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Palmer Sport Driving Experience

Bedford Autodrome Nov 2009


Palmer Sport Driving Experience - Bedford Autodrome

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Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009 Palmer Sport Driving Experience Nov 2009

It’s no use. I can’t sleep. I’ve tried counting sheep (actually, that usually works). I’ve tried burying my head under the pillow. I’ve even tried holding my breath in a vain attempt to pass out. The truth is though, I don’t want to sleep – I’m having too good a time. You see, today I attended the Palmer Sport driving experience at Bedford Autodrome and I’m re-living every minute, every corner, every car, every track, every "moment" of what could just be the greatest driving experience on the planet.

At Palmer Sport, it’s all about the driving. Sure, the cars are a major attraction too but here, it’s the fact that you get to push them to the limit with, in most cars, one-on-one tuition from Palmer’s race instructors that it’s really all about. They help to get the best out of you with full turn by turn instruction, lap after lap, telling you when to brake, where to turn-in, which gear to use and how to do it better next time. You quickly learn to trust them. It may sound a bit over the top but, trust me, when you are in a car you’ve never driven before on a circuit you don’t know, it takes away all the uncertainty and by the second lap you’ll be really pushing hard.

The hospitality and organisation was exemplary. The day started at 0745 with registration where all participants were split into teams. I was on team Fangio. Then it was a full English buffet breakfast and a chance to meet your fellow teammates before the welcome presentation and safety briefing at 0830. Then just before 0900 we met our team leader (Suzy for the Fangio team) and headed off in the minibus to the first driving event.

The track is split into 5 main circuits; North, South, East and West, plus the off-road / Caterham pursuit area. Different cars are based at each location as is a hospitality suite with toilets, plenty of seating and refreshments, plus all the necessary safety equipment such as helmets, gloves, driving shoes and race suits where required (single seater only). Being so close to the action meant that even when you weren’t driving you could enjoy watching your teammates hooning around the track. Suzy accompanied us for the whole day and ferried us around to the different areas. The only break in the action was Lunch from 1230-1330, then it was back out to the track for more driving.

The day finished at 1600 with refreshments back at the main reception suite followed by the de-brief and prize giving. There were awards for the best driver in each of the 9 events and a rule which meant that any driver could only win one event. Plus there was a prize for driver of the day and best overall team score. Team Fangio came 2nd. Me? I won the Caterham Pursuit – a timed sprint around a marked course. I was extremely happy with this as it was one of my first sessions and the track was still very slippery. However, I was even happier with coming 9th overall, as a first timer against 49 other drivers, many of whom had been before. For instance, take the guy who finished 2nd overall, I don’t know how many times he’d been but this was the 7th time he’d finished 2nd! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that those who’d attended before had a huge advantage. I’m not making excuses here, it’s a fact...I just need to work out how to afford a second visit.

So it was a fantastic day and we each got our own Palmer Sport memory stick with on-board video of our laps in the Formula Jaguar and the JP1 (see below). A huge thank you to all the staff at Palmer sport and to the instructors, especially Matt in the Caterham, for making this a truly memorable experience. It may be one of the most expensive driving days (hence, much of the custom is corporate) but when you look at what you get it’s actually exceptionally good value. What are the alternatives? Three modestly quick laps of an airfield in an R8 and Gallardo for £225? That’s OK if you really must drive one of those cars. But if you want to drive flat-out, on the limit, in a fantastic selection of race-prepared cars for a full day...then there really is no other choice. The best driving experience on the planet? Absolutely.

No no no.

I can’t leave it there. What about the cars? What were they like? Well, here’s a rundown, in the order that I drove them.
Palmer Sport Clio Cup Racer Palmer Sport Clio Cup Racer Palmer Sport Clio Cup Racer Palmer Sport Clio Cup Racer

Renault Clio Cup Racer – North Circuit

2 litre, 205BHP, 6 speed sequential gearbox.

Scoring – fastest lap time.


Built at the Renaultsport factory in France, these are the real deal. Raw, powerful, agile. With front-wheel-drive you might think they’d be a bit boring compared to some of the other stuff here but, no. The tail-happy handling and chuckability make them hugely exciting. Certainly one of my favourites on the day, and the first car I spun! On the outside kerb at the exit of turn one was a huge puddle. On about lap three I over-cooked it a bit, ran wide, nailed the throttle (under encouragement from instructor Charlie), but just couldn’t avoid the puddle. Huge splash, covering Charlie (his window was open) and the windscreen. By the time Charlie had switched on the wiper I’d already missed the turn-in point for turn two, hit the brakes and turned...ending up facing the wrong way. Still, as the chief instructor said, if you don’t have a spin, you’re not trying hard enough.

DA Palmer Sport Clio Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Palmer Sport Porsche JP3

Porsche 911 JP3 – North Circuit

3.6 litre flat six, 320BHP, 5 speed paddleshift auto.

Scoring – fastest lap time.


I’ve never really been into Porsches, but then again I’ve never driven one – I was hoping this would change my opinion. However, after the sharp, loud and visceral experience that was the Clio, this was a bit of a letdown. The gearbox was slushy and slow to react and the engine too quiet which just seemed at odds with what you were trying to do with it. Maybe the short, twisty circuit didn’t let the Porsche show its true colours. However, the handling was entertaining and it was seriously quick even if there were some driver aids giving a "helping" hand – maybe if I’d driven it before the Clio though it might have seemed better. As it was, my best Clio lap was 2.5 seconds quicker than the Porsche.

DA Palmer Sport Porsche JP3 Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit

Caterham 7 Superlight – Pursuit Course

286BHP/tonne, 6 speed manual.

