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It's here! I was like a kid at Christmas it was almost pathetic! It took longer than anticipated however. I rang up after 6 weeks and the chap at MSA said they'd left a message for me on my mobile, number 07575.... as my number actually starts 07979 that could explain things. The message apparently said I sent a cheque for £50, and not £51 which is the actual fee. Oops!
Anyway, it's now here, and the first step is complete. Next for some race wear, when the bank balance has had time to sit down and rest...
PBMW Track Testing Day
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As I was finding the chaps in the PBMW forums awfully friendly and full of very pragmatic yet sound advice, I decided to pay them a visit. Actually that was also their advice but still, I thought it would be a great idea to go and learn about my intended new hobby. To be honest it's a bit intimidating going to Snetterton on your todd, looking for some old BMWs then interrogating the first chap you see, but I think I did a reasonable job. A few kindly offered to see me there and answer some questions.
Chief among these was fellow Cambridge resident Kristian who generously took me out in his tangerine and silver machine, after I'd hired a lid and gone through some beuracracy with the admin staff. I should explain at this point that if like me, you hire a helmet at the reception and ask if there's anything else you need to go out on the circuit, expect a re-assuring response that you have everything you need. Followed by a marshal asking you to wave your circuit wrist band as later on you trundle down the pit lane. Cue going back to the front desk, and being asked "Would you like a track pass?". Yes please, thank you kindly. Of course, you give them that "oh what am I like eh!" sheepish look on your face. However, these are the event organisers, people who dish out penalties and oversee scrutineering, and are therefore people you really, really want to keep sweet.
So after my crash course in how to be allowed on a circuit (filling in next of kin forms primarily) as a passenger, Kris took me for a few laps in his pride and joy. Again, you have to forget how the real world works in terms of driving speeds and safety distances. Maybe I'm being a big jessie but I was concerned how close you are to other cars at a 100mph, and how hard you turn in to corners. Still, I used to be scared going over 60 as a learner driver. Clearly according to my driving license points tally though that wore off pretty quickly, so I've no long term concerns about going racing.
Fair play the guys can't really do anything more for you, and I chatted to some over lunch break (turns out marshalls need to eat too, so the circuit shuts down). They gave out a good welcoming vibe, and in return I promised I hoped to see them again in a few months. These might be fellow competitors, but they are really happy with the state of their championship and want to see it grow successfuly. They seem to have a competitive streak where it matters, but a brilliant camaraderie when the wheels stop turning.
One story that highlights this, was from one of they guys who turned up to Silverstone very excited to drive the Grand Prix circuit for the first time. Several laps into qualifying and his engine shat itself into many pieces - weekend over. Time to go home a broken and dejected man. On route walking through the pitlane a guy asked him why was he looking a "bit down". After explaining why he was going home the bloke said he had a spare 320 engine in his van, and minutes later a handful of complete strangers descended onto his car like mad men. The result was a replaced engine in time for the race.
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Just a short update really, to say at this point in time I am now certified healthy enough to go racing! The cost was £80 with my GP for an hour or so. Filled with various prodding, peeing, stripping (slightly) and some freindly interrogation. Mind you, it was interesting looking at my medical notes for the first time going back to my birth, to say the least! Also just to be sure, instead of ticking 'No' to having had a tetnus jab in the last 10 years, I sorted that as well on the same day (nice surprise needle shenanigans there). Just in case I have an accident, am thrown from the car and impale myself on a rusty fence, perhaps.
The license form (which was getting a bit tatty after sat on my desk since September last year) has now finally been sent off, plus £51. So that's the big first expensive part done. Next I think I'll tackle a lid. As I found out at Snetterton on my PBMW fact-finding visit, if you're serious about motor racing you may as well get your own helmet early on.
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Well I'm glad to say that's now 3 out of three licenses I've passed first time round! Though I was amazed how much time you need on a circuit to really learn it properly, even one with only a handful of corners. I'm also pleased to say I officially helped break in the new Stowe mini circuit, never before driven on in anger!
Quite a lot of things struck me, including how you have to get your brain to adjust to a new kind of driving, almost like driving all over again. It completely ruins your perception of speed (as I found out when I left the car park in my own car, on the first roundabout I thought "hang on, this feels wierd!"). I learnt the importance of "sighting" corners - concentrating on the next corner and aiming where you want to be after the current one. My instructor Charlie Hollings wasn't too bad, but it's difficult to teach somebody racing speeds who's never left the main road before, in a limited amount of time.
On the driving practical test, I think I could have done a lot better, but I attained mostly 'B's and a couple of 'C's for my grades. One of the 'C's was for consistency as on my exam laps I was slow then quick then slow, cocking up corner after corner. As soon as you balls one corner up, you're kicking yourself for it and you lose rhythm. Still, a good pass is a good pass! Oh, and the theory test is pretty straightforward too. Know your flags, know common sense, and you'll walk it.
Now, a quick word on the cars if I may. Imagine the woman's surprise when I ring up to book my ARDS test, and I inform her I'd like the day with the Renault Clios instead of the Lotus Exiges, as I get to come down a week earlier. A bit impatient of me I thought afterwards, I should have waited a week to play in Exiges rather than a crummy French va va voom go kart. Well, I got a bit of a shock. Not really in terms of any power, but the way the thing tried to mate you with the side of the seat. There's so much grip I thought my instructor was going to kill us on the first lap he really belted it. Insane, really insane for a car which you could buy from a show room. The road legal track tyres undoubtedly help, but for me it was a new world of grip I'd only dreamed about. The (approximate) words of the head instructor big Steve still ring in my ears, "Guys this is a bit like skiing, you'll do it once and you'll know if it's for you or not. You'll either think 'hmm, that was nice but I've had enough now', or 'bloody hell that was awesome! I want to do this more and more!', with a massive smile on your face!". I reckon I'm easily in the latter group.
Oh, and the guys I went through the test with were rather nice chaps. I think we all identifed the "all-gob listen to me lads this is what the instructors won't tell you, but I know it all so I will" chap, but it's just as important to humour them politely, listen for a short while, then remember who your examiners and instructors are, so who actually counts. Speaking of the other guys, it's very interesting to chat and listen to their plans, what series they're joining. One of these 'sound' blokes was a certain Tom Hunt, son of a Formula One legend - smoked an awful lot but nice guy!
In conclusion, an brilliant brilliant day combined with an important license examination. I really was like a kid when I got to Silverstone circuit, seeing it so many times on TV. One of the best days of my life, making me a truly sad individual but still! And then there were the Caterhams, which were more like putting the car on like a tight fitting shirt rather than getting in it. The skid pan with the wild Meganes on trolley wheels. Simply put, I can't recommend it enough.