I like to drive. I like to drive fast. But, most of all, I like driving fast on motorsport circuits. Whilst I’ve known how to take a racing line (the fastest route a driver can take through a corner) for years, as any fule kno, it’s more than just a matter of flooring the gas pedal and clinging onto the steering wheel for dear life.
So when Vauxhall told me that they had a very rare training day with Rob Wilson up for grabs at Bruntingthorpe with a view to learning how to shave seconds off my track time. I was so in. (And I took my father with me – I figured he could get to share the fun too.)
Rob Wilson is one of those names that if you know, then you know. Following on from his own lengthy and successful career in motorsport on both sides of the Atlantic, he’s become a legendary Formula 1 coach (fifteen F1 drivers at present count) whose secret sauce is a toolbox of driving tricks, both mental and physical, that promises to shave vital hundreths of seconds off personal circuit times. (And, in my case, whole seconds.)
Bruntingthorpe is an industry proving ground in Leicestershire, a redundant air field which now hosts a test circuit which will be familiar to Top Gear fans, and Wilson has been giving one-on-one circuit driving lessons there in a standard, unmodified Vauxhall Astra for years.
His theory is that if you drive the circuit in a standard manual car then you can really listen to the engine and understand how the vehicle is working. The Astra does the same thing dynamically that an F1 car does – just a lot more slowly – and that means you can really feel what the car is doing so, if you’re an F1 driver, you can then apply that understanding once you get back in your racing car. And, above all Wilson needs cars that are stable and durable, that can cope with being thwacked around a track by professionals and aren’t going to fail when being pushed to the max.
When Vauxhall discovered that the Astra was being used to train some of the world’s most exciting racing drivers they got on board, and now supply Wilson with all the cars that he needs for training – and for his own use.
Rob’s speciality is in cornering; by teaching me to belt down the straight, pedal to metal, hugging the inner edge, and only swinging out at the last moment to take a corner, instead of the more usual classic drift out, the car was in the corner for a shorter time – and that takes hundreths of seconds off a lap time.
I also learnt how to go into a left hand corner at full throttle, accelerating out of the apex at 106mph, before braking 50yards later straight down into 2nd to slide around a chicane. (Basically it takes balls, a firm hand on the wheel with a lot of steering lock to get the car flat so that the weight is evenly distributed as it exits the apex, so you can accelerate sooner, and a bucket of self-belief.)
Astonishingly, in just a few hours, he managed to remove a staggering 20secs off my circuit time, taking me from 2min15 at the start of the day, to 1min55 by 4pm. I am thrilled, not least because Kimi Räikkönen does it in 1min46.
I’m not sure if I’m more amazed by both the decrease in my circuit time and control of the car, or by the fact that I was doing it in a Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer. Truly, that day at Bruntingthorpe, the car was the star.
Huge thanks to Rob Wilson and to Vauxhall for hosting Sasha and her father at Bruntingthorpe
Sunglasses: Stella & Dot Miramar in Black
Jacket: GAP (past season) Khaki Army Jacket. A similar one can be bought from Banana Republic here and from Asos here. Top: Boden Bridget Blue and White Off the Shoulder Top. Boyfriend Jeans: Citizens of Humanity.Converse: Gemma Low-Top Metallic Converse. Scarf by Dianora Salviati
Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Lutterworth. Leics, LE17 5QS. www.bruntingthorpeprovingground.com