The life long dream of going motor racing is officially one huge step closer after I passed my ARDS test at Brands Hatch last weekend!
In the space of only a few hours, I made the leap from motorsport fan, to qualified motorsport DRIVER. This means the real fun can now begin as I try to enter the minefield that is: going motor racing.
Here’s how I did it…
After purchasing my Go Racing pack from the MSA over the Christmas period, I then had to book a test at my local race track. With Brands Hatch only 40 minutes from home, it was the natural choice for me and is a circuit I have spectated at probably over one hundreds times.
But it helps if you’ve actually driven the circuit you’ll be ultimately assessed on, which fortunately I had last October when I took the Golf R out on a track day. And not only had I done about 100 laps that day, I also had tuition from a MSV instructor meaning I was up to speed with the best lines around the Indy circuit. I would highly recommend getting tuition round the circuit you intend to take your ARDS on before hand!
ARDS tests at Brands Hatch take place on open pit lane track days so I took the opportunity to book the Golf R onto the day as well. The weather wasn’t great and there were numerous stoppages, so I only ended up getting about 30 minutes of running before it was time to hit the class room.
The ARDS test is split into 3 main sections. The first part is watching a DVD (which came in my Go Racing pack), followed by an hour or so of an ARDS instructor talking through the process of going motor racing, and how a race meeting works. I won’t lie, I knew most of this and had to pinch myself to stay awake at times but I can see why it’s useful information for someone coming into the sport cold.
The main emphasis on the first section is to learn the safety flags you see waved around the circuits during races. It’s essential for any racing driver to be absolutely clear what they mean, and you must know these ahead of your written exam which makes up part 2 of test.
The written exam consists of matching the flags to the descriptions, and then some multiple choice questions. Here’s an actual example ARDS question:
What is the first thing you should do when arriving at a race meeting?
a) Sign on with your racing license
b) Look for the best viewing angles for your sponsors
c) Find the closest toilet block
d) Take a shit in a bush without anyone seeing
OK, I made the last one up to make a point, by the other 3 were actually on my paper! So in summary: only the really stupid don’t get to pass the written part of the ARDS exam.
Time to hit the track…
With my theory exam passed and a 100% score (the same can’t be said for my fellow comrades), it was time to hit the track for 20 minutes which would define, OK, perhaps not my life, but definitely how my mood over the next few days would be. I was just 20 minutes away from achieving my license.
But then came a huge delay. The circuit was now drenched from consistent rain throughout the day, and to make matters worse, someone on the track day had just blown up and dumped their load around the entire track. The racing line was now caked in oil so out went a convoy of 4×4’s, JCB’s, vans, trucks, course cars, men with brooms – you name it. Finally after an hour we were set to get out there and by this point I was quite apprehensive.
I jumped in the Peugeot 308 GTI, gunned it out the pit lane only to wheel spin on the oil which has seeped down the circuit and crashed into the barriers. Only kidding! I did get some mega wheel spin but managed to hold on whilst exclaiming “Whooaaaahaaa GREAT START!“. Much to the amusement / non amusement of my instructor Jack Layton.
The conditions were pretty bad at this point. I had never driven this car before, I hadn’t driven a front wheel drive car on a track in over 10 years and I had never driven on a soaking wet track. So I was up against it. So much so that I felt I started to push a little bit too hard before reminding myself, this is not a test of speed, but purely of safety and measure.
Minutes later it was over and we were crawling down the pit lane in a silence that felt like an eternity. But he quickly broke it by saying “Well, it’s a pass so well done!” I was so pleased! It was DONE AND DUSTED.
I got the stamp of approval on my license application form and now only have a medical to sort out which should hopefully be a formality.
As I said at the start, now the fun begins. Now I have to start to find an “in” in motorsport. Buy a car? Rent a car? Tuition? Driver training? I have a lot of thinking to do over the next few weeks to decide how I’m going to get myself on a grid in 2018.