On April 24, I attended The Silverstone Challenge together with some of my work colleagues. The Silverstone Challenge is an entire day of racing in ten different cars at the Silverstone Circuit in Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire in the UK. It’s a truly cool experience! Worth every penny. Compared to the Danish car scene, it’s even kind of cheap – only £615pp for the event + £20pp for an accident damage waiver = £635pp + VAT, i.e. approx 5.800 DKK.
The day started out in the Silverstone Circuit clubhouse, where we had a traditional English breakfast, were divided into competing teams, signed a you-cannot-sue-us-if-you-get-hurt waiver, supplied contact information to be used in case of an accident, got an introduction and got a pep talk.
During the morning, I drove a Ford Fiesta ST Rally on a very muddy rally circuit, a Land Rover Defender on some muddy hills and through 2-3 foot deep water, an Audi R8 V10 and an Audi TT RS. The two Audis were raced on the 5.9 km Grand Prix Circuit. I really learnt a lot from the rally driving – it was a nice way to start the day. The R8 seriously kicked your ass with a large, heavy, metal-nosed boot when you put your foot down 🙂 It would have been better – at least for an inexperienced driver like me – to drive the TT before the R8, or drive the R8 later in the day, but somebody had to start in the R8s… The four cars were driven together with instructors, who helped one keep the cars on the tarmac and gave a lot of valuable tips.
I don’t remember, whether I drove a Caterham 7 before or after lunch, but that car was definitely my favorite. IT’S SO MUCH FUN! The Caterham 7 is a rear wheel driven race car with a temper, and you get to spin it round and round between cones on a parking lot, while the tires burn and the rear end is all over the place. You drive it alone, i.e. without an instructor, and the goal is to have fun and set a fast lap time. In most of the other cars, your driving performance is rated with a score in percent rather than your lap times being measured. Check it out on my scorecard to the right – click on it for a large version.
After a much needed lunch, the afternoon offered more awesome driving experiences. There were so many impressions throughout the day that I might screw up the order of the events, but please bear with me. My driving is usually limited to short trips in my parents’ car every three months or so, and on April 24, I was put in the driver’s seat of one supercar after another and told to give full throttle – to go flat out. To put it mildly, beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. Oh yeah, I felt alive 🙂
During the afternoon, I drove a Formula Silverstone Single-Seater, a Mégane Renault Sport 250, a Ferrari 360 F1 Modena, a Nissan 370Z and a Nissan GT-R. Where the latter four are road cars, the single-seater is a proper race car. Simultaneously with all the other members of my team, I got to race a single-seater for 20-25 minutes on the 1.7 km Stowe Circuit. The picture in the top of this post shows me driving the single-seater. Overtaking was clearly communicated using flags, but just think about it… We were 16 racing newbies on the circuit, all at once, in thin fiberglass boxes with 1600 cc, 140 bhp engines strapped on. Even though I made an effort to drive safely (I felt my concentration was a bit flaky at the time), I got to experience flat out on the long stretches of the circuit several times. What a rush! Everything shakes, you feel the incredible acceleration and the air pressure, and your buttocks are only 5-10 cm from the tarmac.
The Mégane and the 370Z were good experiences, where I really felt in control. They were powerful, but unlike the R8, and to some degree the GT-R, they do not surprise you with a gigantic, almost unmanageable power oomph, when the accelerator reaches the last third. Weight distribution was very important in the heavy, rear wheel driven Ferrari, and since I didn’t really master that, I had trouble keeping it on the tarmac. It might have been partly due to lack of concentration, just like my instructor wrote on my scorecard. The Silverstone Challenge really wears you out. As the GT-R was my last car of the day, I was ready for its oomph, and I actually had two very nice laps in it, before the day ended a bit early due to a guy crashing a Ferrari. The guy didn’t get a scratch, but I don’t know about the Ferrari.
The instructors and the remaining staff are totally cool people. If you show the instructors that you do what they tell you, they let you drive as fast as you want. In my case that meant going flat out on the long stretches and only breaking in the last millisecond. It probably means that for most people. You end up trusting the instructors with your life – I wouldn’t have driven that fast or braked that late, if I was alone in the cars. It is clear that they have a solid grip on the situation. Another example is that two guys accidentally bumped into each other in the single-seaters, resulting in each car losing a wheel. After the guys had been checked for injuries and had recovered a little, they were offered to go back onto the circuit in new cars. No scolding at all. Later, during the award ceremony, they were handed broken parts from the crashed cars as trophies.
The day ended with afternoon tea, an award ceremony and a summary of the day’s activities. The speaker, who also spoke during breakfast and lunch, was very entertaining. We were handed a completion certificate, a photo of ourselves driving a single-seater and a photo of our team surrounding a single-seater.
We, i.e. my group, not all Silverstone Challenge attendees, stayed at Villiers Hotel in Buckingham, which is only 10.6 km from the Silverstone Circuit. Their breakfast buffet lacked healthy sources of protein and consisted primarily of “fast” carbohydrates and fat. I’m sorry, but I find that annoying. Even worse is that they were somewhat stingy with their coffee. Just fill some thermos and put them on the tables or near the buffet, please. Some of us mainlines caffeine on a daily basis and needs it to keep withdrawal symptoms away… We had to leave early both mornings, so we didn’t have time to explore their breakfast menu with hot dishes. Well, on the race day it didn’t really matter, as we were served traditional English breakfast in the clubhouse. I tend to believe that their hot breakfast dishes would have been nothing less than first class, as their restaurant served us some very delicious dishes for dinner 🙂
I had rib eye steak, white chocolate tiramisu, Cajun chicken, flat iron steak and some kind of tart/pie. All dishes were perfectly prepared and very tasty.
Prior to the trip, I thought of it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but now I know that it wasn’t my last trip of that kind 🙂
Anyone with a driver’s license should try a day at Silverstone.