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Ben Barry sends his wife on a trackday

Published: 14 March 2011

My wife has spent the best part of a decade patiently standing at the side of race tracks from Mondello to the Nurburgring, watching as I have a riotous old time, poised with the record button on our camera, holding a screaming child, being sunburned and/or lashed with rain. So it seemed only fair to turn the tables and let her out on track for the first time.

Porsche’s YouDrive experience was fairly local to us and caters for absolute beginners, so that’s what I went for. It’s based at Porsche’s Silverstone centre that opened a couple of years back. You drive up to Silverstone’s main gate, then head round the perimeter road until you arrive at what looks like a posh Porsche dealership. And it kind of is: there are lots of new cars to look at, but there are classics too, an upstairs restaurant, plus the LMP2 RS Spyder racecar was on show when we visited.

We’d gone for the beginners’ package that cost £165 for one driver and a guest, plus we opted for the delicious three-course meal that added another £30 per person. We ate overlooking the track, and I watched as my normally chatty wife got progressively more and more nervous as to what she’d let herself in for.

It’s a good track, but it’s not the Silverstone GP circuit – it’s Porsche’s own track, a short loop that twists and turns and rises and falls impressively for such a flat area. The idea is it recreates a typical British B-road, so the run-off is small, and Armco barriers loom, yet it’s not particularly intimidating. I’d previously driven the circuit and really enjoyed that it was both short and challenging, so that you quickly learn the corners and spend the rest of the session upping your speed and working out how best to tackle them. There’s also a skid pad, an ice hill (a tricky, slippery descent), a kick-plate (a slick surface that jolts beneath you, forcing the car into an unpredictable slide), an off-road course, plus the Human Performance fitness studio.

Before she could tackle any of that, the wife first had a briefing with one of the Porsche instructors and Vicky Butler-Henderson. Says the wife: ‘The briefing was generally really good although there was too much emphasis on theory, and an hour was too long - all I wanted to do was get out there on the track. But VBH and the Scottish guy were great; interesting, amusing and enthusiastic. They got everyone excited about the morning.’

Part of what keeps the YouDrive day’s costs manageable is using your own car for most of the session, except we cheated and borrowed a Panamera. So the wife headed out onto the kickplate with an instructor. ‘It was fantastic, but I didn’t think it was long enough – I got three goes and was just getting the hang of it when we moved on,’ she explains. ‘It made the long briefing feel that much more frustrating. But the ice hill was better – I had five goes on that.’

Next came the Human Performance bit – a gym to you and me – and the focus was on a high-tech version of those mallet-the-mole games – essentially a selection of lights on a wall that you have to hit when they illuminate. ‘I really enjoyed this bit,’ says the wife. ‘I felt so stupid and slow, but enjoyed seeing how I did on the various tests and how I compared with the other guys – not too bad actually!’

Meanwhile, I was stuck with the two-year-old, but the staff were happy with her climbing about in the cars – not a bad idea, it made me realise how viable those 911 back seats are – and they made a special effort to entertain her.

YouDrive isn’t all about tooling about in your own car: it climaxes with a few laps in a new Porsche, this time a 911. Before she went out, I’d told the wife to hold the wheel at quarter-to-three and not move her hands – you rarely need to on track – except to change gear, and she was duly congratulated by the instructor for her ‘amazing’ steering, which obviously earned me a few brownie points. But, once again, she’d have preferred more time: ‘It was lots of fun and I learned about turning sooner into corners and putting down the throttle sooner, but I think I had three laps on a fairly short circuit. Not enough.’

So, it was a good day at a great facility, but a little less theory and a lot more track time would have been a better balance. However, the wife’s now eligible for a YouDrive One-To-One session with a Porsche Driving Consultant, which costs £95, includes afternoon tea and runs for an hour from 4.30pm at the end of every week-day session.

Looks like I’ve got a little more standing around at the side of race tracks to do yet...

By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator

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