If after two paragraphs you think CFX has been taken over by children, that might very well be true because mentally your editor feels 7 years old whilst writing this. Why? I just finished my first Track Day on BrandsHatch in my Vauxhall VX220 Turbo - Stage II.
Having done races and trackdays on Zandvoort, Assen, Zolder and Bedford, I was increasingly confident about my abilities to drive a car on a race track quickly. Luckily Brands Hatch is there to relegate my confidence back to square one! This place brings car control to a whole new level! My apparent (serious) lack of talent means I am constantly fighting to keep the car on track, even the main straight is a challenge…
It all starts at a deceptively nice afternoon: the Brits have introduced a brilliant concept called a Track Evening; you arrive at 16.00 hours, Brief at 16.30 and at 17.00 you are at the wheel until 20.00. Arriving at a Track Day is a bit like a your first ‘House Party’ when you are 11 years old and you have left the comfort of parties that cater for running around the house covered in grass stains; everything around you suddenly looks alien and intimidating.
Brands Hatch is no different; many Caterhams rolling out of closed Brian James Trailers, the Porsche-boys always seem to arrive in droves with the various specifications of 911 GT3 R/RS/RSR etc. Obviously the chaps from Norfolk are well presented in various specifications of the Exige, Elise and (dare I say in this line-up?) the VX220. To sum up we cannot forget the propeller-boys from Munich with their M3’s varying in age from E92 – E36 and modified from roll cage fitted to just slick-tires.
My standard VX220 that was driving me home from the office and delivering the groceries to the missus a mere few hours earlier made me feel I brought a knife to a gunfight … BIG GULP! On trackdays, three sighting laps are mandatory. For most drivers however, this is a bit like foreplay; they have done this game so often they just want to get on and go do the deed. For yours truly on the other side this was a very welcome addition to the program.
Entering the Arena: Blimey! You drive out of pitlane and you fall into an abyss of 10 meters! They call this Paddock Hill Bend …bend is a highly overrated word for this hole! Later I would find out that at speed you accelerate so quickly that you actually bounce off the rev-limiter in second, imagine how sheer the drop. During my sighting laps I cannot help think; if this impresses me whilst I am chasing a Vauxhall Vectra 1.6; how will I survive without the protection of the sighting laps?
After Paddock Hill Bend it’s Druids –that is, if you have kept it on the road– a beautiful hairpin. The turn-in point for Druids is very late, although spectacular this does mean that missing your braking-point by 1 or 2meters will result you ending up in the gravel trap. MENTAL NOTE!
Having clipped the late apex, the track drops down onto a short straight towards a quick, tricky lefthander. Graham Hill Bend (the Brits do not mess about with the names of their corners, this place is soaking in history) forced me, myself and my limited talent to enter the corner early to not end up on the aggressively profiled kerbstones at corner exit – trust me about the aggressiveness, I have been manhandled by them more than once.
Another short straight leads you on to a beautiful flow of corners –Surtees and McLaren to underline my earlier point about the names. If the names were not yet enough to demand your respect, the Caterham going off into the wall hard in the afternoon session before us definitely did the job.
McLaren leads into Clark Curve which is a perpetual fight against understeer and had me cursing the engineers at Vauxhall that opted for the 17” wheels at the front instead of the 16” wheels –“just because it looks better”. Clark Curve finally marks the end of the lap and onto the main straight, normally a few seconds to adjust seatbelts et such.
None of this on Brands though! The straight is one long, curved stretch of asphalt withholding both on- and off-camber patches. Those about to adjust their seatbelts … will get to know pit wall better than they had bargained for.
When you get into some sort of flow, the track is simply amazing.
For instance the braking zone for PaddockHill Bend is FAN-TAS-TIC. When you steer-in you hope and pray that you remember the position of the apex correctly and more importantly … no-one has spinned at the bottom of Paddock Hill Bend.
At this point your car is steered by ‘the force’ pushing you towards the kerbs (which is fine), green run-off area (which is scary) and then the unforgiving gravel trap (which is a chat with your bank manager). All of this happens whilst your revs are climbing ever closer to the rev-limiter.
From a mechanical point of view this is all acceptable and doable. However, physically you just do not know what happens to you. First of all your stomach is propelled towards your head at Mach 3 and settles whereyour brain should have been. Biologically this is possible you ‘think’ in a nanosecond, because if my brainwould have been there, there is no way in hell would I have ever taken the bend at this speed. When you survive, your head starts to feel light … your stomach must have decided to migrate south again.
Next up: Druids again … UNBELIEVABLE this is legal!
After having done 60 miles –in various sessions– on track, I decide to pull in for petrol; 36 litre tank is empty. At the petrol station I am met by a fellow VX220 driver who inquires about which slick-tires I run. “Ehm … well .. ehm … I kinda didn’t get around to changing those yet … so… ehm … at the front I am running Bridgestone street tires and at the rear Toyo street tires?” To which my much faster VX220 companion says (surely only to soothe my feelings and not insult me further): “I have never seen a VX on normal road tires go so quick around here!”
Needless to say this was (not) good for my ego, but luckily my lack of talent corrected this quickly when at the end of the evening Graham Hill Bend spat me out onto the (still severe) kerbstone and then grass.
At this stage Mr. Tank Slapper decided to say hello and the VX jumped violently from left to right to left in front of the paddock at Brands … good thing there are only 30-ish people left watching all thinking “Rookie is lucky not to write that one off!”
Unable to find that comfortable reset button I have on my XBOX 360, I decide that it is probably a good idea to call it a night as there is two minutes left in the session anyway.
But Oh-Boy what an experience!
Brands Hatch is the best roller coaster I have ever been on! There will definitely be a version 2.0 of this experience … who knows maybe even on a set of tires that can actually cope with the situation!
- Geert P.