Sunday, 13 March 2011

X-ed Up: Going For A Spin Around Silverstone

If you ever get the chance to be whisked around Silverstone in a KTM X-Bow do it. Don’t hestitate, climb in (avoiding the fire extinguisher which will nestle betwixt your legs once your seated) and strap in (or get strapped in, that’s closer to the truth).

It was exactly this privilege I got at the annual media launch for the British Formula Three and GT Championships, thanks to the SRO Motorsports Group who run the series, the nice people organising the day and Marcus Clutton – the all-important man in the driving seat.

Now, in the spirit of total disclosure I have been a round Silverstone at pace before – in a Lotus Evora. However, that was a road going sportscar. The KTM, while you might still be able to drive it on the road would stretch the definition of “road car” to new lengths.

The sensations are totally different to the Lotus. In the KTM Marcus is less willing to take to the teeth chattering kerbs, particularly on corner exit. There is none of the feeling that you need to brace your feet against the footwell under braking I remember for the Lotus, though that is replaced with simply incredible wind noise and force as your head forces its own unaerodynamic way through the air. My be-helmeted bonce is chucked every which way down the Hanger Straight, including the disconcerting amount of lift as the air tries to take the helmet off.

One think you notice around Silverstone is that the corners all appear very tight compared to when you see them on TV. The Maggotts, Becketts and Chapel sweeps look like little more than mild inconveniences to straight line speed for an F1 car. Approach them in a KTM and they all look like hairpins – it gives you a whole new appreciation for the downforce allowing F1 cars to change direction the way they do.

Having been around Silverstone last year, there is one piece of track I’m particularly interested in as it’s new – the new Arena section.

Blitzing past the new pits – now only a few months from their official opening – the right-hander at Abbey is preceded by a lift, maybe a dab of brake for an apex speed of about 100mph in the KTM (I haven’t a clue how quick that is compared to a proper race lap), it’s about the same pace through left kink at Farm – it’s all too apparent why the high-speed corner loving Red Bulls of last year were so suited to these corners.

At the twin hairpins at Village and The Loop the road suddenly seems to narrow – if drivers are brave enough to run side-by-side from the first corner to here, then expect accidents a-plenty. There is also the chance of a bit of controversy – find yourself in an untenable position on the outside, and a straight hop across the run-off misses three corners and takes you out onto the Wellington (nee National) straight.

Out of the The Loop the left-hander at Aintree is simply an acceleration zone. It’s down into Brooklands that I notice the fastest speed – just shy of 120mph. It might not be that quick, but it’s more than enough to get the juices flowing.

The run into Stowe is almost certainly faster, but I’m too busy trying to keep my head still to glance at the digital speedo’ on the centre of the dashboard.

Running into Copse at the start of the third lap, the speed again, is just over 100mph….

Then it all goes a bit wrong.

Spinning from the passenger is a strange sensation – there’s obviously none of the steering feedback to gauge the car on, so as the back comes round a little, then snaps round the rest of the way, your balance has to race to catch up. I distinctly remember pointing sideways, maybe backwards, across the track, then rolling backwards across the tarmac run-off, me glancing over my shoulder to see where the strip of gravel on the outside is. I will never say ill of the FIA’s massive run-offs again.

As Marcus spins the tyres to get going again he lifts his hand off the gear lever in the centre of the car in apology. I couldn’t give a damn!

The spin, leads to a more cautious approach to the rest of the lap. Speed into Stowe the final time is dampened by the need to remove the run-off crud from the tyres (and even then there’s the merest hint that another spin is not very far away) and turn in speed at Abbey is down on the lap before.

Braking for Brooklands Marcus swings the car out wide and the black Predator Ferrari 430 swings up the inside. The car dwarfs the KTM – like being passed by a lorry in a normal road car – but was whoever is in the driving seat brakes for Luffield a fiery glow and lick of flame point back at me from the 430’s twin exhausts.

Nerdilly magical.

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