I’m off work this week so I had been trying to figure out how to spend these precious few days of being free of the daily commute and work stress without wasting the time just sitting around the house eating the contents of the fridge.
I figured it would be a good time to book the gift experience that my parents bought me for my 30th birthday last year from Virgin Experience Days – to drive the Ferrari F430 Challenge supercar.
All of last week I had been hoping that the weather would hold off and that it would be a warm, sunny, dry day. My luck was in as when I looked out the window first thing, it felt like the perfect Spring morning… perfect for the race track.
Presentation / receipt of the gift experience
I’ve received a few gift experiences over the years from various people and they are all very similar with how they are presented. This was however the first I’d received from Virgin’s Red Letter Days (now Virgin Experience Days) and I must say the presentation looked great and much more premium than others.
The experience arrived in a red, hardback cardboard “letter” (as per the brand if you missed that bit..) and inside contained all of the information necessary:
Booking the gift experience
Booking the experience was a bit of a faff and I’m sure, far more complicated than it needs to be.
It required going onto the Virgin Experiences website and locating the redeem voucher link which is rather stupidly presented as if it’s part of their website’s breadcrumb trail.
I then had to enter the voucher’s serial number and some personal information and hit submit. This then sent me an email with further instructions.
The email stated that the experience was being provided by Drift Limits and that in order to book the gift experience with them I needed to navigate across to their website. Once on the Drift Limits website I had to locate their redeem voucher link and enter the code just emailed to me from Virgin Experience Days although their website didn’t make it fully clear what information they required. From here I had to find my experience in a list of options and then choose a date. Again, I hit submit.
Once I’d hit submit I received an auto-acknowledgement email from Drift Limits stating that a member of their team would be in touch within the next 4 workings days. A few days later the phone rang and then I spoke to a member of their team to confirm the booking.
Ferrari Driving Day Location
The driving day was located on a small road just off the services on the A41 at Runways Farm (Upper Bourne End Lane, HP1 2RR):
Putting the postcode into the sat nav took me to the service station but didn’t take me to the venue so it required a bit of scouting of the area to find the road.
There is no signage pointing to the location which I found quite surprising so you need to keep an eye out for the turning and make your way up the narrow track to the top of the hill. As you can see from the street view image (coming from the service station), the turning isn’t obvious as there’s no signs:
Arriving at the Drift Limits venue
Having located the Drift Limits venue, everything was pretty self explanatory. Parking was clearly marked, there were toilets available (portaloo’s) and there was a cabin where they run everything from containing the safety briefing room, equipment and check-in area. The experience is located on an old runway however it is not a straight line, it’s a small but properly laid out and properly tarmacked race track.
The email I received from Drift Limits stated:
Session C**: Aim to arrive between **11:30 – 11:40 to start the briefing at 11:45**
I arrived around 11:20 and having left the car park was immediately met with the noise of powerful cars and parked up supercars including the Ferrari F430 Challenge, Lamborghini Gallardo, Aston Martin Vantage, Formula Renault’s and an Ariel Atom. An impressive line up.
I checked in at reception and was handed a standard damage waiver form. On this form you state that any damage to the cars is your own fault and that in the event of an accident you would be liable for £750+VAT. There is a very clear and repeated warning from the guys not to drive beyond your ability and this fee is intended to keep a sense of reality.
The safety briefing is held in the main cabin which is a pretty large room with a big screen.
Once everyone had checked in at reception we sat down and the guys gave us a 20 minute long, light hearted (but with a serious safety undertone) briefing session for the afternoon covering the following:
- The race track with an explanation of the correct racing line, rules, safety flags etc
- A series of videos from on-board cameras highlighting how easy it is to push the cars too hard and crash
- A walk through of each car that was available on the day
- Additional purchases available
I thought the safety briefing was excellent – it was clear, concise and most of all kept entertaining to avoid losing people’s interest.
The final point here was an interesting one as there were loads of upgrades available. You could purchase the photo pack for £20 (by a professional photographer on site), a video pack for £20, or both for £30. You could also buy a damage waiver from them to insure against the the £750+VAT fee for £20. I was fairly confident in my driving ability at speed having owned a Civic Type-R and now Ibiza FR so I opted not to take out this insurance.
In addition we were handed a price list allowing anyone that attended the briefing session (both drivers and any spectators brought along for the day) to pay to either drive or experience a high speed passenger ride in any of the cars that were on site – different lap numbers came at different prices.
My experience was for the Ferrari F430 Challenge however having just seen and heard that they had an Ariel Atom on the site (0-60 mph in 2.5 secs anyone?!), it was way too good an opportunity for me to miss so I paid £29 for 4 laps of the track.
With that I grabbed a helmet from the racks and headed outside.
Upon heading outside the guys said that they would drive us around the track for a few laps to show us the course.
They had a Subura STi, Mitsubishi Evo and BMW E46 M3 to choose from so I jumped in the passenger seat of the BMW for a few flying laps.
