Brands Hatch dream to Finishline
A boyhood dream came true for Comet reporter Richard Young when he was invited to tear around Brands Hatch with Graveley-based racing team, Finishline.
Brabham, Druids, Clearways – names that reverberated round my parents’ house, as I and millions of sofa drivers sat willing on Nigel Mansell in the British Grand Prix in the 1980s. The straights and corners of Brands Hatch are legendary in the racing world and imbued with a glamour that stems from speed, danger and bravery.
I thought about this and got increasingly nervous and excited as I drove down to the Kent track at the invitation of the Finishline racing team. Known for their car body shop in Graveley, the company also runs successful teams in the national MR2, MG Trophy and Mazda MX5 championships.
It was with these cars that I and a lucky group of friends of the team were to tackle the dipping, camber shifting and weaving course on a track day set up as a pilot for corporate days out.
Pulling in behind the pits itself was a thrill, and gave an opportunity to see some of the cars I would be sharing the tarmac with – from the new McLaren MP4-12C supercar to a souped-up 60s Mini Cooper, Porches, Caterham 7s, Vipers, a whole array of hot hatches and even a Metro – which looked like it had just taken a wrong turn off the A20.
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Welcoming me to the track was Finishline director Chris Bray, who races the MGZR 190 and instructor Royston Formula Renault champ Kieren Clark who Chris described as a racer who “had won every formula he had ever taken part in”.
Strapped in next to Kieren for my first run out in the Toyota MR2, Kieren advised me just to do everything he told me. Right, I thought, as I pulled out of the pits and hit the pedal – don’t panic.
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Flooring the MR2 we joined the track and immediately hit the sharp right and dipping turn of Paddock Hill Bend as two Porche 911s thunder past. “Keep it tight to the corner,” Kieren says.
“Accelerate, full throttle. Gently across the track. Brake, keep braking. Down to third! Aim for the yellow cone. Brake off. Tight turn. Squeeeeze the throttle. Full power!”
At this point I thought I was simply going to shoot straight off the track. I was accelerating as fast as this race tuned, stripped car could go in a direction that would take me into a wall of tyres. But then I realised I had just gone round Druids Bend and a smile broke out – for a nanosecond.
“Brake! One car coming. Keep to the right. Indicate, let it pass.”
I had no mirrors and Kieren was my eyes behind as well as my guide to what was coming up – very fast.
“Accelerate. Fourth. Fifth.” I have no idea how fast I am going as I daren’t look at the speedometer.
“Drift out. Use all the track!” Kieren shouts over the noise of the engine. “Dab brakes!”
Wide out on Cooper Straight I still have my foot to the floor as we skirt round onto the edge of the track. “Good!” Kieren says. Blimey, I think.
Uphill now through the chicane that take you on to Clearways. “Full throttle”.
I feel like I’m really not going to make the next corner, but Kieren yells at me to keep the power on. “Trust me,” he says. ”There’s loads of grip.”
After three laps experiencing an insight into the kind of driving I had spent countless Sundays watching on TV, I pull back into the pits and get a handshake from Kieren. “Well done, we’ll get there,” he says.
With a whole day ahead of me, the sun coming out and the chance to swap cars to the open top MX5 “which handles like a one seater,” as Chris says, I understand why people get this very expensive bug, before sitting down with my arms feeling like I have just lifted weights and my legs slightly shaking.
To follow the Finishline race team go to www.finishlineukltd.co.uk