…it cert'nly is now
Wednesday already? I meant to update this a while ago! I spent Sunday at Silverstone for the Young Driver of the Year national final and got through the day without my birdflu/sniffles being a major detriment. It's great how setting mental targets and barriers can deal with most minor illnesses – I honestly believe I was never significantly ill in four years of uni (despite perpetual tiredness and exposure to freshers and their flu) purely because "I don't have time to be ill" was both a mantra and the truth. The target of being well enough to drive for Sunday proved to be sufficient motivation to recover. I did come away with a little prize, although it was only the geek prize (hmm, perhaps fittingly) but it was a pretty good day.
I found when I got there that pretty much everybody had been at a previous Young Driver final, so competition was pretty stiff. My group of five (competitors were split up for rotation around the activities) was particluarly good – four of us ended up winning pretty major prizes. I won't go into lots of detail, but here's a quick summary of the day.
- The theory was the first bit: a tricky multiple-choice test. The first 100 questions were roadsigns on a Powerpoint presentation (7 seconds per question); the second half of the test was another 100 multiple-choice questions on other aspects of motoring. That was the geek prize I won – best Theory score. Woo and indeed hoo!
- Manoeuvring was next – low speed manoeuvres demonstrating car control on a tight course against the clock. I did OK but didn't like the Mini Cooper automatics they had us driving for this event. Throttle lag was measured in seconds, and never having driven an auto before threw me a bit when trying to switch between forward and back all the time. And yes, I'll admit that I twice went for the (non-existent) clutch with my left foot and slammed the brakes on very hard. D'oh.
- The skid control event was fun, using a new Audi A4 on a hydraulically controlled cradle set up to make the car oversteer. I should have been a lot quicker with my karting experience but I think tiredness and a slightly illness-impaired sense of balance worked against me.
- The drive was the last bit, and by far the most important points-wise. I drew the short straw and ended up with a Mini One Cabriolet – not much power and a huge blind spot where the drop top wraps around the rear three-quarter panel. Despite that, it was quite a fun car to drive, quiet for a cabrio, good steering and I got on well with the clutch and gearbox. I made about four mistakes I spotted in my hour on the road: I was still braking slightly through a corner once, I didn't quite have the clutch up as I turned at a junction (twice!) and once near the start of the drive I put a bit too much faith in 5th gear up a hill and had to change to 4th where the engine was happier. In the words of the police examiner, "a nice, tidy drive" – I was quite chuffed.
Congratulations to James, the overall winner (a lucky guy – his father told me he's driven well over 250 different vehicles in his life, and he's still a teenager!). He won £500 off car insurance, training for a racing licence and the chance of a race in the Uniroyal Fun Cup, a one-make VW Beetle silhouette series (a spaceframe chassis with a 1.8 litre Audi mid-mounted engine). The runner-up, who will get to race if James can't next year, is called Dan and is an Electronics Engineering fresher at Warwick. Well done chap!
Everybody went away with a goodie bag from sponsors including BMW (among their gifts the offer of a tour of the Mini factory for me and my family), and my prize winnings included a fleece, a year's Green Flag breakdown cover and, er, some book vouchers (because it was the geek prize). If the rules allow it, I'm definitely going back next year (when I think they'll be running regional heats again) to win that race drive! Best get practising.