It was Saturday 22nd April - and I had been looking forward to this one day for over a year now. Ever since I laid eyes upon Thruxton's website, I just knew I had to have a go in some of the worlds most expensive and exotic cars around today. The company was offering me a go in cars I couldn't ever dream about affording, running and insuring at my age - life is for living, so here I am waking up at 6am about to live possibly one of the best days of my life.
The day started off with arriving at the racing circuit for my very first track day. To be honest I couldn't tell you whether it was the fact I was about to drive almost £500,000 worth of cars, consisting of the Mazda RX-8, Mercedes SLK 55 AMG, Porsche 911 Turbo, Ferrari F430 and the Lamborghini Murcielago.
The cars were parked outside in the customer car park (except the lambo) as I was one of the first to arrive on site. It was strange to think that little me, who had driven nothing faster than a 10 year old Ford Escort (that ended upside down in a field I may also add) was about to drive all these supercars - including the 600BHP; £190,000 Murcielago with paddle shift gears.
So, off I went signed my name at registration, and suddenly looked out the window to see the lambo launch itself off at a speed that was outstanding. Literally 90 seconds later, it was back in the pits where the staff had taken it out for a quick "test" spin. The smile on my face suddenly grew - though funnily enough sweaty palms also started to appear. What if I crash! This kind of power is overwhelming and I thought straight away the old Spiderman line "with great power, comes great responsibility" - too bloody right it does - that black lambo just ended up at the end of the pits quicker than I could have said the word "Bye".
So, off I go with my two friends having a confident chat about how crap I am at driving (why do mates do this. why!). We sit in a room with about 30 others, and all goes dark and there's a big screen in front of me that lights up - some chap walks out and does his usual greeting speech. He explains about the type of cars that are on the track, that we are in safe hands and that we should trust our lives with these wonderful people who sit next to us in these mega expensive toys. I also endured a 10 minute screening with Tiff Needle (I hate him with a passion), who chats about getting the lines right when driving.
So, off we go - I have to find Mazda RX-8 with the number 9 on the back of it. Walk through the gates next to the track and there is a fleet of RX-8s lined up with the instructors standing next to each of them. I get the old guy who looks like Santa Clause. I like Santa Clause, because my brain tells me if he can live long enough for that beard to appear, I am in safe hands.
I sit in the car and he chats away very calmly, explaining we are going to have fun, but to do what he says. We finally get on the track with me being a passenger and the speed is low, making sure I can take in the course. We pass the starting line and my instructor explains he will pick up the pace a little - and when he means a little he means harsher turning, and the G forces were starting to take some effect but I still felt very safe. 3rd and final lap of this ride - and the old guy who at first instance should be in his chair with his smoking jacket is in fact thrashing the car around, with some wonderful engine noise from the tiny 1.3 litre engine.
We arrive, back at the pits - it's my go in the driving seat! On goes the helmet and on goes the ignition. My first thoughts were the gear box was very short. The changes seemed to not deliver a lot of power at first. However, once we got out of the pit zone, up into 3rd gear and the foot went to the floor - this brought a smile to my face straight away.
The engine was nothing like any other 1.3 I had ever been in. Mazda have done such an astonishing job with this car and I can see why the average family man would want to buy one. It's practical, sporty and plus if you put your foot to the floor it gives quite a bit back. The clutch took a bit of getting used to, but as my confidence grew this soon became 2nd nature. £22,000 for a new Mazda RX-8. If it wasn't for the Skyline, Evo or Impreza at this present day and age I can see it being much more popular - it's a very nice car.
The bit I didn't like about it was the fact it has this very practical, yet very awkward and fairly ugly plastic strip running through the middle. This separated the back seats, and also became a cup holder, etc. Nice idea - much rather have a third (yet very small) seat though. The leg room in the back was small but would be OK on short journeys. At the end of the day, you want this car for yourself. The self confessed family man who decided not to trade his wife and kids in and get a Porsche 911, instead got himself a cheaper sporty car.
I got out of the car after 3 laps with a pleasing look on my face, though I knew I could have driven better. I kept driving "normally" - instead of gluing my hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel. The feeling for someone doing this for the first time felt very odd. Turn the wheel 90 degrees but keep your hands in the same place - is this instructor mad! Quite simply, no. The experience felt more secure, more enjoyable and you also felt more in control of what you were able to do.
