Road testing Goodwood's Performance Track experience

Sam Wilson heads to Goodwood to see if he can handle the track.

Skid pan - Ultimate Driving BMW Press Day at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Autumn SUS-160112-152307001
Skid pan - Ultimate Driving BMW Press Day at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Autumn SUS-160112-152307001

Goodwood has become something of a fixture in my calendar as I find myself attending both the Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival on an annual basis.

When I was offered the chance to head on track for a Performance Track experience, I jumped at the chance. I don’t consider myself to be a petrolhead, but the chance to put my foot down in cars worth more than double my salary was one I didn’t want to miss.

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Upon arrival to the track, which felt eerily quiet compared to the big event days, the group was made comfortable and given a short briefing about the activities we’d be undertaking and the history of the track.

BMW i8 - Ultimate Driving BMW Press Day at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Autumn SUS-160112-152239001

First up for the day was the skid pan which involved driving a Mini Cooper on an area that is heavily watered and greased to allow the vehicle to be thrown around, slipping and sliding whichever way you choose or, as the case was for some, didn’t choose.

I was one of the last to go which meant I had the benefit of seeing everyone else before me, learning from any mistakes they made to execute a handbrake turn and a J-turn (in which you reverse at speed then flick the car around 180° to pull away again smoothly) with a reasonable amount of grace.

After a welcome spot of lunch it was time for the real meat of the day; the track. Three sessions of 20 minutes on track with the other half of the group taking their turn in between and each driver had their own individual instructor alongside them throughout.

I found myself with a very experienced ex-racer called Paul who made every instruction seem a natural and easy move and certainly helped me feel more confident to really attack the track.

Sam Wilson at Ultimate Driving BMW Press Day at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Autumn SUS-160112-152404001

The fleet of cars available was largely BMW, all of which had a top speed of 155mph, plus a racing Mini. The jewel in the crown is the BMW i8; a hybrid sports car that is worth over £100k.

For my first go I took the BMW M6 and, after my instructor did a lap so I could see what I’d be tackling, I got behind the wheel.

The power and acceleration of this beast was a world away from my Ford Fiesta that I drive down the A27 every day. My instructor barked instructions and I followed them; It was an effective method.

In the downtime between sessions I declined the opportunity for a free massage, tea and a cookie or to go back in the skid pan. I was in the zone and concentrating on the track.

Skid pan - Ultimate Driving BMW Press Day at Goodwood Motor Circuit in Autumn SUS-160112-152324001

I’m naturally quite a competitive person and so wanted to do the best I could. There was no timing of the laps so my competitive urges had to be satisfied another way.

For the second session I went for the Mini. What it lacks in horsepower - 136hp versus the M6’s 575hp - it makes up for with its low centre of gravity and low weight.

It felt quite different to drive but I was able to really get stuck in to the corners and that seemed to make up for the lower top speed. Before I knew it the session was over and I had lapped everybody in this feisty little car. That was my ‘win’ as far I was concerned.

Another downtime and I was ready for my final run on the track. This time I was only interested in pushing myself as hard as I could and, on the home straight, I hit 120mph.

I felt my performance had been quite impressive until, to end the day, the instructors took us around the track in a way they saw fit. Suddenly my successes felt much more moderate as we hurtled through a corner I’d taken at 80mph and noticed the speedometer said 110mph. I’ve got a long way to go before I claim motor racing glory.

Afterwards David Brise, chief instructor, said: “What we like to do here is offer a really nice experience to a few people on a day rather than a fairly normal average experience to many. Small numbers, high quality.

“It’s a different experience, much more personal and one-to-one. I think people go away feeling special. I hope so, that’s the aim.”

“We try and underpromise and over-deliver so that when people arrive they get more than they thought. That for me is what sets Goodwood apart.”

As I drove home, conscious not to accidentally speed on the A27, I had to agree with David. I’d certainly had more fun than I had ever expected.

This feature will be in the February edition of etc Magazine