For many years I’ve thought about booking onto a supercar driving day at Silverstone, but I resisted largely due to my worry that the experience wouldn’t be worth the money. At just under £100 for the entry level Aston Martin package you get about 10 minutes in the car on track which on paper doesn’t sound that appealing. After all, if you sweet talk your way into a new Vantage test drive at a dealership you can get a coffee and 20 mins or so behind the wheel for free.
So when I was given an Aston Martin Thrill package as a leaving gift by some now ex-colleagues I was both overwhelmed at their generosity and beyond excited at the prospect of Silverstone track time in Aston’s new sports rocket.
Accident Damage Waiver
On arrival at Silverstone you first need to wind your way inexorably around the perimeter road at a frustrating 20mph to get to the experience centre and then further still to reach the Wing at the International Pits where they were operating from that day.
Entering the new BRDC hospitality suite via the large external steps overlooking Club Corner, I was first greeted with a clipboard and a page full of waiver to sign. You’re also asked at booking time and again on arrival whether you want to pay the £20 accident damage waiver. A bit like when you rent a car on holiday, this reduces the eye watering £10,000 damage excess charge to zero. Needless to say, most customers pay up! It’s then a matter of waiting with a coffee for your batch to be called for the briefing.
When our time comes, about 10 of us are taken down one floor to a small classroom where one of the instructors gives a 15 minute briefing on what will happen next, what you should do and what you shouldn’t and where the racing line is for each corner. He also took us through the specs of the cars available. The Ferrari experience drivers sneered at the news that their F430s had bigger engines than the new Vantages, but this was soon cut short when they learned of the 100bhp shortfall to the Astons.
After the drivers brief, the “family and friends” were given their own guidance on where best to watch from as we made our way down to the pit garages and the waiting cars where another instructor gave us a Silverstone branded balaclava and a Hedtec open face helmet to put on. Clearly the balaclava was only to avoid soiling of the helmets and it could have been accomplished with a hairnet like you get at some karting centres, but it did add a bit more authenticity to the pretence of our time as racing drivers.
With other longer format experiences going on further down the pit lane, the 07 car assigned to the “Thrill” package began working its way through the line of Darren Turner wannabes.
Getting into the car in the left seat (for reasons unknown the Vantage cars are all left hand drive – maybe they’re pre-loved/abused from AM’s press fleet?) I meet Charlie the instructor, a likeable young chap in his early 20s. Silverstone only employ licensed instructors for all of their packages so I knew I was in good hands. Intros over, he popped his lid on and talked me through getting underway down the pit lane and out onto the circuit proper.
Foot to the floor
We were using the International circuit, basically the southern half of the Grand Prix track, so you enter straight into the slightly confusing section through Village and The Link. Confusing because this is where the two halves of the GP circuits join so there are kerbs and markings for all track configurations to navigate through.
The next big event is Hangar Straight which, first time round, takes some bottle to get your foot to the floor and periodically flip the paddle to work up through the gears. At no time during the drive did I have the capacity to look inside the car at the instrument panel, so I couldn’t tell you exactly what speeds I achieved, but I’m told it was heading toward 150mph. In fact, such is the novice’s inability to think of anything other than driving the car and following instruction that all the car mirrors are set up for the instructor rather than the driver.
What seems to be just as I’m about to arrive into Row A of the grandstands at Stowe Corner, Charlie says “Brake!” and I work the ceramic brakes hard. “Harder!” says Charlie making sure I kill enough speed before the turn in. Get on the power too early out of the corner and the back end gets a bit twitchy, as does Charlie reminding me to squeeze the throttle pedal progressively next time.
More than a few laps to master
Then comes a complex of turns including the only left hander (apart from the kink at Farm Curve) of Vale and Club. Again, knowing when to brake, how hard, when to turn in, when to unwind the steering, when to get back on the throttle and by how much is something that will no doubt take more than a few laps to master, but this section was one of the most exciting.
The reward of getting Club right is clipping the kerb and drifting wide left onto the International Pits Straight, planting your right foot and hearing the twin turbo V8 hammering away in front of you. Part of the pre-drive briefing is not to wave to family and friends at this point as historically this has led to more than a few wobbles and near misses with the pit wall. Fast into Abbey and then Farm Curve you’re back where you started, trying to make sense of the track “junction” before the thrill of the straight once again.
Come in number 07
After a few laps (or one more if the instructor loses count) I’m directed right after Stowe to enter the pit lane and I park up, grinning broadly, dreaming of a late-start racing career stretching out in front of me. With a few compliments on my driving (well they would wouldn’t they) and a reminder not to drive home like that, I’m out of the car and sharing tall tales of piloting prowess with the others in the garage.
Once I’ve taken a few more photos and bought the official ones of me exiting Vale into Club, I get back in my Volvo and try really, really hard to keep to the Silverstone perimeter road speed limit and not to take the racing line through the corners before getting back on the A43 toward home.
So would I recommend a Silverstone driving experience? In short, yes, hell yes! Regardless of what route you might be able to take on a dealership test drive, it will never compare to a world famous Grand Prix track, a bona-fide race instructor and a brand new track-mode supercar. It is expensive, but put it on your wish list for this Christmas or your next birthday, it sure beats a handful of DVDs and racing driver autobiographies.