Working in motorsport has its advantages, but one thing you always wish for as a reporter is to swap with the stars you are writing about and actually get on track yourself.

Luckily, that chance arrived when we were invited along to Oulton Park to sample the circuit for ourselves. While we've had the chance to go round the circuit alongside the professionals during various media events, this time we'd be at the wheel.

Oulton itself, with its sweeps and curves, is regarded as a true favourite amongst the drivers and is also popular with fans for the action it provides. However, its also known as one of the more challenging circuits on the UK motorsport scene - as the various drivers and riders who have fallen foul of it will no doubt agree.

With that in mind, a cold December morning probably wasn't going to provide the perfect conditions to head out on circuit, with rain in the preceding days having left the track surface somewhat greasy.

The day comprised of time at the wheel of a Renault Clio Sport 197 and in a Formula Brands single-seater, giving us the chance to experience Oulton from the point of view of a touring car driver and an aspiring F1 ace of the future.

"The Clio is a really good car to use as it has a lot of F1 technology on it," chief instructor and former BTCC racer Nick Beaumont explained. "For example, if you lift the bonnet it has two scoops which held to stabilise the airflow and make the car more stable at speed. It also has really good brakes, which you need for driving on track.

"The single-seater is a proper racing car with a Van Dieman chassis and a 1.8 litre Audi engine. In terms of performance, with the weight and the power, it is the equivalent of a Porsche 911, so it's a proper bit of kit."

A briefing with another instructor, Richard Sproston, explained how our time on track was going to work; with driving lines being described and the point being driven home that it was a 'taste, not a test' and that we weren't going to be turned into racers overnight.

Then it was out onto the track alongside a man with BTCC experience himself, Neil McGrath, for the driving to begin.

After a lap in the passenger seat, it was time to take the wheel and it soon became apparent that all the drivers who have commented on how greasy the track can be at the end of a race weren't lying.

The run down The Avenue into Dentons wasn't an issue, although the drop down Cascades seemed a lot steeper behind the wheel than watching on TV and the right-hander at Fosters didn't afford as much grip as it could have done.

Going up Clay Hill, there literally is no way to see what is ahead, with the useful comment of 'aim for the big tree' giving an indication of the best line to take and then there is the challenge of the double apex turn at Druids.

Heading into the left-hander that leads into the corner, there is little room for braking, and it makes you wonder how some of the drivers who compete at the Cheshire venue can have the balls to make a move down the inside stick as the cars turn right.

Sheltered by the surrounding trees, grip levels once again weren't at their highest, with the power having to be applied gently before the run down to Lodge, a corner which also drops away a lot more than it would appear from watching on the sidelines or at home on TV.

After 15 minutes of lapping in the little Clio in a manner that described as 'quick but smooth' - much like the regulars in the Clio Cup - it was time to step into the single-seater.

This was when the challenging nature of the conditions really became apparent, with the extra power and rear-wheel drive meaning it was easy to get out of shape at the slower corners.

Indeed, on more than one occasion, the rear end would slide at Fosters and Druids but the car remained on track until the chequered flag flew - unlike with one of the other drivers who came back with a car covered in mud and with advice to avoid the marshal at Druids who was in a similar state after walking behind the car to help it off the grass after a spin.

A quick debrief afterwards gave hints and tips on where to improve, and while the day was nothing more than a taster, it did give an indication of what it must be like for the professionals who are lucky enough to do the job for a living.

Quite what it must be like to turn into a greasy Druids when you're going a hell of a lot faster and have 20 cars around you however is a different matter altogether...

With thanks to Chelsea Reay at MSV for organising the day. Anyone who fancies a go at taking to the track themselves can do so at either Oulton Park or Brands Hatch, with further details if you Click Here.

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment