A Radical experience at Silverstone

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Will Wood, Radical SR3 RS, Silverstone, 2013Maggotts. Becketts. Stowe. Copse. The Silverstone Circuit has some of the most famous and iconic turns in all of motorsport. And now thanks to the Experience Mad team, I’m about to experience them all for real.

It?s a cold and grey Northamptonshire morning and I and roughly 50 other soon-to-be track-day drivers are the attentive audience of today?s clerk of the course.

After clear and strict instructions about driving etiquette for the benefit of all the novices like myself in attendance, we?re given a final few words of caution.

“Remember: The most dangerous places on the track are Woodcote and the exit of Club corner. If you?re not careful and don’t watch the throttle pedal, you?ll spin and find a concrete wall waiting for you on the inside of the track. It always happens.”

With that final sage advice fresh in my mind, I make my way out of the building and across the old pit lane ?ǣ now the national paddock ?ǣ to the garage in which the machine I shall be attempting to pilot around the circuit where the world championship began.

If the full Silverstone grand prix circuit is one of the ultimate track day venues, then the Radical SR3 RS is one of the ultimate track day cars. With its extremely lightweight body and a Hayabusa motorcycle engine capable of producing around 420bhp per tonne, I?m reliably informed that this car will easily out perform a Ferrari Enzo or a McLaren F1 around Silverstone’s 5.8 kilometres.

It?s an appropriate little fact, as this is not your typical track day. My hosts in the Experience Mad Radical garage are sharing the pitlane with some very wealthy and experienced track day drivers, including a number of professional British GT teams who are just here to run for fun.

Lamborghinis, a Porsche V10 Carrera GT and even a souped-up Renault Clio are all lined up at the end of pit lane, just waiting for the lights to go green. And when I join the circuit, I?m expected to be lapping quicker than all of them.

Helmet and gloves, Silverstone, 2013If that wasn?t intimidating enough for a novice like me, the SR3s have no traction control and no anti-lock braking system. In other words, I?ll be driving with every single setting on ??realistic?.

Thankfully, I won?t be circulating alone. Strapped inside the car in the passenger seat is someone who knows both the car and the track as well as anyone ?ǣ 2007 British GT champion Bradley Ellis. Through a one-way radio earpiece, Ellis will be providing constant feedback about my lines around the corners ?ǣ almost like having my own personal Rob Smedley.

It may not be raining, but the track is damp and small puddles litter the road surface. To be expected, of course. After all, this is Silverstone. Thankfully, the Radical guys have fitted full wet tyres on the car, so if I do make an unplanned excursion off the circuit, I?ll have no one to blame but myself.

The Radical guys help me into the car. One of the resident mechanics asks me if my belts are uncomfortable before promptly yanking them tighter before I have the chance to respond. Ellis talks me through the launch procedure ?ǣ from neutral, shift down into first gear ?ǣ before it?s time for us to depart onto the track.

What feels like a light dab of the throttle produces an impressive roar from the engine behind me. After a three hour drive to the circuit in a 2001 Vauxhall Corsa, the contrast in engine response takes a bit of getting used to.

We pass the pit exit, follow the blending line and I stare at the track as it opens up infront of me. Squeezing the throttle, the acceleration, engine noise and vibration take me immediately by surprise. It?s instantaneous. You can tell straight away that this car is purpose built for the track.

Before I know it, I?m plunging through Maggots and Becketts before entering the Hangar Straight to go flat out for the first time, punching through the gears with the paddle shifter. ??I?m driving a car flat out down the Hangar Straight,? I think to myself. This feels an awful lot more impressive than being sat in front of a monitor with a G27 steering wheel.

??Stay around the outside of Stowe,?? Ellis tells me. ??That?s where the grip is in the wet.?? He?s right of course, and I know he?s right, but it still feels entirely counter-intuitive as I miss the apex completely and follow the white line around the outside of the right hander. But just as Ellis says, the tarmac is visibly less slick around this outer line.

Heading out of Vale into the long right-hand Club corner, it?s striking just how big the grandstands feel when you?re sat in the car with your eyes less than a metre off the ground. In fact, having such a low vantage point reveals just how much undulation there is at parts of the circuit ?ǣ particularly the dip between the exit of Stowe and the braking zone for Vale.