Scoring – fastest time.


A head to head race between two identical cars on mirror image courses. Each driver had five attempts to set their best time. For those who had never driven a Caterham before it must have been surreal. To be honest, under normal conditions steering a Caterham with the wheel is only half the story – the throttle plays a big part too. That’s why they’re so much fun. But in the super-slippery conditions we had here, it was like driving on ice! Only second gear was needed. The trick to a quick time was adjusting the throttle to get a good balance between wheelspin and grip. Much of the time was spent sideways, even along the straight bits, with a donut to finish.

DA Palmer Sport Caterham Pursuit Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Land Rover Defender Palmer Sport Land Rover Defender Palmer Sport Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender – Off-Road Course

Scoring – Highest Points.


Well, to be honest there’s not much to say about the Defender – other than it coped beautifully with the varied course which included numerous steep inclines, both up and down, plenty of deep water, a "metal mountain", a see-saw and the "rails" (two parallel logs about 50 yards long). At various points along the course were targets to hit. These were poles with a tennis ball attached that you had to hit with either your mirrors or the centre of the windscreen depending on their position. Points scored for each target hit plus points for staying on the "rails".

DA Palmer Sport Land Rover Defender Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar Palmer Sport Formula Palmer Jaguar

Formula Jaguar – West Circuit

3 litre V6, 250BHP, 6 speed sequential gearbox.

Video Logging Equipment.

Scoring – best telemetry.


First up was a safety video to compensate for the lack of instructor accompaniment. Next we got suited-up in the race suits provided then headed off to the cars. For some, this was quite terrifying. For most of us it was a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Once in the car we set off for two laps around the track behind the pace car – to teach us the racing line. Then he peeled off into the pits and we were on our own to go as fast as we dared. This was thrilling. The combination of slicks and wings meant that you could go much faster than you thought possible...and that was the problem. Your normal perception of fast doesn’t apply here. As a result I didn’t really get the best out of the car or myself – sure I enjoyed it enormously, but with hindsight, having subsequently driven the JP1 around the same track with an instructor, I know I could have gone much quicker. That was frustrating. Still, I’ll know next time!

DA Palmer Sport Formula Jaguar Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Karts Palmer Sport Karts Palmer Sport Karts

Karts – Kart track, West Circuit

Scoring – fastest lap time.


I’m sure you’ve all driven karts. You know the score. Direct steering, no gears, low power, carry as much speed through the corners as possible. Great fun while waiting for the next big toy.

DA Palmer Sport Formula Jaguar Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1 Palmer Sport JP1

Palmer Jaguar JP1 – West Circuit

3 litre V6, 250BHP, 6 speed sequential gearbox.

Video Logging Equipment.

Scoring – fastest lap time.


Same engine as the Formula Jaguar but much quicker...I had an instructor with me! Two laps in and I’m already much quicker than in the single seater. Braking less, accelerating more, carrying more speed through the bends. The car was awesome. Beautifully controllable, brutal acceleration. I had one spin – I’d caught a slower car and he then locked up at one of the chicanes and went straight on. In a moment of confusion I selected one gear lower than I should so as soon as I touched the throttle pedal the rear wheels lit up and I did a complete 360. I managed to keep it running so immediately selected first and booted it. My best lap was 9 seconds quicker than in the single seater – now you see why I was frustrated.

DA Palmer Sport Formula JaguarJP1 Video
Click to play


Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR Palmer Sport Jaguar XKR

Jaguar XKR – South Circuit

4.2 litre Supercharged V8, 420BHP, 6 speed paddleshift auto.

Scoring – fastest lap time.


This was probably the car I was looking forward to the most. The reason? V8! Standing at the side of the track watching the others drive allowed me to enjoy the glorious aural delight that is a bellowing V8 overlaid with a wailing supercharger whine. Awesome. After some of the other cars I drove on the day I thought this might be a bit lardy and unresponsive but not a bit. It was thunderously quick on the straights and really felt quite light and nimble around the bends. The South circuit suited the car well with a long straight and not so tight turns as the other tracks, allowing the car to flow more. As with the Porsche there were obviously some driver aids at work here but they weren’t too intrusive.

DA Palmer Sport Formula Jaguar xkr Video
Click to play

Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight Palmer Sport Caterham Superlight

Caterham 7 Superlight – East Circuit

286BHP/tonne, 6 speed manual.

Scoring – fastest lap time.


The East circuit was perfect for the 7. Tight and twisty with a longish right-hander that opens out. Only 3rd and 4th gears are needed and most of the time is spent sideways – huge fun. This session brought my most memorable moment of the day. I’d caught a slower car at the end of the pit straight, followed him around the 3rd gear right and the 3rd gear left then into the long right hander. Flat out in 3rd, grab 4th halfway round, checking the oversteer with some opposite lock and maintaining the drift, still flat-out. The guy in front got a bit too sideways, over-corrected and slithered to the outside of the bend. It was then that I noticed the car spinning on the grass to the right and I hesitated. "Nail it" shouted Matt, my instructor, "through the middle". I floored the throttle and blasted through the gap. Fantastic. This session also brought the best contender for the "best finish" award (if there had been one). Teammate Emma rounded the last bend, pirouetted gracefully across the grass and into the pits sideways...to a round of applause. Stunning.

DA Palmer Sport Formula Caterham 7 Superlight Video
Click to play



So that’s it. 8 different vehicles. 9 different events. 1 trophy. A pleasing 9th overall against some tough competition and some memories I’ll never forget. If you only ever do one driving experience in your life, make sure this is it. You owe it to the driver in you.

Gav.


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