All entries for Friday 14 October 2005

October 14, 2005

Nerves for the weekend

abstracted
adj. not giving attention to what is happening around you because you are thinking about something else.
Cambridge online dictionary

This weekend holds a pretty big event for me: the national final of RoSPA's Young Driver of the Year competition! I got to the final last year by winning the Midlands regional event, with a handy prize of £250 off car insurance. This year there were no regional events (presumably for lack of money or time) and entry was via random selection (out of not too many candidates, I suspect) after completing an online "driver attitudes" survey – but I heard about it through an email to all last year's finalists, so competition will still be stiff.

As last year, the format of the event is both exciting and tough: competitors (up to 40 of us) will be subjected at some point during the day to a difficult, hour-long theory test on all aspects of the Highway Code, road signs and general driving theory. One question which stumped me last year was about the notation of tyre sizes (must revise that!). The fun part of the day, which still carries significant marks, takes place in a large car park at Silverstone circuit (where the event is based). Competitors are judged on fine car control through a timed course, with heavy cone penalties, in a skid-pan car and then on a different course, manoeuvering into and out of tight spaces against the clock.

The most important part of the day, points-wise, is an hour-long drive on public roads – taking in congested villages, country roads, motorways and pretty much everything they can throw at you in that time – assessed by a qualified police instructor/examiner. You're encouraged to provide a running commentary of everything you do and consider while you drive along. It's not fast "emergency response" driving – indeed, doing 31 mph in a 30 will be noticed and held against you, as will doing 28 if it's safe to do 30 – but it's a massive step up from what's expected when you take your driving test.

Just to make it more interesting, more fair and more fun, the organisers hire a fleet of 10 identical small cars. Last year it was Corsas – a solid car, but not particularly fun to drive. I did OK but the clutch biting point was a lot lower than on both the cars I've driven significant distances in (my 306 and a newish Clio). That caught me out a couple of times, and not reading Roadcraft (the police driving manual) before the event meant that I didn't use a couple of advanced techniques the instructor was looking for. This year, it's been hinted we'll be driving either the MINI or a BMW 1-Series (perhaps I should have tried to have a test drive for practice; too late now). Either way it should be fun.

I'm hoping to do well, despite the manflu I'm having to try very hard not to come down with. My memory/understanding should be enough to get through the theory exam, I impressed a few people on the skidpan course last year (karting skills were very useful in drifting around the corners quickly and coping with slides) and, apart from my mistakes in the Corsa, I did well on the assessed drive. I just need to stay unhurried on the manoeuvering test, unlike last year. I'm trying not to get worked up about it, but let's just say the prizes are pretty special. Wish me luck!


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