Will Wood, Radical SR3 RS, Silverstone, 2013Silverstone?s famous turns do not fail to impress. Copse corner, the new Abbey sweeper and Brooklands make the greatest impression. Even though the track is damp and apex speeds are slower than in the dry, the sheer force of being pulled around the faster corners by the car is remarkable.

With the Radical SR3 producing a decent level of downforce, the experience of driving around Copse and Brooklands in particular is like how I imagine a NASA astronaut must feel whilst being thrown around a g-force simulator. Even rounding The Loop at just 40mph feels fast in this car.

As I begin to get the hang of the car, we start to cruise up behind slower traffic. I wait to come onto one of the circuit?s many straights as we?ve all been told to do in the drivers? briefing before blasting past. First a Porsche 911, than a Lamborghini along the Brooklands straight. I?m starting to understand the appeal of all this ??racing? business.

Throughout my run, Ellis is providing constant and constructive feedback about my lines, braking and mid corner speed. By far his two most frequent orders are ??off the brakes?? and ??more power??. But as much as he tells me to come off the brakes earlier, I just can?t find the confidence to obey his orders. This brilliant car is more than capable of navigating these corners faster than I?m allowing it to, but despite all my virtual testing on Race 07, I just can?t find the courage to go faster.

Around 20 minutes into my half-an-hour session, the inevitable happens. Exiting the Vale, I?m a little too eager to hit the apex at Club and clip the inside kerb, sending the car, Ellis and myself into an almost stylish single pirouette onto the outer kerbing, while another driver in a KTM X-Bow takes emergency avoiding action behind me. It?s just what the clerk of the course warned us would happen and I?m the clown who?s gone and proven him right.

Will Wood, Radical SR3 RS, Silverstone, 2013Thankfully ?ǣ mainly due to Ellis having quickly grabbed the clutch as soon as he sensed that I was about to send us around ?ǣ there?s no harm done, except to my pride, and we can continue on our way. Ellis tells me that I?m not bad, but I?m too aggressive with trying to get the car to the apex of the corner. The realisation that I?m driving along a damp Hangar Straight at over 120 mph while a professional British racing champion is giving me pointers on my driving style is rather surreal.

After what feels like a full stint?s worth of laps around this wonderful race track, Ellis points me into the national pit lane entrance and my time with this fantastic machine has come to an end. Although 30 minutes was ample time to get a true taste of this magnificent circuit, actual Experience Mad customers get two whole hours of track time in the car on track days like this. I envy them. Finally, after being made to suffer being a passenger to my inept driving, it?s now Ellis?s turn to show me how it should be done. Strangely, I?m more nervous about this than I was about driving myself.

With a champion in control, everything feels so much more explosive. Ellis?s lines through the fast Becketts sequence are technically flawless and he practically flings the car around the outside of Stowe as the tyres hold on with ease. Entering The Loop, we?re stuck behind the sole Clio on the circuit as another SR3 cruises up behind us.

We both blast past the Clio at the exit of the Arena kink before an impromptu drag race takes place between Ellis and the unknown Radical along the Brooklands straight. If only these cars were equipped with DRS, maybe we?d have ended up ahead at the end of this particular skirmish. But I don?t mind. I?m just enjoying the ride.

Climbing out of the car after my passenger ride, one of the hosts asks me how it went. I can barely muster up words to respond. It?s been a privilege to get to drive around the very same circuit that Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and company and while my experience may have taken just a few laps, it?s left an impression that will last a lifetime.

From now on, thanks to the kind people at Experience Mad, whenever I?m watching the British Grand Prix, I?ll have a whole new respect for the track that has been the home of British Formula One for so many decades. I may not have driven anywhere near as fast or as well as my heroes, but at least I could have a just a taste of how it feels.

If you’re interested in experiencing Silverstone for yourself at the wheel of a racing car, get in touch with Experience Mad here:

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19 comments on A Radical experience at Silverstone

  1. Sam (@) said on 30th December 2013, 22:11

    By this article the Mad Experience boys will be rich by the end of the year. I’ve had the pleasure of driving a Porsche GT2 around Heusden-Zolder once. So I can imagina what this must be like. Takes your breath away really. Hundreds of miles on games I’ve done but a few laps around a track in a real car is something different. You’d almost think it is quite unfair these racecar drivers get paid to do this, then again I don’t have any worldtitles that aren’t won on the PS3…

    I’ve got this other coupon for either a Caterham road day or Hummer off-road day, what should I do? Can’t choose and the coupon is from 2012, expiring july 2014, oh boy.

