As part of Andy Green’s preparation to drive Thrust SSC, he has been practising his high-speed driving skills at Silverstone. For Andy’s report on his latest visit, read on....
So why go to Silverstone to practice driving in a straight line? That was the question that the Silverstone Driving Centre initially asked me when I went to see them about preparing to drive Thrust SSC (after all, the Thrust team is always making fun of the ‘small slow cars that go round and round in little circles on Sunday afternoons’!). The answer of course lies with Richard Noble’s experiences in Thrust 2 - below about 350 mph, the Car was sliding around on its metal wheels and was quite a handful until the airflow built up over the fins and the Car became aerodynamically stable. Hence Richard was very keen for me to do some race driving, to practice my car-handling skills, before we take Thrust SSC to the desert - and where better to do it than the Driving Centre at Silverstone.
The Centre has 3 forms of training: a skid pan, track driving in a sports saloon and ultimately track driving in a single-seater. I was very lucky to be instructed by Eugene O’Brien, a remarkable driver and instructor (he is racing in the Rover touring car series this year and is currently lying third in the championship)....... the only problem with learning from someone like him is that he makes it all look so easy! Just to keep me on my toes, we had a camera crew there, just waiting for me to spin off for the first time.......... and they didn’t have to wait too long........
First up was the skid pan, in a Peugeot 309 fitted with ‘training wheels’ - the hydraulically controlled wheels that can make the car behave in any way that you want: reduced grip at the front, at the rear or at all 4 wheels at the same time. The idea is to improve the driver’s on-the-limit car control at slow speed, and it certainly improved mine! We finished up doing 360-degree spins in the car as a handling exercise, which also had the benefit of making the camera-man in the back of the car feel extremely unwell - after all, we can’t make it too easy for them!
Next was the racing Peugeot 309 GTI, on the Stowe Circuit, which is the Driving Centre’s training track. After a few warm-up laps, gradually increasing the speed, the camera crew’s producer (who earlier said about the queasy-looking camera-man ‘It’s OK, leave him in there, he’ll be fine!’) jumped into the back for a few laps; after 4 laps we had to stop and let him out again, he wasn’t feeling well. It was the camera-man‘s turn to smile. Finally it was the director’s turn to ride in the back - he wasn’t sick, but he was quiet at the end of the session: Peugeot 3, camera crew nil! By now we were lapping consistently at under 52 seconds, with 3 people and half a tank of fuel in the car (the course record for a solo driver and light fuel load is 50.0 seconds, so allowing for the extra weight we were within half a second of this pace) and it was time to move on.
The single-seater is a totally different vehicle - very light, very fast, very quick steering and of course rear-wheel drive, all of which make driving it very different from the Peugeot. The other new feature of this car was slick tyres, which take time to warm up......... more time than I gave them! Lap 2 found me at the end of the long straight at the track, still on cold tyres, losing the back end and sliding off onto the grass... and then stalling trying to pull away! Oh no! Of course, the first person to reach me was the camera-man, to record my embarrassment in full. I sat there waiting for the pit crew, consoling myself with the fact that even the small slow cars driving round in circles on Sunday afternoons spin off occasionally, so I shouldn’t feel too bad about it.
The rest of the session passed without incident, much to the camera crew’s disappointment. I finished the day on a worn-out set of racing slicks in an overheating car, having learned a great deal about car control and ‘feel’ through the wheels - just the sort of feel I’m going to need when Thrust SSC starts it’s charge down the desert in Jordan in just a few weeks time. A big thank you to Eugene and the Silverstone Driving Centre for all their help in preparing me for the best drive in the world. Feeling ready? You bet I am!
Andy Green, June 1996
P.S. If you ever get a chance to do a day’s driving at the Silverstone Driving Centre, take it - it will make you a better driver and it’s brilliant fun!
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