Last weekend I was lucky enough to drive three truly extraordinary cars at one truly extraordinary place. On Saturday the 17th of March, I travelled to Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey (or better known as the Top Gear Test Track) for a driving experience. It was an amazing day that I’ll never forget.
Now, anyone who knows me well enough will be able to tell you that I love my driving experiences. I try to do at least one or two every year. However, at Christmas of 2017, I was gifted an experience that trumps anything I have ever done before. If you have read my previous post on my past driving experiences, you will know that I have driven cars such as a ZL1 Camaro, Mustang GT, and Porsche Cayman on separate occasions. They were all a lot of fun. This time though, I was booked in to go to the one and only Top Gear Test Track to drive an Audi R8, Nissan GTR and Aston Martin DB9 with a company called Everyman Racing. As to why I chose those particular cars, I will get onto that towards the end.
I’ll walk you through the day. First was the almost two-hour drive to the track itself. Half way through the journey it began to snow lightly. It was on and off so I wasn’t too worried that I’d turn up and they’d send me away due to the conditions.
Eventually, I arrived at a car park at one of the far ends of the track. It was too foggy and snowy to see any cars or the track itself in the distance. A minibus then took me to the main track to register. On the way I spotted something quite familiar if you’ve been watching Top Gear TV recently.
If I am correct, this little yellow beauty on the left of the picture is Chris Harris’s RX7 from the Japan episode of Top Gear. As soon as I saw this, I knew I was in the right place. But if that wasn’t enough, when the minibus arrived at the main track, there was an amazing range of supercars on display. Aventadors, Ariel Atoms, and the £300,000 Mclaren 720S.
There were a few tents put up where I went to register. After all the boring stuff, I was told to get back on the minibus and head to what they referred to as the ‘Southern Circuit.’ Let me explain. I always knew I was on a Junior Circuit (it was on the paperwork), because, you guessed it, the guy with the car blog doesn’t actually have a full driving licence so I can’t go on the full circuit. I won’t get into it but I will say I didn’t lose it or anything like that. Anyway, I assumed/hoped that the Southern Circuit was maybe a shortened version of the track, though as I found out, it wasn’t.
When I arrived at the circuit, I can’t say I wasn’t a bit disappointed. The track was not actually on the Top Gear Test Track that you see on the show. All it was was a stretch of runway with a line of cones dividing them into two lanes. The course was as follows: go up one side, go through a chicane, turn around, go back down the other side, go through another chicane, turn around and do it again. It wasn’t the most interesting coarse and I was a shame that my dream of driving the Top Gear Track was not to be fulfilled that day. The only upside was that I had a hot lap included in my package that did actually take place on the track. So it wasn’t all bad.
The first car I was called up for was the Audi. It was a grey, first generation, 4.2 litre V8 powered one. It looked phenomenal and I couldn’t believe I was going to drive it. The instructor I had was very friendly and sat in the passenger seat with a backup brake pedal, just in case I went mad.
Going onto the circuit, I was questioning myself about two things. One, was I going to find this boring because of the circuit. And two, was the instructor going to let me open the taps on the R8, considering the snowy conditions and the fact that I was out driving with kids in Lambos also out on the track.
It took me a lap to gain my confidence, but after that all my worries and disappointments drifted away. My instructor allowed me to floor the R8 and one advantage of the track being mostly strait was that I could get up to some serious speeds. I had a blast.
Now onto the car. It was a semi-auto and I was allowed to use the paddle shifters so I was in control of the gears. Shifts were jerky and aggressive, just as they should be. Every time you shifted down, the car would lurch forward and the engine gave a sudden roar of the V8 before the revs died down. The R8 delivers something unique: somehow it manages to blend being easy to drive, comfortable, and refined with a driving experience of a true thoroughbred supercar. It’s low to the ground, mid engined and quick, but unlike most supercars that fit that description, has the ability to be driven on a daily basis with ease. A special car indeed.
Next up, after a half hour wait in the freezing cold and snow, I hopped into the GTR. A car I was most looking forward to out of the three. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past decade, you will have at some point heard about the GTR. The supercar killer, the rocket ship, Godzilla himself. Whatever you want to call it, the GTR will outrun anything on the road, for half the price. When done right, you can launch this thing under three seconds. I couldn’t wait to take it out onto the circuit.
Again I had a very friendly instructor who told me about the car before letting me test out the acceleration that I’d heard about. I got our onto the circuit and immediately noticed that it was even easier to drive than the R8. It was like a normal car to begin with.
However, that all changed as soon as I was comfortable enough to speed up. The first time I floored it, I managed to spin all four wheels in second gear: it wanted to take off. At one point, I was told that I got up to 89mph, which (on a track made for kids) is fast. Most of the time though, I used the paddle shifters to stay in third gear or above, due to the track being damp from the snow that wasn’t setting, but melting. This meant that on burying the throttle, there was a brief delay before the 3.8 litre V6 and turbos got into their element. Although, when they did, it was like a kick in the back. The GTR is the fastest car I’ve ever driven and what an amazing one.
Last but by no means least was the Aston. The coolest car out of the three was up after the GTR. This was the car I was most worried about, because where the GTR and R8 were AWD, the DB9 was only RWD and I was concerned that I’d have to go careful with the throttle. A big 6.0 litre V12 trying to send all its power to the rear wheels in the wet is not the safest combination.
Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. The Aston was very stable and I was able to put my foot to the floor confidently. And boy oh boy, did it make the best exhaust note I’ve ever heard. Every downshift was a delight, just to hear that iconic V12 growl. And just tickling the throttle in any gear makes it fly. The power is there and available all the time (thank the naturally aspirated gods).
Unfortunately, I did get stuck behind a Lambo and GTR at different points of the drive. The only upside to that though was that being behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, chasing down various exotic cars made me feel like Bond in one his famous car chases. As a Bond fan, this was a very surreal moment. Just forget the fact that the cars were probably being driven by kids, it doesn’t matter. They were Bond villains to me.
So now was my hot lap around the ACTUAL Top Gear Track. It wasn’t the normal route they would take on the show, but you have to remember that with multiple cars going around the track, the cross over part would end up a demolition derby. The cars they were using for the hot lap were Vauxhall VXR8s, a good choice for cheap fast fun. I got in and before you could say ‘this is fast,’ we were sideways going around the hammerhead.
Overall I had a great time. Sure, it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting though the cars have always been at the heart of my driving experiences; and in that department I was not let down. Each car I drove was even more amazing than I imagined. The only disappointment was that I didn’t get to drive on the proper Top Gear track, however, that just makes me want to return again someday even more. Hopefully then it won’t be snowing and I can go even faster than I did this time. Without crashing, of course.