  2. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 30th December 2013, 22:27

    Before I read it all, I’ll just say what I said to Keith when he tried COTA: VERY JEALOUS.

    Carry on. And well done Will Wood !

  3. mnmracer (@mnmracer) said on 30th December 2013, 22:44

    One of my life goals is to one day do a F1 driving experience, but to get the most out of that, I’m going (planning) to build up with a couple ‘slower’ driving experiences first, so that I don’t have to waste any F1 laps ‘learning’ to drive a racing car.

    This just made my list :)

  4. Oli Peacock (@olliekart) said on 30th December 2013, 22:50

    At £1650, I think I’ll pass and… age a year, till then it’s Clio’s

  5. BJ (@beejis60) said on 30th December 2013, 23:30

    I wish I could go out racing… my area of NY is definitely below 0 *C; IDK the conversion from *F but I’m guessing it’s -10 *C or so.

  6. David not Coulthard (@) said on 31st December 2013, 7:14

    And there are people out there saying how talentless (insert F1 drivers here, Vettel, perhaps?) is/are……..

    • Who said vettel was talentless? He is obviously a great driver just not the best of all time or even right now. Big difference.

      • mnmracer (@mnmracer) said on 31st December 2013, 18:08

        Good on you for acknowledging his talent, but you’ll find there are plenty of people still making those kinds of claims. Luckily, not many here on F1Fanatic, the save little corner of the web for true F1 Fanatics :) .

  7. GeeMac (@geemac) said on 31st December 2013, 8:02

    Awesome read, thanks Will. I’m really keen to do something like this, this article may just have persuaded me to do it. :)

  8. andae23 (@andae23) said on 31st December 2013, 8:59

    And I though fish were comfortable in the wet ;)

    Really enjoyed the article – hopefully I will do something similar at Zandvoort this year.. or the year after :)

  9. Mark in Florida said on 31st December 2013, 17:12

    Would love to have a track day car. My Mustang Gt is a weekend cruiser for my wife and I. I have seen some of the old lemans cars for sale and even one or two of the CanAm Shadow twin turbo Chevy v8 cars. Talk about a track car! Sebring Raceway is about 60 miles from me and I have always wanted to run that track like the ALMS guy’s do. I guess it’s like old Smoky Yunik said ” Cubic speed costs cubic dollars. How fast do you want to go? “.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 2nd January 2014, 2:01

      Mark, I have a friend in Florida who races SCCA events including Sebring in his Mazda rotary but there is also a division for the MX5 and there are race prepared MX5s available to rent for the weekend, check it out.

  10. HoHum (@hohum) said on 31st December 2013, 20:41

    @willwood, great article Will, sadly eclipsed by other news but I am sure read and appreciated by a lot more F1fs than comments indicate, thanks.

  11. cduk_mugello (@cduk_mugello) said on 1st January 2014, 23:00

    @willwood @keithcollantine It’s a well written article, but I’d just question the journalistic standards.. it has all the hallmarks of an advertorial – an editorial that has been paid for by a third party company. This is commonplace in media, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But if that was the case, it’d be wise to have this listed as an advertorial, rather than guest article – for the sake of transparency. Fair enough if that isn’t the case.

  12. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 1st January 2014, 23:31

    an editorial that has been paid for

    It has not been – F1 Fanatic does not run any paid advertorial as stated here.

  13. Steven (@steevkay) said on 2nd January 2014, 18:53

    Very cool article, Will! I don’t know how often these come about, @keithcollantine but if you have more guest articles like this in the works, I’ll be looking forward to them!

    @willwood I’m sure this puts into perspective how much faster you’d be doing in an F1 car (or heck, even a GP2 car); I remember the first time I drove a proper go-kart I was taken aback by how immediate everything is, even though my top speed was a little over 60km/h. I can only imagine that a Radical is a go-kart on steroids (lots, and lots of steroids). Glad to see you had a great time!

  14. BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd January 2014, 15:11

    The good thing is you seem to have had a blast of a time @willwood. The downside is probably that it makes you want even more!

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