Formula One is a funny sport when despite having millions of fans worldwide very very few have ever driven a Formula One car of course, but also very few people have ever driven a car in anger.
Getting into Motorsport is difficult as well and go karts are one entry level point but a lot of people see this as a sport for kids or as relatively tame toys, though they are at least rear wheel drive, A Caterham 7 could be seen as a Go-Kart for adults then, its almost as basic, also rear wheel drive and a lot of fun to just throw around.
There are few opportunities to get into a car and actually race wheel to wheel though, race craft is something that you have to practice to get really good at so you can’t just jump into something like a Caterham 7 and actually race, driving a car fast is another matter. If you are simply driving a car round a track though, rather than racing anyone, is it really that much fun?
There are single seater experience days you can take at various circuits including Formula One circuits, a great experience and certainly a way to enhance your enjoyment of Formula One. Another option though is a
drifting experience day driving a rear wheel drive car and getting to understand driving a car at a different level: on the edge in a totally immersing experience where you barely get a chance to catch your breath.
I was lucky enough to enjoy such an experience day recently driving a Caterham 7, not a single seater but still a very light weight car, an iconic car and in many ways a very basic car that allows you to enjoy raw driving, I can imagine a track day with this would certainly be enjoyable but nothing compared to the constant action on this drifting experience.
Driving a Caterham perhaps has relatively little in common with driving a modern Formula One car but those who are fans of classic F1, especially pre turbo era, will appreciate the chance to drive a car that is not controlled by electronics but purely by the driver: drifting used to be a big part of formula one with drivers purposely letting the rear end step out at places such as Druids at Brands Hatch: always with perfect precision.
The drifting day I attended at Silverstone used mini circuits setup especially to give you a chance to practice drifting and throw the Caterham 7s around, and more importantly you have a team of experienced drivers watching you and giving you advice every time you went round so we constantly improved as the day went on.
There were a total of 17 drivers in attendance all of us with different levels of experience, several had done track days before some had only recently passed their driving tests; by midday everyone was drifting.
The day started with refreshments and a chance for everyone to get to know each other before a driving/safety briefing. There was plenty of space around the circuits for the inevitable spins and the team running the day took safety very seriously throughout.
Helmets were provided and drivers took it in turns but with three Caterham 7s available: therefore while only 1 person was circulating at any time people could be getting in and out of the cars or waiting to go and getting advice based on their previous attempt.
The first mini circuit setup, each was put together using cones so you weren’t in danger of colliding with anything too solid, was an easier introductory course with two gates to pass through on the way out before a long bend and then back through the middle gate prior to attempting a donut and then returning to the ‘pits area’.
Most people took their first lap slowly before going a bit faster on the second lap and generally spinning at some point, usually while attempting the donut and simply sending the rear too far round.
As we went through 3 goes in the car each, each of two consecutive runs, the instructors started to introduce the idea of steering with the throttle as well as great advice on going wider and allowing space so each of us had improved significantly by the time a second circuit was setup. While we all waited for our turns we of course scrutinised each other’s runs while chatting, with conversation inevitably turning to cars for a lot of the time.
The second setup was a figure of eight, the briefing before this explained well the principle of controlling the turn of the car using the throttle, but in such a way that despite it being an alien concept to many of us it did make sense.
This is when the drifting got a little more extreme an arc at each end where each of us tried to get the right balance between speed, angle and control and no one got away without at least one spin, with plenty of space and encouragement from the instructors though spinning was fun in itself.
After two goes of two runs on this longer layout, with three trips around the figure of eight on each run, we stopped for a great buffet lunch.
The final circuit we would be running around for the whole afternoon: with our final runs to be assessed by the instructors. The final layout looked confusing at first but after a demonstration, which we had from one of the instructors (all experienced drivers) for each layout, it became clear: a slalom course with a series of chicane type turns: tight heading out on the left, before a clockwise donut and then some wider turns before a final donut and a half and back in.
My experience was one of trying to get the right balance with plenty of spins, sometimes getting right on the edge of spinning but holding it together – a great feeling- and then finally on my last run I managed a run that was pretty close to my potential with no major spins or incidents and a great flow through each corner: it felt fantastic.
I didn’t end the day with the best lap, marked out of 100 I had 75 which was somewhere round the middle of scores, but importantly what I was doing by the end of the day was way above what I thought I was capable of. This was thanks to the great instruction that before the day I’d worried would be judgmental and that my lack of experience would lead to scorn but they were supportive throughout.
A Drifting experience day in a Caterham 7 is an ideal way to get into motorsport and enhance your enjoyment of Formula one and other motor sport: I especially found this watching the Monaco Grand Prix and seeing a few cars drifting around Anthony Noges.
The Drifting driving experience day was provided by Buy A Gift who offer a great range of experience days. The Caterham drifting is available as a full day experience for only £235 per person. Corporate drifting days for twenty or more people are also available and seem like a great way to get to know people, giving everyone something to talk about instantly and the chance to exchange tips and give each other support and encouragement after each run.