Maggotts. 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?óÔé¼Ôäós a cold and grey Northamptonshire morning and I and roughly 50 other soon-to-be track-day drivers are the attentive audience of today?óÔé¼Ôäós clerk of the course.
After clear and strict instructions about driving etiquette for the benefit of all the novices like myself in attendance, we?óÔé¼Ôäóre 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?óÔé¼Ôäóre not careful and don’t watch the throttle pedal, you?óÔé¼Ôäóll 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 ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ now the national paddock ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ 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?óÔé¼Ôäóm reliably informed that this car will easily out perform a Ferrari Enzo or a McLaren F1 around Silverstone’s 5.8 kilometres.
It?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäóm expected to be lapping quicker than all of them.
If that wasn?óÔé¼Ôäót intimidating enough for a novice like me, the SR3s have no traction control and no anti-lock braking system. In other words, I?óÔé¼Ôäóll be driving with every single setting on ?óÔé¼?£realistic?óÔé¼Ôäó.
Thankfully, I won?óÔé¼Ôäót 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 ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ 2007 British GT champion Bradley Ellis. Through a one-way radio earpiece, Ellis will be providing constant feedback about my lines around the corners ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ 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?óÔé¼Ôäóll 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 ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ from neutral, shift down into first gear ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ before it?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós instantaneous. You can tell straight away that this car is purpose built for the track.
Before I know it, I?óÔé¼Ôäóm 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. ?óÔé¼?£I?óÔé¼Ôäóm driving a car flat out down the Hangar Straight,?óÔé¼Ôäó I think to myself. This feels an awful lot more impressive than being sat in front of a monitor with a G27 steering wheel.
?óÔé¼?ôStay around the outside of Stowe,?óÔé¼?Ø Ellis tells me. ?óÔé¼?ôThat?óÔé¼Ôäós where the grip is in the wet.?óÔé¼?Ø He?óÔé¼Ôäós right of course, and I know he?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós striking just how big the grandstands feel when you?óÔé¼Ôäóre 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 ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ particularly the dip between the exit of Stowe and the braking zone for Vale.
Silverstone?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós many straights as we?óÔé¼Ôäóve all been told to do in the drivers?óÔé¼Ôäó briefing before blasting past. First a Porsche 911, than a Lamborghini along the Brooklands straight. I?óÔé¼Ôäóm starting to understand the appeal of all this ?óÔé¼?£racing?óÔé¼Ôäó 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 ?óÔé¼?ôoff the brakes?óÔé¼?Ø and ?óÔé¼?ômore power?óÔé¼?Ø. But as much as he tells me to come off the brakes earlier, I just can?óÔé¼Ôäót find the confidence to obey his orders. This brilliant car is more than capable of navigating these corners faster than I?óÔé¼Ôäóm allowing it to, but despite all my virtual testing on Race 07, I just can?óÔé¼Ôäót find the courage to go faster.
Around 20 minutes into my half-an-hour session, the inevitable happens. Exiting the Vale, I?óÔé¼Ôäóm 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?óÔé¼Ôäós just what the clerk of the course warned us would happen and I?óÔé¼Ôäóm the clown who?óÔé¼Ôäós gone and proven him right.
Thankfully ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ mainly due to Ellis having quickly grabbed the clutch as soon as he sensed that I was about to send us around ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ there?óÔé¼Ôäós no harm done, except to my pride, and we can continue on our way. Ellis tells me that I?óÔé¼Ôäóm not bad, but I?óÔé¼Ôäóm too aggressive with trying to get the car to the apex of the corner. The realisation that I?óÔé¼Ôäóm 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós now Ellis?óÔé¼Ôäós turn to show me how it should be done. Strangely, I?óÔé¼Ôäóm more nervous about this than I was about driving myself.
With a champion in control, everything feels so much more explosive. Ellis?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäóre 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?óÔé¼Ôäód have ended up ahead at the end of this particular skirmish. But I don?óÔé¼Ôäót mind. I?óÔé¼Ôäóm 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?óÔé¼Ôäós 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?óÔé¼Ôäós left an impression that will last a lifetime.
From now on, thanks to the kind people at Experience Mad, whenever I?óÔé¼Ôäóm watching the British Grand Prix, I?óÔé¼Ôäóll 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: