*The* Christmas present to buy your bloke (or blokesses)
As someone not particularly excited by racing/sports cars – seriously, it’s hard for me not to stifle a yawn when horsepower is mentioned – it’s with a kind of wonderment that I can report I did a test drive in an Aston Martin around Silverstone and had a turbo-charged blast. I mean, it was soooooo much fun, a real thrill. I totally surprised myself, and if I enjoyed it, anyone who enjoys cars will be virtually apolpletic with excitement.
This is the present you’ve been waiting to find for your other half when you can no longer be bothered to buy him the ‘present’ of clothes you want to see him in (that he then ignores), or weekends away with his friends which only results in week long hangovers and a doubling of your workload as you pick up the pieces around his groaning body. Yes since you asked, I am talking from experience!
Silverstone as slick as a set of wet weather tyres, offering a variety of driver experiences depending on your budget and cahunas. This being in across the border, I tried it out with Anna Lou, the editor of Muddy Northants – she’s like my better looking, younger sister (grrrrrr). Soz about the hair by the way but you try keeping the bouff in check when you’ve had a racing helmet on!
Arriving at Silverstone is an experience in itself – you realise driving up what monstrous amounts of money are in the sport. By comparison the Experience Centre where you have your training is fairly low key with a busy central reception, a cafe cleverly called Refuel, with food and coffee the lamental British motorway standard c 1980), and a well-oiled branded shop that sells everything from caps to cardboard racing helmets.
The briefings are taken seriously by the trainers (who don’t want you to crash their supercars) and the drivers themselves who, if they were anything like me, were petrified. Quite a mix of people booked in to have the Aston Martin/ Ferrari Experience Days actually – some older guys, a couple of women (three of us in total) and of course some younger men too. Main things taught? You must accelerate out of the corners or you’ll spin the car. Don’t worry about smashing the brakes, the cars love it. And expect your co-driver to tell you to go really really fast.
I know I have a slightly potty mouth anyway but I don’t think I’ve ever sworn quite as much as I did driving that Aston Martin, excited and terrified in equal measure. The thrill of slamming the foot to the metal and going up the gears (there were 6 but I only made it to 5 somehow) on one hand, the utter fear and concentration of trying to listen to my co-driver shouting his instructions – break now, accelerate, harder, harder, faster, go for it! At the end of the second of the two 4 lap sessions, we came in and have a debrief with notes from our instructor and a certificate which was a nice touch. The whole thing took about 2 hours 15, with a 30 minute safety and technique briefing and a demo lap from the instructor – good value for £199 I reckon though there’s a £99 option with less time behind the wheel if you want to spend less.
Just to give you an idea of how fast these cars go, I then hopped into a Ferrari as a passenger while one of the instructors flung me around Silverstone. I thought I’d been driving pretty quickly but watch this short clip I videoed, it gives you an idea of just how fast they go and how loud I can scream.
That would have done me frankly but I had one more thing to try. I hadn’t thought much about it when driving a Formula Racing Car had been suggested – not really even knowing what one was. When I saw it was an actual proper racing car, on the proper racing track, and I was going to be on my own, driving a hunk of metal against other people, I have to admit it, I bricked myself. Well, wouldn”t you?! It’s like slipping into a coccoon in these cars, you’re totally hugged by metal and tarmac. Yes people, I was in one of these bad boys, below.
There are, of course, really strict rules on this event as you’d expect – only two places on the track where you can pass other cars, two spins and you’re off the track etc and once we set off I got into it, though I didn’t manage to overtake a single person. I really felt at this point that as long as I could get around without killing myself and leaving three weeping children as they bravely followed my enormous state funeral cortage this would be a major success. For me this was the most nerve-wracking element of the day – the responsibility and danger of being in this car on my own – but for others I can see it would be a total thrill.
Would I buy a day like this for Mr Muddy? OMG, definitely because what’s surprising about these days is that they’re not just for the petrol heads. Mr Muddy isn’t a car nut at all, but when I told him I was driving an Aston Martin and Ferrari around Silverstone his head shot up and he wanted to come along (tough luck darling, look after the kids). I think it’s just in the DNA for men who were once boys playing car Top Trumps that they enjoy the thrill of seeing these cars close up.
Also on offer at Silverstone is rallying, stunt driving, and my idea of utter hell, a head to head – check out the options here. Basically if it’s in a car, it’s possible to do it here. Just make sure the person you’re buying for is over 21, has had a licence for 3 years and is under 18 stone or they’ll never wedge themselves out of the Formula 4 racer.
If you’re not a jibbering wreck by the time you’ve finished your driver experience, it would be remiss of me not to tell you that you’re deliciously close to Stowe Landscape Gardens for some deep breathing and hugging trees and silent weeping that you’re still in one piece. Good options for lunch include Nelson St Cafe, The Old Thatched Inn at Adstock, or if you have kids in tow a relaxed option is Vibins. Or if you want to eat Northants way, Anna-Lou suggests the chi-chi 185 Watling St if you fancy guzzling a different kind of fuel.
Aston Martin and Ferrari Driver Experiences from £99; Formula racing car experiences from £99. Book a driver experience at Silverstone