Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Silverstone Single Seater Driving Experience - 29th August 2011

As you know, I love motorsport. You probably also know that the motorsport that I love the most is Formula One. It is for this reason that my lovely wife Victoria decided in her infinite wisdom to buy me a Silverstone Single Seater Driving Experience for Christmas last year. The weather got a bit better so I finally booked my experience a few months ago for the 29th August.

Victoria knows me well. She knows that any driving experience bought for me would have to be as close to F1 as possible. It's OK driving a Ferrari or an Aston Martin but no matter how fast they are they are still road cars and therefore sanitized to allow people to drive them safely. She also knew that we both consider Silverstone to be our own personal racetrack so as great as Donnington is, Silverstone is where I would want to be.

We had to be at Silverstone for 07:45. As we were driving in we were excitedly explaining what everything was to Alice and Amelia and they listened but I don't think they were particularly bothered. We were though. We love Silverstone and get excited whenever we drive past let alone actually go there.

We arrived and headed to the middle of the track to the experience centre. I went to reception and was signed in and nearly made a big mistake. I was offered £10 insurance cover in case I prang the £100,000 car I was driving as otherwise I would have to pay £50-100 of the damage myself. Pah! I'll take the chance I thought and said no. Victoria then piped up and said I was mad. I then realised that I mis-heard and would have to pay £15 hundred towards the damage. I paid the £10!

First of all we had a drivers briefing. All those driving sat in a room while a Silverstone instructor was arrogant and patronising towards us all. Still, I resisted the urge to call him a cock and instead listened to him talk about racing lines, breaking points and the 110mph smash that someone had the day before because they were being stupid. Once this was over it was finally time to drive!

We walked over to the pits and were all given helmets. We there then allocated cars and were strapped in by they instructors. Then we were told what the various controls were and how to start the engine (a switch AND a button! Very cool).

At last it was time to drive.

The cars were were driving were specifically built for Silverstone and are actually called 'Formula Silverstone' cars. They are 1.6l open wheeled single seater's that have no ABS, no traction control and no synchromesh on the gearbox. This meant that is was a bit tricky to get the car into gear at first but I soon got the hang of it. They are 'proper' racing cars. None of that road car nonsense!

They also had a very sharp clutch with is why I managed to Kangaroo the car down the pit-lane when I first set off. The liberal application of 4000 revs soon fixed that though.

Once I got going we had 2 laps behind a couple of pace cars, mainly to make sure we all got used to handling the cars while driving at a reasonable rate rather than slamming the accelerator to the floor and immediately putting it into the wall. A good idea indeed. Once the initial 'slow' laps were done the pace cars pulled into the pits and it was time for some fun!

The cars were so amazingly fast. I can't tell you how fast as there was no speedometer but they felt fast, and when accelerating you were really pushed back into your seat. The most incredible part though was how fast you could go round corners. These things really stick to the road like glue and my neck was aching by the time we had finished.

My lap times were improving as the session progressed which was good. I started by doing a lap in 1:28 and at the end I was doing it in 1:09. There was one annoying point where I was being overtaken by a faster car. I pulled to the right to let it past and four cars behind him took the opportunity to overtake me too as I wasn't fast enough to get back on the racing line. DOH!! Apart from that it was all good.

Sadly the session was over far too quickly. The chequered flag was waved and we all peeled into the pits. What a great experience though. I'd recommend it to anyone. I was giddy for the rest of the day and really want to do some more race driving as soon as possible.

Victoria took loads of pics while I was driving, the best of which are here.

Thank you for such a great present.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Legoland - 11th and 12th August 2011

OK, so once again my post is about 2 weeks late, and I can't really say I've been busy as I've just had 2 weeks off, but children take a lot of looking after and there was a lot of SpongeBob to watch!

Anyway, 2 weeks ago we took the kids to Legoland in Windsor. I have to admit that this was partly because Victoria and I wanted to go but it was for the kids too. :-)

We left Sheffield on the morning of the 11th and headed straight for the park. We had a 2 day pass and wanted to make use of both days so we went straight there.

What a great place! We were all really impressed. The staff were all really friendly and seemed to be happy in their work. The park is big enough not to feel totally packed with people and the rides mostly have an interactive aspect to them which makes them much more fun.

The first place we headed to was the driving school. Alice has seen this on the Legoland website and was very excited about earning her Legoland driving licence. There was a section for under fives and a section for 6-13 year olds. I have to admit that I didn't think that Amelia would have a clue about what to do driving a car but she was great. Alice too was brilliant, stopping at red lights and junctions. The only bad part of the ride was that the driving licence cost £6 each!! I think not! At the end of the rides you got a blank licence which you then paid £6 to have a picture put on it and have it laminated. I brought the licences home and did that myself. :-)

OK, so that was a bit tight but considering we had paid for the park and the hotel already I was spending a massive amount of money on food and sundries. For example, Alice wanted burgers for lunch from the Legoland own brand McDonald's/BK stand and 2 burgers and 2 chicken nuggets came to £25!! Crazy!

Over the 2 days we were there we managed to have a go on most rides. All were a success apart from the Pirate Ship which scared the shit out of both the kids. We only took them on it because they insisted and neither of them enjoyed it. Strangely enough though they loved the rollercoaster which I would have thought would have scared them more. Personally I think the new Atlantis ride was the best. You ride on a Lego submarine and get to see lots of live fish and sharks. This was one of the few rides we had to actually queue for but it was worth it.

At the end of each day we exited through the shop and bought some Lego. We like the kids having Lego as we like to play with it with them, which as all parents know is a big bonus when you think of the hours playing with some of the crap they have.

The hotel we stayed in was the Hilton St Anne's Manor in Bracknell. We were just as impressed with the hotel as we were with Legoland. The staff were all very friendly and seemed to enjoy being at work. There was a colouring area for the kids, a Nintendo Wii for them to play on and the food was excellent. The bar was a bit expensive but this is a Hilton so what can you expect. At least when I ordered my 16year old Lagavulin the Spanish girl behind the bar explained how it was her favourite whisky and after pouring in a single measure she added at least another half measure as a little bonus. Now that's what I call service.

All in all a great couple of days away. If you have kids I'd highly recommend going. It's a bit expensive but what isn't these days? If you go to the Legoland website you can get some great deals on the hotel and park if you buy them both together.

Pictures can be found here.

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