As part of my activities with Formula Woman I signed up and paid for a days driver training at the i-Zone Driver Training Centre at the Silverstone Innovation Centre beside the Silverstone circuit.
All the driver training takes place in a number of simulator rooms where the software is designed to represent the McLaren 350S GT4 race car as used in the British GT Championship with theory sessions interspersed with the practical training.
Nine other Formula Woman contenders congregated with me in the boardroom all of us getting ready for the day's training, all of us a bit quiet!
The first session consisted of race driving techniques with lots of diagrams of curves and corners and racing lines and braking points and throttle application points all scribbled on large sheets of white paper. Next we were all taken off to our relative simulators in teams of three with an instructor, where we were shown the basics for driving the simulated race car around the simulated Donington Park circuit.
Then the real training started as each team member was given two half hour sessions driving round the track with the instructor explaining what skills and techniques we had to use as well as the braking and throttle points...as slowly as we needed to start with - but slow improvement meant that our second sessions tended to be faster and smoother than the early ones - mine certainly were!
Then we were all mixed up and sent off to a different simulator - I ended up in the e-sport one, so I was effectively driving the e-version of the McLaren, although I'm not sure that McLaren has actually produced one yet! Same system, more laps - but more difficult as the pedals were very different. But it was all practice - and I lost confidence as i could not relate to the silence of the 'engine'. And as the simulator was not 'dynamic', there was no feed back from the 'car' or the 'road surface'. That for me was very unsettling as I need the feel of the car's movement to relax and drive.
The morning session was followed by lunch and then the racing. We all returned to our original teams and had to decide on one of the team to drive the qualifying laps to ascertaining the pole position team - which, with a very experienced sim-racer on the team, we managed to win!
After the start, each team member had the opportunity to drive their own race against the other teams so there were two other cars on the track at the same time. After the first session we were still the lead team - a position we were unable to maintain. I started as the final driver - and very nearly drove into the car in front of me on the start line as it started more slowly than I...so sudden braking was required which unsettled me for the first laps - and I never really recovered and thus spent a fair amount of time in the gravel, sometimes facing the wrong way! (The official term is 'overdriving'. I was trying to catch up to other cars and therefore was not really concentrating on what I should have been doing!)
However, I learned a great deal - especially the differences in my rally style driving and the techniques required around a track. It was very interesting that when things went slightly awry, I reverted to my years of former rally style reactions - the deep-seated memory takes over, rather than the new skills just learned. Funnily enough, my return drive this morning (Saturday) seemed smoother with me putting into practice some of the skills picked up on the simulator - and the journey seemed to take less time.
Would I do it again - absolutely. Hard work and exhausting, but so valuable.
i-Zone Training - Part Two:
And I did get a second chance. I received very late notice of a cancellation and therefore the opportunity to have a second day's session at i-Zone. Although the programme seemed the same, there were differences - mainly because there were only six of us and a different (for me) instructor who gave us the initial brief and explanations about racing skills using sheets of paper and diagrams to show us more details of how to look around a race circuit to position the car correctly and aim for the correct points on the circuit.
We were then split into two teams of three and taken off to the simulator rooms - my team and I went. with our first instructor, Jordan, who had been my instructor on my earlier visit . The e-sport set up had not been my favourite then, but much better this time as we had sound! Two simulators were in use at the same time so one driver had full sound, but the other had to listen through headphones and the third watched until the end of the session when we all swapped round, so we each had two to three sessions each depending on time. My skills had not improved and I still managed to get my lines through the corners wrong if I had not slowed down enough - and I managed one spin and a visit to the outfield, but this time I managed to keep going and rejoin the track without actually stopping the 'car'. But I felt that there was some improvement
Halfway through the morning we swapped simulators to give us experience qwith Neil and a differnt set up - this time in a single seater 'tub', but still simulating the McLaen GT4. More instruction followed before a break for lunch and a general chat about how we were all getting on. (And attempting to keep Otto, the Romanian hound, away from our lunches!)
After lunch we returned to the 'tub' with Neil for more driving and instruction. As last time, I was still having difficulty with judging braking points as I never seemed to slow down sufficiently - and I did not want to copy my spin of the morning (well controlled, although I say it myself, but I managed to keep it going and return to the track! Rally techniques to the fore!) Neil, our instructor made me stop while he had a look at my foot positioning to find that I was not moving my right foot off the throttle completely so when I braked I was actually braking and accelerating at the same time! Once that was settled, confidence and skill returned in equal measure.
As soon as I started to drive, accelerate and brake at all the right positions round the circuit, I managed to position the car correctly for all the corners and thus slowly increase my speed round the track - noticed by being able to hit 5th gear down the straights and still brake and downshift to the correct gear in time to take the corner smoothly and as fast as necessary - and no visits to the outfield! Again we took it in turns to do the driving whilst the other two stood and watched and learned from what the instructor was saying.
And then came my final turn behind the wheel whilst the other two vanished, apparently to have a talk about fitness and have a look at some of the i-Zone gym equipment. But it meant that my final session started with me now feeling very comfortable about my skills, so after little bit of chat, I was off round the circuit - with no further input from Neil, I was flying solo! Only one comment Neil made at the end was that he heard me 'coast', but realised why I was doing it and felt I was perfectly under control and knew what I was up to, so no adverse comments about my solo run.
So the end came too soon and we all adjourned to the boardroom to discuss the day's training with Neil followed by a short Question and Answer session before we all departed - not before the other five whipped out their 'smart phones' and swapped names and 'instagram' (I think) details, except me as I do not have an instagram account - nor, officially, a smartphone. We all then departed for home - or in my case the local Silverstone B&B where I was staying - just a short walk away - agreeing that we'd all meet up again at Bedford Autodrome when we were being 'assessed' later in the month.
So did I benefit from this extra day at i-Zone? Yes, without a shadow of doubt - and Jordan told me that I had improved greatly since my first attempts in September and Neil was more than happy with my progress claiming that I was ahead of the other five. Nice to know...but I think I'll still say with Historic Road Rallies - although I just might consider sprints and / or hillclimbs as well.
The story so far:
Last year I applied to become a Formula Woman - a competition to find a totally novice lady driver who would learn to drive a very fast car in the 2022 British GT series.
Where I fit in ....
I am concentrating on two themes: the WI promotion of 'Empowering Women' using my membership and contacts within the local WI membership and organisation; and as a member of 'Racing Pride' and Motorsport UK's LGBTQ+ sub-committee, highlight the latter's policy to attract LGBTQ+ people into all disciplines of motorsport.