos (the photos included in the blog are courtesy of her). I think this was really the icing on the cake as it meant that not only could you enjoy the experience but have some great action shots!
If you are thinking of taking part or you found this article interesting, I would definitely suggest giving it a try. You don’t have to be a member of the IAM. It really doesn’t matter what vehicle you have - we had a whole range from i8s to VW Golf’s and everything in between! I had a fantastic time and would highly recommend it. Finally, if you were disappointed when reading this that it was not a day for racing: one of our attendees thought just that, however did say they were pleasantly surprised with how much they had learnt and how much fun they were having.
I, along with the other participants, would like to say a huge thank you to the instructors, all the people at Thruxton including the marshals, Kelly for her photography, and the organisers particularly Dave Shenton “for a well organised day which I thoroughly enjoyed” (John Holcroft).
Eloise Peabody-Rolf, IAM RoadSmart younger driver ambassador