Castle Combe Circuit

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Motor racing for the mature I know that we all think that we can drive, try criticising my wife’s technique and a lovely, adorable charming mature lady turns into, well, politeness stops me here. And self-preservation. However, we have just enjoyed a track day at Castle Combe race track in Wiltshire, and it will stay with us for many years to come. In all our years of married life, I have never seen my wife so nervous. Far worse than the dentist, more nerves than our wedding day. She didn’t want much breakfast, conversation was measured, and all because she was going to drive round a race track. However, afterwards, she couldn’t understand why such trepidation, as all went so well. The track is very easy to find, directions to the place where you report at 10am are also clear, with driver briefing 15 minutes later. Spectators are very welcome. Our class was about thirty strong, with a mixture of all ages and sexes. The youngest seemed to me to be in their twenties, and there was one man in his seventies, which is not the oldest they have ever had, that distinction being held by an 85 year old. Chief instructor John Moon took us through the basics, then head driver told us all about the track, how to position the car, what was going to happen during the day. Then we were introduced to the team of instructors, followed by allocation four to a team. Richard Ames was with Pam and I plus two others, so two by two we went out with him driving the Ford Focus for three laps, each getting progressively faster. Each one of us then had three laps driving, Richard telling us to change gear, steer the car, when to brake, and in those three laps we all learned that perhaps we were not quite up to racing standard. After three laps came the assessment, with marks out of five for many areas of ability/competence. Pam’s nerves had gone by this stage, because she had vowed not to drive the single seater Ford racing car for the five laps on offer. No problem said Richard, and arranged an alternative track drive for her in a different saloon car. They offered, she didn’t even have to ask. After a while I was fitted out for my single seater drive, with instructions calmly given. That’s the rev counter. Don’t go above 4,000 (I did). That’s the gear lever, don’t try reverse (I didn’t). Those are the wing mirrors, don’t get in the way of faster cars (I didn’t). If you come off the track, stalling the engine, don’t worry, press that starter button and get going again. If you can’t, we’ll come out straight away and get you going again (they didn’t have to). There was a final driver de-briefing, with presentation of certificates, together with award of driver of the day. For some strange reason it went to some unclean looking man in his twenties who obviously had far less driving talent than I. Nothing for coming second either. So, what are my impressions. Don’t expect Brands Hatch or Silverstone, it’s a lot more basic than that. There are no grandstands for example, but there are all necessary safety procedures and precautions in place. That’s hardly surprising, because it has been hosting race meetings since 1950, when Sir Stirling Moss participated. You feel completely confident that in the unlikely event anything untoward occurring they will cope calmly. You are in the hands of professionals. I would recommend this experience to anyone who has a driving licence. It’s as good as that. The track is demanding, the concentration has to be constant, but you come away with a great feeling of achievement. We are treating our two granddaughters soon to a young driver track experience; they are 12 and 14, so they will get to drive for the first time in a controlled situation.

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