The next car lined up was the Mercedes SLK 55 AMG. The lady instructor straight away pointed out that this was going to be a BIG step from the tiny RX-8. With its 3.5 litre V6 engine, producing 231 BHP, I knew this was the biggest car to drive so far in my life. Sitting in the car felt with the engine off, was definitely not embarrassing, not at all. Except the fact that I can see why the manager of a hair dressers would want to buy this car. It looks too ordinary outside - no one, not even old people turn their heads to it.
"Never judge a book by its cover" my mother always said to me - and she was quite right. Its was punchy. Not a bad punchy, because when you put your foot down it launched off very quickly - though I can't help but feel this car could go a lot quicker.
Turning the car sharply into corners and chicanes felt a little uneasy - like it had too much power and not enough control into the corners. Not complaining, and getting back on to the straights this is where you find out why you paid the £30,000 asking price in the first place. Its gives a sweet growl from only a few yards away from your feet and now we start to overtake some Ferrari 355's. In all honestly this car is not in any way quicker than the "learners" driving around in the old Ferrari's, but my foot somehow wanted to prove it was. Suddenly I saw myself passing not one, but two of the supercars on the straights at 130mph. The revs were too short in this car - that's its "racing" down point. You can get to a wonderful speed - but expect that needle to spoil your fun.
I have never driven nor sat in a Skyline - though I just knew that this car felt like it is slower. Statistically it is, yet it leads me to ask why on gods green earth would you buy this car - when you can have an R34. I would imagine the Skyline would make you feel more satisfied once you leave the seats, but the SLK did not. I was very happy - 21 years old and thrashing about an AMG - that's like Christmas day. However, an Evo or Skyline would probably be more like 3 Christmas' rolled into one.
Next up - the awesome, yet very popular Porsche 911 Turbo...
I wanted to hate this car. Its god damn boring. Those vents stopped me from arguing publicly, though I still kept thinking "why. Why are these cars still so very popular after 40 years? The style is just so boring - except the vents and neat spoiler". For a bit more you could get that nice shiny red Ferrari F430 over there - why have this?
The door opens and in I go. The interior is comfortable, yet very dark. The sat nav system probably costs a zillion quid alone and I find myself caressing the Porsche badge on the steering wheel. "Right then Mr Turbo - I don't like you, I've never met you, but I just don't like you. Prove me wrong" I am thinking.
Started the car up and it gives a nice deep rumble, yet was still drowned out by the Tubi exhausts from the Ferrari's passing by. I put my foot to the pedal and suddenly found myself going 10mph faster than the pit limit - "O Dear Mother of God".
Gradually coming out of the pits, the guy next to me says "ok, off we go" and I put my foot to the floor - and what an experience this is. The skin on my face is sucked back towards the rear window. The growl of the thing just feel like you've got Mike Tyson and the Mafia as you're best mate. You have so much power and control that no one can touch you. I can see now why people envy this 40 year old machine.
Corner after corner it grips like glue. It's like Porsche have made some sort of special tyre superglue. In fact to put it better, its like handing over Jessica Alba to one of you guys - you love it, and you're never ever ever going to give it up.
Just turn the wheel where you want this beautiful car to go - no matter at what angle and it will get you there. It won't just get you there, it will also turn around and laugh at everyone else, do you're shopping, say to your wife you love her and then get you there - fast. Very fast.
Get to over 3000 revs and the turbo's kick in - this is where the fun begins. My lungs thought "Delay the launch Huston control, were aren't trained for this" - and im very fit and healthy. My heart and lungs suddenly become part of my spine the further my foot went to that floor. The steering was so accurate I felt as though I could do anything - thankfully the instructor thought otherwise on occasions.
All I could see was the front right light and not the bonnet. The other cars on the track became dots in the distance every time I got over 3000 revs. I loved this car. I wanted to hate it. This is the car that takes potential Skyline owners away so it can put more money into Porsche's sunny day funds. I want one of these!
Back at the pits and now I find that people are standing around the Ferrari F430 that I am about to drive. Picture after picture this car got. Its visually stunning and I too and expecting lots from this car. Its the brand every car manufacturer looks up to. Your car could cost a million quid, yet everyone still wants a Ferrari - im excited.
If the Porsche can leave me with a giant grin on my face - this should surely leave my smile imprinted on the seats forever.
The instructor asks me to turn the ignition on. Nothing happens, except the electrics light up. Push the big racing button saying "Start Engine" and WOW, what a noise. this V8 £140,000 car kicks into life and suddenly more cameras appear infront of me, to the point of whereby I am probably now in The Sun or one of those gossip magazines.
I give the peddle a little nudge with my right foot three times and its howls using the Tubi exhausts and everyone outside smiles. Sod everyone else - im smiling from ear to ear.
