Thursday, 12 July 2012

'Ferrari Experience' at Silverstone

'Ferrari Experience' at Silverstone

The 'Ferrari Experience' (link)  at Silverstone was my first ever 'supercar experience'. They had an offer on at the time and so I only paid £125 for four laps of the 'international circuit' (link) in a Ferrari 360. The standard price back then was £250, although it has now dropped to £225, and that's for the F430. Silverstone often have half price offers on for late availability so it's always worth looking out for these.

As a point of note, at Silverstone they seem to be one Ferrari behind. So at the time when I visited the latest Ferrari on sale was the F430, and the Silverstone experience was in the 360. Now the 458 Italia is on sale and Silverstone have introduced the F430...

My slot was in the afternoon so I turned up at the required time in their purpose built experience centre.  This is where you check in, buy any extras (insurance excess waiver, video footage, Xbow hot lap), grab a coffee and some souvenirs should you wish.

After the track and driving briefing we were told to get in our cars and drive to another part of the circuit. We all parked up and went to a warm and dry building where we got kitted out with our crash helmets. There was a wait of about 30 minutes before I got to go out in the 'warm up' car - a Renault Meganesport 250 Cup. A fairly decent hot hatch, and having previously owned a Focus ST (ie another 'hot hatch') I was very comfortable to drive it fairly hard from the off. Unfortunately the car seems to have a very aggresive traction control system and so the instructor and I frequently had the following conversation: instructor - "more power, more power"; me - "my foot is on the floor and nothing's happening". Even when really trying to unwind the steering the traction just kills the drive so this very competent car was a bit of a pain. Still, I was fairly pleased to overtake a number of Ferrari's and an Aston Martin :).

The real downside of the Megane though is that it is front engine, front wheel drive. Sure, 5 laps in it gives you a fairly good understanding of the circuit but the drive / engine configuration gave no introduction to the layout of the 360. I'd never driven a rear wheel drive car before at that point so I really wished they had something like a Lotus Elise instead. I suppose if you've never driven a car with north of 200bhp then it might at least be a useful introduction to what a more powerful car is like to drive.

Anyway, once that was over it was time for some more waiting. If you are on your own - bring a book!

But time for the Ferrari did come. Ooo, very exciting. Got strapped in to the rather over the top racing harness, taught about the flappy paddle gearbox and then off we went. It was a great car - good sound, great feel, very exciting and all that. But I'll be honest and say that I was frustrated by realising that I didn't have the rear wheel drive, mid engined experience to really push the car. If I did it now, sure I could go for it because I have had more experience. But as a first timer I wasn't used to the layout so I spent the four laps learning to adapt my driving technique.  Because I wasn't too slow, I none-the-less found myself getting stuck behind quite a few cars which I found frustrating. Still, all in all in was great to have driven my first Ferrari, especially around Silverstone :).

There was a bit more waiting before some young guy took me for one lap in the Meganesport. With traction control OFF. Wow - that car can corner! It was very impressive for a hot hatch. Shame I had to drive it with the traction on. Not saying I could have driven as fast as him - no way, but it showed me how much better the car is without the driver aids.

After that I was ready to head off, but had to wait half an hour to get a certificate that to be honest I didn't really want. Then I collected my car, drove back to the main centre, and then waited a bit for my video to be made.

Because of all the waiting I'd spent about 3 hours at Silverstone just to drive for about 15 - 20 minutes.

Driving around part of Silverstone is great though. You've all seen it on the British GP and it is special driving down the Hanger Straight and then swooping into Stowe. It also gives you more of an appreciation of how fast the F1 cars go through the corners.

Would I go again? I don't know. For me, it's near where I live so that may sway things. Silverstone is a classic and great circuit. Maybe with more cars in one go that would be better, or if there's a really good deal on in a car I haven't driven yet. Or, maybe doing the Exige experience would be more rewarding because of the higher number of laps and it would be just as fast as the Ferrari. Still, to be fair, £125 to drive a Ferrari around Silverstone isn't too bad is it?

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