Arriving at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, Euan and I knew we were at the heart of British motorsport. Seeing camouflage cars testing, several different classes of racing cars and bikes all using the circuit. Waiting in reception for Rob Wilson didn’t take long, offering us coffee immediately as he came in. What a gentleman! The group taking part was small and intimate, which made proceedings speedy and efficient, exactly what we needed to drive fast round the track.
Listening to Rob briefing the group on what the day would hold, I could see his passion for racing, guiding a driver’s ability to improve behind the wheel was his goal and today, I was one of them. Having been teaching for 30+ years, he described all the intricate details of turning in slightly early to balance the car for the turn, carefully braking, so not to add any unnecessary stress and always having a “flat car”.
Hopping into the red Vauxhall Astra Turbo, used to train Formula One drivers up and down the paddock, he first took the four of us for a spin round the track, showing the route and how to take each corner. Then it was time for a flying lap!! With three of us sliding around in the back, terrified but excited, Rob launched the car into a fast 100mph left hander, calmly saying “full throttle through this one!”. The track he had created had every element imaginable, twisty sections, a slow chicane, heavy braking areas and fast straights. The Astra taking all of it in its stride. The time to beat was a 1:52.8 mins. Next up, the one on one tuition.
I was first, taking some time for the photographer to take a few shots of Rob and I in the car, we were soon on our way. Tentative to start, with Rob grabbing at the steering wheel to point me in the right direction, I gradually got the hang of where to turn in and gaining trust in the car. After two flying laps. I’d brought my time of 2:20.8 down to 2:00.9. Thrilled with my progress, Rob was impressed, but this was only the beginning.
Euan was up next, and despite not being able to drive, Rob took on the challenge. Stalling on his first getaway, Euan was well on his way to posting a fast lap! After a brief driving lesson, they were off round the track. Wrestling with the car, screeching tyres, watching him learning was amazing, giving Rob the idea of a show where Euan learns to drive, which we will have to make happen! His lap time was a 2:46.3, but still being able to boast that his first driving instructor was driving legend Rob Wilson, which not many people can.
Watch the video here:
The times came tumbling down. I was managing to stay ahead up till lunch, where a well-deserved break was needed. The little red Astra now sat in a pub car park, I exclaimed “I can’t believe we were just blasting round a race track in this thing, now it’s just a normal car!” Talking round the table, the conversation arrived on music. With both Euan and I having been in a band together and Rob as a bass player, we really started to hit it off with Rob. Such a character and a constant joker!
Full from lunch, we were soon back at Bruntingthorpe, pumped up for another go of heart pounding speed. Staying in order we started in, I jumped in. With increased confidence, I floored it. I felt better this time, hooking up more of the fast corners, matching Rob’s speed in places and gaining approval for my teacher, which was reassuring! I ended my last run on a 1:54.3, only 1.5 seconds off Rob’s initial time (bearing in mind he had a full car of people) still I was chuffed with the result.
Euan managed to drop his lap times and gain more control, ending his day with a 1:57.9, which is incredible. Almost a full minute faster and we all agreed, Euan was the star of the day. Rob trains already fast drivers, so for him to teach someone without a licence to be within 5 seconds of the time set was a feat in itself and you could really see that Rob was proud of Euan’s progress throughout the day, we all were very impressed with the outcome.
Rob Wilson is an integral part motor racing, from giving opportunities to up and coming racers to shaving milliseconds off the best drivers in the world, all the tiny details make up a huge difference over a lap and a full race distance. And for drivers like Nico Rosburg and Valtteri Bottas, smooth racing is far more important than just flat out power.
It was an honour being trained by the go-to F1 driving coach and the entire day was a truly memorable experience. Thank you Vauxhall, thank you Rob Wilson.