The paddle shift gear box felt strange when I first drove off - no clutch and my left leg just sitting there doing nothing gave me an idea.
If I cut off my left leg and sell it, I could have this car. I wouldn't need my left leg afterall because there is no clutch. I wouldn't need to walk to the shops because I'll drive there, then ask someone to do my shopping for me. The I realise I play football with my left leg - o bugger. Never mind - back to reality...
The car is so easy to drive. The interior is the MOST perfect interior you can get. Cream leather everywhere with a carbon fibre dash board. On the track this car sounded sexy. Put your right foot down and you suddenly get a smile from the noise. Yet, it didn't give a punch like the 911 Turbo. I used the F1 Style paddle shift gears and I can see why people hate them - they blip and lunge the car forward as if it is taking a deep breathe ready to go back into action.
The 911 didn't do this - its kept going and going. The Ferrari on the other hand want to go fast, then it wanted to take another breathe every time I changed up or down the gears. It gripped very well, yet the G-force was not even there like the Turbo.
The windows went down, and when you get this car in between 3-4k revs, it gives that extra special growl Tubi exhaust sound everyone loves. Its picks up speed, yet you want it make you feel alive.
Don't get me wrong again, this is a great car. Yet I felt as though its a bit of a show offs car. Quick yes, but not as involving as the 911 Turbo. Its pretty and makes lovely noises - it shows off and makes others talk about you. It shouts "look at me, im sexy, successful and great", yet it still feels like it is faffing about too much. Change this thing to a manual gearbox and it would be a tough decision between the Turbo and F430.
Its personal choice at the end of the day. Do you want all the lovely hot girls thinking you're the big shot in town that plays a magical tune in the Ferrari, or do you want to feel more alive and get more feeling out the g-forces and grip of the 911? Pro's and Cons for each.
Overall the Ferrari would be on my "to buy" list after my experience, though it would be below the 911 Turbo. I'm not a person to ponce about like a tart (though a very nice tart the car is), I want to have experience. Its the personality and not the looks that people go for eventually - probably why Cem may go back to Porche's after his Ferrari. I completely agree with him.
Last but not least the Lamborghini Murcielago. Producing 600BHP, in black and also costs £190k this is the one and only car people would rather take a picture of than the F430.
Its is blisteringly quick from seeing others driving it. I raise the scissor doors and struggle to get in - this car is designed so no disabled nor old person can drive it. Fact.
I get in, and have to manually alter the seat much like you have to do in a Peugeot. Use a metal bar under the seat - this is probably to reduce weight.
The interior is black leather and it feels spacious. Not huge, but roomy. This is a car you'll be proud to own. The tyres are thicker than two of my normal cars tyres stuck together side-by-side.
The door go down effortlessly. They feel lighter than a cereal box. I turn the key and the exhaust note roars. This is the king of the jungle. The next Batmobile. I love it.
It feels long. Much longer than it is, though you feel as though you can handle it - its not massive. This car is low. You could lie on the floor and you'd still be higher up than I was. You once again could not see the front of the car - bit who cares! I have a V12 behind me...
The car has an F1 gearbox like the Ferrari and when I put my foot to the floor it goes quick. No heavy G-forces are felt even, though at one point I went 120mph around a corner. This car is designed to lose your license within a day. I could not look at my top speed because I would end up in the hedge that is a mile away in the next town. You completely lose any sense of speed with this car.
All you can hear is a huge rumble of the V12 behind you and seeing F430's being left behind on the track. The stupid paddle shift thing once again was not my cup of tea, however it did mean I could rest my left leg again.
This car does everything - much more than the Ferrari. You could even sit and read a book at 200mph and not give a damn. The experience of viewing with this thing was like this; tree, tree, F430, 911 Turbo, tree, tree, another Ferrari, tree, tree, tree. It eats its way through the track and silly speeds.
As pleasing as it is, it still is not as satisfying and involving as the 911 Turbo. Sure I'd have one - heck I'd have two. However, it does too much for you. The breaking is very good - to the point of you can literally leave it to the very last minute, but it still blipt every time I went up and down a gear.
This is a truely fantastic car. Better than the F430. Saying this though, it looks much much much better outside, seeing it fly past you when you're in a Ferrari than you being in it. Its too easy. Its the school bully with the answer book. No one goes near it, yet it knows all the answers.
I stop off after 4 laps in this beast, pop open the doors and they raise automatically - you don't even have to push them up. I get out, look at the engine and see the heat rays soaring from it as I smile, knowing I had the best day of my life....