DRIV­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE: F4 MAS­TER FIF­TEEN MIN­UTES OF RAC­ING FAME

MN gets a grip on the ex­pe­ri­ence that al­lows you – briefly – to be a rac­ing driver. By Jack Cozens

Motor Sport News - - Driving Experience: F4 Master - Pho­tos: Gary Hawkins

Just keep the revs high. Ev­ery piece of ad­vice I’ve been given be­fore now has gone out of the win­dow. At about 3500rpm – 1000 or so lower than what has been ad­vised – I start to crawl my way down the Brands Hatch pit­lane, grad­u­ally pick­ing up the throt­tle be­fore head­ing out onto the Indy cir­cuit. To­tally alone.

I’ve been to Brands Hatch plenty of times be­fore. Heck, I’ve parked my Honda Jazz on the Clark Curve bank­ing, yards from the track, crossed the foot­bridge to the in­side of Druids, and watched tour­ing cars slam on the brakes from Pad­dock Hill, all count­less times – you name it. But this is the first time I’ve driven on the cir­cuit. It’s no big­gie, though; just a sin­gle-seater that un­til last year was the fastest bit of kit on the ju­nior lad­der in the UK.

The car in ques­tion is the MSV F4-013, that which was used in the BRDC F4 (which has sub­se­quently been up­graded to BRDC Bri­tish F3) Cham­pi­onship. Built by Ralph Fir­man’s crack squad, the two-litre Ford Du­ratec-pow­ered car with flappy pad­dle se­quen­tial gearshift, is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing 185bhp at its orig­i­nal 6500rpm and a top speed of 165mph, though that’s un­der­stand­ably slightly less with the en­gine lim­ited to 5000rpm for safety.

At this point, it’s prob­a­bly cor­rect for me to ac­knowl­edge that you’re un­likely to have come here to read about how some­one with no rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and lim­ited tech­ni­cal knowl­edge found a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that’s on of­fer to any­one. But al­low me, if you will, to in­dulge my­self for a brief mo­ment and tell you the story.

In truth, it’s not my first ex­pe­ri­ence on the track. Half an hour ear­lier, I was out in a BMW M4 with MSV in­struc­tor Alex Read, get­ting to grips with the cir­cuit and learn­ing how to ap­proach the corners – even if I think I can drive them blind­folded. There’s plenty to learn but, save for a lock-up into Druids after at­tempt­ing to turn in too early, there are no ma­jor prob­lems and both the car and my­self are re­turned to the pit­lane after the ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion in­tact.

A brief re­cess fol­lows, be­fore we’re pre­pared for the F4 ex­pe­ri­ence and sent to our cars; it’s at this point that I’m most ner­vous (and judg­ing by faces around the room I’m not the only one feel­ing like that). For­get any lim­iters, for­get the ori­en­ta­tion, this is me head­ing onto the cir­cuit in a sin­gle-seater.

Vi­sor down, I’m fo­cused. There’s some man­ual clutch con­trol (nec­es­sary to get you go­ing and stopped in the pit­lane) to be done and then a slow trun­dle be­fore blend­ing into the rac­ing line. My first lap is a slow one, maybe too slow, while there’s some adap­tion to be made, too – as each cor­ner tends to be taken one gear higher than in the M4. But that’s more a case of feel­ing as op­posed to a num­bers game.

Two laps later and I’ve be­gun to set­tle down, still over­awed by the thrill of the wind sweep­ing past me, es­pe­cially on the straight, but so im­pressed by the re­spon­sive­ness of the brakes and the feel of the car on turn in. But then I catch ev­ery driver’s worst night­mare: traf­fic.

One of the great things about the ex­pe­ri­ence is the level of tu­ition and coach­ing you re­ceive to make sure you’re fit to go out on track, but of course when ev­ery­one’s out there it’s the driver in con­trol who has to re­mem­ber that train­ing. There’s a ‘pass on the left’ rule in place, but I’m baulked a cou­ple of times past the pits, and buzzing into the lim­iter there’s noth­ing I can do to over­take. Throw­ing my hand in the air does lit­tle other than to dis­tract me as it flies back­wards against the wind, so stuck I am for an­other lap.

I duck back in and let some­one braver than me at­tempt the over­take around the out­side at Pad­dock Hill, but the mo­men­tum lost by that kid Ver­stap­pen ahead of me (that’s how it’s playing out in my mind) gives me my break. I show a nose into Druids, cut back on a tighter line and slam on the an­chors later than I have be­fore into Gra­ham Hill. I’m too close, I think to my­self. My exit from the cor­ner is com­pro­mised, but I’m just about able to draw along­side. ‘F*** it, go for it’; hold­ing a tighter line through Sur­tees, I lend some trust to the other car (the same driver that’s stayed on the rac­ing line on the Brab­ham Straight for the past four laps) not to come across my side, and stay foot flat to the floor around the out­side through Mclaren be­fore com­ing back onto the rac­ing line. Fi­nally, I’m through.

The red mist that built while stuck be­hind the car serves me well at first; my next lap is my fastest of the ses­sion. ‘ Come on’, I say, grit­ting my teeth. But after that I push too hard, and miss plenty of apexes on the re­main­der of my laps. My last is a good one, but a slightly botched up­shift onto the Brab­ham Straight means I can’t im­prove my time.

As it turns out, com­pe­ti­tion isn’t prob­a­bly for me. My best lap when I get into clear air is four sec­onds off the ul­ti­mate pace, time largely lost through messed up gear changes and cor­ner­ing – the lat­ter par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing given Brands only has four real brak­ing zones – which is good enough for the mid­dle of the pack of the 13 cars on track. I’m not happy with that per­for­mance, hav­ing missed the bar­rier time of a minute that I’d set my­self, but you wouldn’t know it look­ing at my face.

And that’s ex­actly the point of the nar­ra­tive. Ev­ery time some­one drives one of th­ese cars, they’ll come away with a bril­liant story to tell. It might be how they nailed brak­ing, cor­ner en­try and exit for Pad­dock Hill, how they set their fastest lap, or how they ne­go­ti­ated some­one hold­ing them up. What­ever reser­va­tions you have be­fore­hand, you’re bound to leave with a smile on your face – though it’s prob­a­bly best to have a few ex­cuses lined up too for when you see your col­leagues the next day.

For what’s ef­fec­tively 30 min­utes of track time, £229 might seem a lit­tle steep – but there’s so much more on of­fer than just a stan­dard drive. As a punter, the F4 Mas­ter ex­pe­ri­ence is sim­ply pure fun, and gives you a great ap­pre­ci­a­tion of just how good those who do it for a liv­ing are. Still, it’s nice to live the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a racer for quar­ter of an hour. And one can al­ways dream... ■

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