After driving a racing car at Brands Hatch, entering a race was my next step, but as with all forms of motorsport, the rulebook soon steps in delay your fun. To race, you need an MSA race license. For beginners that means a ‘Race National B (ARDS NOT EU)’. This allows you to compete in races throughout the UK up to National B status. Suitable for most forms of club car racing. To get started, you first need the appropriately named MSA ‘Go Racing’ starter pack’. It costs £95 and includes a CD copy of the MSA yearbook (the blue book), an instructional DVD, competition license application form, and a booklet detailing the next steps in acquiring a competition license. Your first years license is also included in the cost of the pack. (Its therefore worth applying early in the year so you get as much possible time to use your license before renewal). So far, so simple. Not quite. To be eligible for a race license you then need to have a medical to ensure you are fit to be on track. This includes an eye test, blood pressure check, a urine test for diabetes, and a visual check that you have sufficient movement in your limbs. Your medical history is also reviewed. My local surgery wanted over £80 for this test, with some surgeries charging much more. In an attempt to save money I found a company that provided MSA approved medicals for around £50. The service was fine but I felt the check wasn’t as rigorous as I would have had from my own doctor. Once I factored the travelling costs, I didn’t actually save a great deal either. Oh well. Lesson learnt.
The final step in the process is to complete an ARDS course and pass the assessment. With me looking to hire a race car at Mallory Park the following month, it made sense to book my ARDS at The Motorsports School which is based there. The school is small but all the better for it. They agreed to run the course just for me at the same time as a Javelin Trackday I’d booked. This would give me plenty of opportunity to put my new found skills to the test after the course.
When I arrived I was greeted by Pete and Melanie Edwards. Pete is the owner and main instructor, and Melanie runs the office. Both were very friendly and willing to chat. The day began with an overview of racing lines, braking points and flags. I was then left to watch the DVD as included in my go racing pack. All the information you need to pass the assessment is included in the DVD and the accompanying booklet. I’d watched the DVD and read the book a few times beforehand, but watching it again definitely helped. After asking some questions to clarify my understanding, I sat the test. The test is 27 multiple choice questions. You can get a question wrong but you must get all the flag questions correct in order to pass. Most of the questions were largely common sense and not as tricky as I’d feared.
With that complete, and confirmation that I’d passed that stage, we headed out to the Renault Clio school car for the driving assessment. Pete drove first, talking me through what he was doing; his racing lines, gear selection, and application of brake and throttle. The emphasis was on smoothness. The other crucial elements were awareness of other track users, and ensuring the car did not exceed track limits. After a few laps he came into the pits and we swapped seats where Pete reminded me that he was not going to assess my speed, but rather my ability to safely control the car while on track with other users. He also emphasised that if I exceeded track limits even just once, it was an instant fail. No pressure then!
In an unfamiliar car I took it steadily to begin with. My clutch control wasn’t great due to sitting too far back (that’s my excuse anyway), but otherwise I soon got into the swing of it. I didn’t drive particularly quickly and kept well clear of the kerbs and white lines as instructed. There were other cars on track, mostly quicker and I had to let them by as safely as possible. As well as observing my driving, Pete asked driving related questions and ‘what if’s’ at the most hectic times in order to ensure I could multi-task sufficiently. After around 6 laps he asked me to head back into the pits. I’d not hit the car, touched the kerbs, and had managed to answer his questions, so was feeling confident. I quickly issued another apology for my poor clutch changes in case that would help, but Pete smiled and confirmed that I’d passed. What a relief.
A lot of people say the course is easy, and that passing is a formality. In some ways it is easy but you do need to learn the DVD, especially the flags. The on-track tuition also gives you the basic skills to be safe on track. Skills which may well help prevent a costly mistake. As for the cost, it is another barrier to entry which may deter many but to put it into perspective, its no more expensive than the cost of one race weekend or one set of new race tyres.
With my race application signed, all I needed was to affix a passport photo and send it off. Within a week I had my shiny new license.
Based on my personal experience, I would recommend going to a smaller race school for the ARDS. The flexibility they offered on timing plus the 121 session made the experience more enjoyable than at the bigger providers. These companies often charge far more than the £300 I paid at Mallory but provide a far less personalised service.
With my license in hand, I was all set for my debut in a Puma Cup race car at Mallory Park only for the event to be cancelled due to lack of numbers. Undeterred, I entered the next available race, at the Silverstone GP circuit. I’d driven it plenty of times on the Xbox. How hard could it be? See how i got on here