Wheels on Fire
Nothing brings out the little boy in a fully grown man quite like shiny fast cars. We send our adventure sports correspondent, Ren Deakin, for a day at Knockhill. Needless to say he enjoys every last minute of it
Cars do funny things to boys. The winning, the losing, the high speed, the high calamity, the danger and the raw sexuality of it all. What’s not to like? Knockhill has me feeling like I’m on a Hollywood movie set – scattered buildings, yards, car parks, busy people in uniforms, the noise of revving engines, shouted instructions and requests, and of course, the turning, twisting, undulating concrete, compacted earth and tarmac of the race tracks.
I’m guided from the reception to the safety briefing room. As soon as we’re seated, the atmosphere becomes dominated by the undercurrent of competition. Under the disguise of stretches and scratches, sly glances are cast around the room. Slightly balding blokes in t-shirts, a group of young guys, one with a full-sleeve tattoo, and two young girls, take on the aspect of gladiators – this is no place for camaraderie or team spirit, everyone is eyeing up everyone else, trying to work out their place on the rally driver food chain. It really is like being back in the competitiveness of the school playground.
We’re allotted our places and cars, issued helmets, and while the first group strap in, the rest of the drivers, girlfriends and families, gather on a balcony that overlooks the start. Everyone is praying that the first guys and girls on the line don’t stall. Well, nearly everyone.
Very soon it’s my turn in the hot seat. My instructor, Max, is the winner of the Formula Woman competition, and she’s one of the centre’s senior instructors. We roll to the start, the engine throbbing, Max looks me in the eye and says, ‘On you go.’
She knows every bump, twist and corner, and she talks me through it, ‘Opening loop, freestyle the hands, push second … wait. Wait. Third, floor it. Brake hard.’ The commands come in thick and fast. The rally prepped Ford Sierra Sapphires are low, twitchy and noisy. And they take off like a rocket. I’m convinced I’m driving like Jason Bourne in the Bourne movies, through the centre of Paris, but Max, without taking a breath, is giving orders and gassing away nineteen to the dozen – she could fill-in for Murray Walker without losing breath.
The first run is fun, but I know I’m going to go faster. I need to go faster. Back at the rally lodge between laps the conversation is just as passionate and revolves around the challenges of the course: tightness of corners, are we making good times, how will we be marked, alongside exclamations of, ‘that blind corner is an absolute …’
A couple more runs and I’m getting the hang of it. With Max’s neverending instructions and encouragement – ‘Go on. Do it. More. More. Cool bananas. Silky smooth. Hard on the brake. Floor it.’ I feel like I’m blasting along. The back end is slipping and sliding across the gravelly tarmac, tyres screeching, the car straightens as the rear wheel drive gains traction, the nose dips sharply at each firm depression of the brake pedal.
I’m remembering the track and in amongst Max’s goading to go faster and brake harder, her instructions become more like reminders and the car seems to be slingshot through the various sections, gaining speed and momentum.
For the final run home Max takes the wheel. She asks if I’m a good passenger and hits the accelerator. The car takes off like a bat out of hell and I’m pressed back into the bucket seat. We hit a blind summit and my stomach is in my mouth. On landing, Max throws the back end out and we are screeching into a fast left-hander. The engine is roaring and the tyres screaming. The journey back is a blur, interspersed by images of rapidly approaching corners and obstacles – the smell and the sound of the car being pushed to its limits.
As we pull in at the lodge, Max asks me if I had a good time. ‘It was amazing,’ I say, my knees trembling, ‘I haven’t smelled so much burnt rubber since Bangkok.’ And for all you statisticians out there, the tattooed guy came first. I came second. And I’ve got the medal next to my toilet at home to prove it.
For more information or to book a session at Knockhill call 01383 723 337 or visit www.knockhill.com