The first lap was a real slow lap, maybe 30mph with the guy talking us through each of the turns and where the racing line was. On the second lap he picked it up a gear to what was probably about 50mph. For the final lap he stuck his foot down to demonstrate how the cars will stick to the road and how quickly it is possible to take the bends hitting around 80mph. And bloody hell did the M3 stick. I was pinned to the back of my seat and to the door on bends with the feeling that the car would slide off the track at any moment. It didn’t of course as these guys know how to drive! That final lap of simply being a passenger was quite an experience in itself! At the end of the lap we pulled back into the pit area and prepared to take the drivers seats.
Driving the Ferrari F430
So let’s face it, the Ferrari F430 Challenge looks amazing. Not only that, it drove incredibly well (far better than my Ibiza that’s for sure!!). The only downside to this car if you’re thinking about booking the experience is that it was a left hand drive. That wasn’t however too much of a problem as being a clockwise track it meant I always knew where the left hand edge of the track was to stop me flying off!
You also don’t need to worry about gears as the car is automatic. The instructor tells you how to drop it into 3rd gear and you then do the entire track in 3rd gear without the need for gear changes – and you really don’t need gear changes to be honest as with the acceleration, top speed and braking zones, in 3rd gear the car is driving fully on edge.
Getting into the car with a helmet on was an interesting experience! As the car is so low you really do have to slide yourself into the car, in between the roll cage. Once inside it’s a basic setup. And I mean REALLY basic. There’s a roll cage, some pedals, a steering wheel and some bucket seats with 3 point harnesses. Forget any comfort and luxury, this is a racing car trying to keep the weight down! the instructor does fully help you in and fully buckle you up into the 3 point harness:
For my first lap I took it easy just to get a feel for it and make sure I didn’t fly off the track into the field. On the second lap the instructor told me to pick up the pace and was constantly in my ear telling me where the racing line was, when to brake and when to accelerate with commands such as “floor it!” – awesome. In total I think I did just over 10 laps of the track and with every lap I grew in confidence, along with knowing the correct racing line and the instructor pushing me to go faster.
And bloody hell I did end up going fast. On the track there were 3 of us at any one time and I was overtaking both the Formula Renault’s (these are essentially miniature Formula 1 cars) and the Ariel Atom on every lap.
The Ferrari was a proper adrenaline rush. It was incredibly quick at accelerating, the brakes gave you confidence and you could accelerate through just about every bend on the track as the weight is so well balanced that it just stuck to the tarmac.
For anyone considering a driving day I honestly cannot recommend this Ferrari highly enough. Incredible.
Driving the Ariel Atom
Having slid out of the of the Ferrari (literally!) and given myself 10 minutes to stop shaking from the massive adrenaline hit, I grabbed myself a full face covering helmet and headed across to the guy who showed me the Atom.
Looking at the Atom it doesn’t look like much. It looks basic. And you wouldn’t be wrong, it is basic. However the Atom is essentially a piece of scaffolding with the superb Honda iVTEC engine bolted onto the back of it. The guys at Drift Limits has also stripped the atom of all non-essential parts to make it weigh even less e.g. lights, wheel covers etc. Finally they put some fully slick racing tyres on it. This meant it weighed next to nothing with a huge engine strapped to the back and a huge amount of grip. The result? 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds.
Now for anyone who watches Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson tested one of these back in series 5… the result was hilarious:
Getting into the Atom was interesting – stand on the seat and quite literally slide down into the car. If you look at this photo you can see how low it is with the bucket seat nearly touching the tarmac, the car is essentially a supercharged go-kart.
Having got the car out onto the track, similar to the Ferrari I took the first lap easy as I didn’t fancy that £1000 damage bill! From the second lap however I floored it. The acceleration was phenomenal pinning my entire body and helmet to the back of the car. And the car stuck to the track. My God did the car stick to the track.
Like the Ferrari the Atom is a dual seated car so I had an instructor with me the whole time. As it is an open wheel car with an engine behind your head it’s also loud! So the instructor was talking to me via an intercom between our helmets though I must be honest it was still hard to hear him!
Going around the track the instructor was pushing for more speed and for the racing line which I eventually got the hand of. The Atom drove completely differently to the Ferrari and needed a bit more care to keep it on the track. It was very easy to rapidly hit a high speed and then find myself at the end of the braking zone having only just started touching the brakes!!
There’s a lot of driving days kicking about and I must say the Drift Limits set up is excellent. The guys were professional, friendly and were also great with the spectators allowing them to take part.
Of the 2 cars I loved them both for very different reasons. The Ferrari was incredible in every way, it was more comfortable, it felt safer and I loved the way it handled the bends.
On the other hand the Atom was noting short of a racing car. Or is that a rocket? The car could be thrown about the track and it just stuck, it accelerated like nothing I have ever experienced before and it just had an all around wow factor. Anyone doing a supercar driving day at this location should definitely pay a bit of extra cash to give the Atom a go, you won’t regret it.
I wouldn’t hesitate to go do this again and I cannot recommend this experience at this venue as a birthday/Christmas/other occasion gift to anyone looking for a great couple of hours.
The experience appears to now be discontinued with Virgin however you can still book the experience directly through Drift Limits here.
What on earth are you waiting for?