Looking for the best track experience in the UK? I think I might have found it
It was the third or fourth lap and we were headed down Hanger Straight at a hundred and something mph. Rain was streaming off my visor and the instructor was waving his hand to tell me to move to the outside, the radio being useless at that speed.
I braked a lot later and harder than in previous laps, pointed the nose of the Radical SR3 RS towards the white line painted around the outside of Stowe corner and clung on. We carried a lot more speed as we rode the corner, avoiding the puddles on the inside line.
No issues, no problems. On to Vale. Fantastic.
Rewind a few hours and the alarm woke me at 6.45am. By 9am I was at Silverstone, through the main gate, over two bridges and looking for the paddock. I found it. That long, low building that used to house the F1 paddock during British Grand Prix weekend.
Evocative? Just a little bit. I'd been there years before at an F1 test but never ventured inside the hallowed ground that is 'the garages'.
This time I, and a few others, had a garage all to ourselves. Garage 8A, down towards the Copse end. And in it was a Radical SR3 RS, for us to drive round Silverstone.
I've been in driver's briefings before but none like this, and none at Silverstone. It was quite intense. 30 of us were stood in front of a man who told us all about the flags, about where and when to pass (on the left, never through Maggots/Becketts), and what to do in the event we might fall off the track.
Excellent. A cup of tea later and we were back in the garage to watch and wait. Track days do involve quite a lot of waiting around. Less if you take the full experience.
Let me explain. The actual experience is called Extreme Radical Pro Track Experience (Half Day) and you can find the link here. It costs £1650, which is a lot but you can share it.
There are four 30 minutes sessions actually in the car on track and three or four passenger laps. You can split the day up between up to six people. If there are six then you would each get one 20 minute session and pay £275 each.
Or you can spend the whole lot on yourself and be a race driver for a day.
The first two drivers had been out in dry conditions. I'd walked around the paddock and checked out various cars. It was a general test session and all sorts of machinery was there, including half a dozen Radicals.
Exerience Mad provide your kit (helmet, gloves, balaclava) which I'd put on, and then the heavens opened. The track was soaking and great rooster tails were being thrown up behind the cars as they flew down the pit straight. The chap in the car before me came into the pits and I was ready to go. And then the red flags were shown and the track closed whilst a stricken car was removed from the gravel.
Twenty minutes later and I was being strapped in tight in the car. The Radical SR3 RS is a 450kg, 200bhp race car, that also happens to have an MoT and tax disc.
You sit almost on the floor, and shoulder to shoulder with the instructor. It's a tight fit all round and you can just see over the top of the cockpit. The Radical has a 6-speed sequential gearbox with paddles either side the steering wheel.
You use the clutch only to get from 1st to 2nd and back.
We were ready, the track was being re-opened. My instructor told me via the radio to find the bite point and pull forwards slowly and creep to the end of the queue.
We were pulling on to Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. I floored the throttle and headed towards Maggots.
The next half an hour went past in some time other than the standard time you and I would normally perceive.
I thought of nothing but the track, the car, the instructor's instructions, other cars. I largely ignored the rain and wet track. I hit apexes as closely as I could, I braked as hard and as late as I could. I occasionally fluffed my lines and used the wrong gear. I overtook lots and was overtaken by a 911 GT3 an Aston Martin GT, a Ferrari 458 Italia and a brand new Radical coupe.
There was no timing apparatus allowed at the track but every lap I got better and better. The instructor's shouts diminished and his fevered hand waving to tell me to brake later and apply the throttle harder sooner reduced.
I was having a ball. The Radical pulls 3G in corners and 2G under braking. Given it was wet on track I came nowhere near those figures but it accelerated hard and stopped fast, and as I learned to trust the car I could go faster and faster through corners with nary a hint of squirm or bad behaviour from the car.
The engine revs to 9,000 rpm but I was changing up at 7,000 or 8,000. Each change is violent. As you exit the new hairpin at Village and head towards The Complex you change up from 2nd to 6th with a bang every time. As the engine heads over 6,000 rpm its whine resonates and briefly sends a tingle down your spine.
The 30 minutes was up. I was told to pull into the pits. I'd been so focussed on the track I nearly missed it. We jigged down the pit lane at the 15mph limit, stopped at our garage and jumped out, beam on face and ready to tell anyone nearby how good it was out there.
It was by now nearly lunch. Silverstone stops track work from 1pm 'til 2pm so we were treated to lunch and back out to the car for the passenger ride with a full belly.
By now the track was dry and wets were swapped for slicks. Oh goody. More fast.
Strapped in to the passenger seat this time my instructor became my driver. We headed out for a 15 minute full-on demonstration of the car's abilities.
On the first lap we weaved violently and braked violently to warm up the tyres. I hadn't noticed the Gs when driving but it becomes apparent when you have no wheel to hold and 75% of your brain capacity isn't focussed on keeping the car on the track.
It was massive fun. Not as much fun as actually driving but the next best thing.
We returned to the pit and climbed out. More smiles, more tales from the track. More wanting to go back out and do it all again.
But unfortunately the day was over.
It wouldn't have been the same had the circuit not been so grand, and the car not so fast and focussed. £1650 is a lot of money but driving a Radical at the home of the British Grand Prix has got to be experienced if you've an ounce of petrol in your veins.
The crew were experienced and gave me confidence. The car was prepped well. Tea was made and drunk. The sights and sounds of the pitlane were invigorating. I've no hesitation in recommending you try it out.
My drive and passenger ride were filmed with professional equipment. I will be sent a memory stick with edited footage. Anyone who takes part in the day gets the same treatment. I'll upload it to Speedmonkey's YouTube account soon.
Thanks to Experience Mad for a great day.
Article by Matt Hubbard