Looking for a weekend with a bit of excitement – how about trying your hand at rally driving? Karen Bowerman headed to Middlesbrough to learn about powersliding, handbrake turns and the importance of apexes....
Taking things up a gear
Looking for a weekend with a bit of excitement how about trying your hand at rally driving? Karen Bowerman headed to Middlesbrough to learn about powersliding, handbrake turns and the importance of apexes.
The hillock came from nowhere.
OK, it had been there the previous lap but Id just driven up and down it then without much thought.
This time, having approached at speed we shot through the air. The steering wheel spun wildly. Its yellow dot the one I was supposed to keep at 12 oclock so the wheels stayed straight whipped round to six.
We hit the ground with a crash and swerved towards scrubland. I yanked the wheel back again, moving my hands from the nine and three oclock positions (thereby breaking all the rules), but somehow managing to get back on track.
Well saved! my instructor Tim Gray exclaimed, although we both knew it had been more down to luck than judgment. We careered towards the next bend
Keen for a weekend away and looking for a bit of excitement, Id booked a taster course at a newly opened rally driving school in Middlesbrough. The academys run by Tim and his business partner John Bintcliffe.
John used to drive for Audi and competed internationally with WTTC (World Touring Car Championship) leader Yvan Muller. Both he and Tim are also qualified instructors.
The day began in a small hut where having donned a pair of shiny red driving overalls, I felt I looked the part if nothing else.
I was encouraged to hear that girls (sorry guys) make better trainee rally drivers than men, largely because they listen, take instruction willingly and dont race off at the first opportunity. (Im merely repeating what was said).
Tim dug out a dummy wheel and spun it in front of him. He told me never to move my hands from nine and three oclock even if this meant my elbows were forever crossing my chest.
Then he talked a lot about apexes.
I scribbled away enthusiastically until my notepad was full of curves - with crosses denoting apexes, dotted lines various approaches and continuous lines the ideal route a driver should take when tackling a bend.
After the apexes, came the warnings: two stuck out in particular. I should never be out of control and never forget that a mistake takes at least four seconds to rectify, which in rallying is a lifetime.
Its not much fun spending your life sorting out the mistakes youve made, Tim said wryly; advice that seemed to resonate on more than the one level.
Outside the Saxo was waiting. I approached carrying my helmet under my arm like an astronaut heading into space. We clambered into a reinforced shell with roll bars and mud-splattered windows.
A familiarisation drive round a small practice track seemed to go quite well. But the moment we hit the main circuit and notched up the speed to 25 mph (which seemed a lot faster than dawdling in a traffic jam) I spun, swerved and skidded in all directions.
Tim had warned me it wasnt going to be easy because of overnight rain but gradually as the turbo boost whizzed and the waste gate churned, I felt I was beginning to get the hang of things.
Maybe I would graduate from my Saxo to the super-powered Subaru after all?
When we reached the starting post Tim suggested we paused. I think we need to work out where the apex is, he said. I was mortified.
But after another few laps I began to position the car more, shall we say mindfully, and things went a lot more smoothly. I also increased my speed to a heady 30mph.
I graduated kind of. As we headed towards the 350 bhp Subaru, I handed the keys to Tim, keen to experience what it was really like to race in a rally car.
We sped round the course, jumping, power-sliding and executing handbrake turns with ease. Ridges threw us at a slant, shingle slid round our feet, the engine revved and the clutch (literally) burned. I banged my head against the roof, held on for dear life and enjoyed the thrill of the ride.
Back in the hut I asked Tim how Id got on. He said there was no need to talk about laps and timings. But chatting to his young son whod been at the sidelines, I got the impression my best circuit had been a leisurely six minutes. Most trainees complete it in four
So, I said, handing in my overalls, I guess Im not really cut out to be a rally driver then?
Tim gave a beautifully non-committal reply.
Epic Motorsports Park, Teeside Autodrome, Dormor Way, South Bank, Middlesbrough Tel:0800 0141512
Prices 49-260 depending on the experience and what cars you want to drive.