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3rd December 2018
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First Time Nerves - Do I?  Don't I?

by Peter Wright

Do I? Don't I? Do I? Don't I?  This was the question that had been on my mind for ages.  The question was: Do I sign up and go and take my pride and joy, 2001 black MGF Freestyle and spend the day thrashing it around Brands Hatch?

I finally came up with the answer.  No.  Or was it Yes?!  We have all seen motor racing on TV with cars bumping into each other or ending up embedded in tyre walls.  There was no way I wanted to risk that.  But... on the other hand, the thought of driving round a race track, at whatever speed I wanted, with no police, no gatso's, no cars coming the other way, no children about to run out in front of me and pretending I was going to be the next Michael Schumacher sounded like fun.  Final answer:  No.

The day of the trackday was Monday 23rd February.  Friday morning on the 20th February, I arrived at work as usual, logged onto my P.C. and received the message "New Mail has arrived. Would you like to read it now?"  Click on yes and it was a message from  Someone had contacted Dave and unfortunately could not attend the trackday and wanted to find a replacement for his booking.  I was having a bad week that week and the thought of having the Monday off work and going to "play" won through.  Message back to Dave: - "Is the place still available?" Dave: "Yes" Me: "I'll have it."

The weekend was spent deliberating over whether I had made the right decision or not.  Sunday night and I can't sleep.  Thoughts are whizzing around my head far faster than my potential lap time for Brands Hatch!  Monday morning arrives and it's the big day.  Check for 300th time that I have everything - Driving licence, info from Dave, Crash helmet, spare underpants!!!!!!!!! 

Arrive at Brands Hatch at just after 8 a.m.  It is a cold, but dry day.  I see a few other MGFs and park up next to them.  I have to sign some sort of declaration and show my driving license.  In return, I am given a wristband and some numbers to stick on my car.  We then drive through a tunnel under the track and into the Pits.  The garages are open and we are allowed to use them "Just like real racing teams".  Again, I become a bit intimidated as people are feverishly rushing around, making last minute adjustments to engines, wheels, and tyres.  I just try to look like I know what I am doing!!  (Unsuccessfully.)  All drivers are then called to a briefing to discuss the "Do's and Don'ts" of the day.  We are shown a map of the track, the different coloured flags and the overtaking procedure is explained.  Anyone not complying will be Black-flagged and sent home.  It all sounds a bit serious.  Back to the garages and my group is the second group to go out on track.  The first group is for the Lotus owners club, so I go the pit lane and watch. 

All too quickly, it is time for our first session.  I put on my crash helmet.  It feels really strange to have to wear a crash helmet in your own car, but it gets you into the mood and makes you feel the part.  It's now our turn.  The MGs all line up in the pit lane and a marshal checks that we have our wristbands, safety-belts on and crash helmets are done up.  We are now waved onto the track.

The first thing that you are faced with as you leave the pit lane at Brands Hatch is Paddock Hill Bend.  Where did the track go??!! As you drive towards the corner, the track just disappears.   I get round at breakneck speed (about 15mph!!) and dive down the hill.  The track then goes from steep down hill to steep uphill.  I nervously follow the car in front and just concentrate on where the track goes.

Brand Hatch is an easy track to learn, so after a few laps, I know where I am going and start to relax.  The session is over all too soon and it's back to the garages.  Everyone is talking about their experiences.  Did I enjoy that?  I wasn't too sure, but I told everyone that I did.  I decided to have a wander up and down the pit lane to look at the other cars and think about things. 

It is soon time to go out again.  Roof down this time for more effect.  I am not so nervous this time, and get going a bit quicker.  I now know where I am going, so start to build up speed and think about the best places to change gear.  I am now really enjoying myself.  Each lap, I try to go a little faster.  It seems to work.  Session over and back to the garages.  This time, I really had enjoyed myself and was eager to learn from other drivers, what they had been doing, what gear they took certain corners in and what sort of speed they had been doing.

3rd session, and I am loving it.  It all seems to be coming together now.  I am in the same gear each time at the same corner.  (Don't know if it's the right gear, but what the hell!)  I am reaching over 100mph down the start/finish straight and I am trying to leave my braking points later and later.  Just how long can I keep the tyres screeching round the long right-hand corner named Clearways??!!!

The rest of the day passes all too quickly.  Some of us were even lucky enough to have a test drive in a new Toyota powered Lotus Elise R111 that was at the track as a demonstrator.  There were no major incidents and the day was professionally organised with everything running very smoothly.  Everyone was very friendly and eager to share experiences.  There was even a professional photographer who photographed all cars on track so you could buy pictures as a souvenir of the day.

Doing a trackday was great fun and I would recommend anyone to have a go, at least once.  My doubts and concerns soon disappeared and turned into pure adrenaline and excitement.  The only problem was that I think this could become addictive.  The next time I have an opportunity to attend a track day, the answer will definitely be YES.
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