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#1 29-08-04 00:28:13


Who do you think you are, Nigel Mansell?


An impressive roll call of racing legends have sped around the track at Castle Combe, North Wiltshire.

Names of note include David Coulthard, Damon Hill and Ayrton Senna. Another recent addition to that list, thanks to the Castle Combe Racing School was mine, Wilf Guyatt.

The Racing School has operated in its current form since 1991. Its professional reputation and value for money were cemented in December 2001, when motor bible Auto Express gave them a ‘four-star rating’ and the ‘best budget buy’ award.

Courses cost from £80 to £275, and give you the chance to get behind the wheel of cars including the Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Lotus Elise and the single-seater Formula Ford.

The 'beginners package' gave me the chance to have instruction with a racing driver in a Ford Focus, as well as six unaided laps in a 1600cc Formula Ford.

The Formula Ford car has propelled many racers from local race drivers to international superstars, including Nigel Mansell and Johnny Herbert.

Learner drivers spend time with an instructor in a Ford Focus

For the first time in months, I was really scared - how could I handle such a powerful, and in the wrong hands, dangerous car? My fear was soon allayed, thanks in part to my super-cool and ultra friendly instructor Hugh Elliot, who took me around the track in a far tamer Ford Focus.

By the end of my three laps behind the wheel of the Focus, he was repeatedly imploring the mantra of ‘more gas, more gas!’

The laps with an instructor teach the racing students how to tackle the course, explaining the racing lines, driver protocol and simple "do’s and don’ts", the most important being ‘don’t crash the car.’

My time with the instructor was soon over and it was amazing to see my confidence improve throughout the 10 minutes on the course. It was then my turn to strap myself into one of Castle Combe’s Formula Ford's.

Forget all of your luxuries you are used to in your own car. Single seaters have no power-steering and no automatic gearbox. One thing a Formula Ford does have is an engine that can apparently out accelerate a Ferrari from a standing start, not bad for a car with no stereo.

After being shoehorned into the car, I was given some last minute instructions from the pit-team and was pushed out of the garage, where the mechanics connected a battery to start the car.

A crowd of interested spectators had formed along the pit lane to see me roar off towards Chippenham. Unfortunately my stalling the car meant that many of the crowd began to laugh, not something you often see in Formula One.

The butterflies disappeared when I finally pulled onto the track, turning my morning of theory into practice.

The training with Hugh had certainly paid off - not only was I thinking in terms of the "racing line" but also on my choice of gears and braking. These are obviously a set of skills you don't usually employ on the stop start journey from Chippenham to Swindon.

The six laps soon disappeared and I was just beginning to enjoy myself when the chequered flag signalled the end of my run. A debriefing session followed, and unsurprisingly several of my fellow students asked how they could get into motor sport as a hobby.

Alan Cooper, the Senior Racing Instructor told me that a ‘well looked after’ Formula Ford car could cost about £3000. I guess then the next step is to get the champagne on ice and order the jet.

The Racing School operates from March until early January. Bookings are already being made for courses next year.

29-08-04 00:28:13

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