|Me behind the wheel of an Aston Martin V8 Vantage|
The experience started, as with many a Bond mission, with a briefing. A bunch of us were shepherded into the briefing room to hear the instructor talk us through the circuit, tell us how fast some of the turns could be taken (up to 120mph for some of them, only about 60 or 70mph for the tighter turns), and remind us that the higher the speed, the narrower the margin of error. He explained the controls of the cars (not all drivers opted for Aston Martins), and fortunately those of the Aston Martin – in this case a V8 Vantage – were not too dissimilar from what I was used to. The instructor also revealed that another instructor would be in the car with us, and that we'd do well to follow his every instruction.
We left the briefing room and made our way down to the track side at the southernmost turn (Stowe) of the international track where the cars were parked. We donned crash helmets, and I waited my turn. Every car was numbered, and while there was no 007, I noticed that one of the Astons had the number 009. Close enough, I thought, before remembering that 009 had a sticky end in Octopussy. As it happens, though, I was in car number 010.
When called, and after posing for photos by the side of the car, I climbed into the driver's seat and introduced myself to my instructor, who pressed a switch to adjust my seat and told me grip the steering wheel at quarter past nine and keep that position throughout. So much for feeding the wheel through, or nonchalantly gripping the wheel at the top with one hand and the gear stick with the other. At my instructor's command, I gently pressed the accelerator and took the car out of the pits and on to the circuit like I was taking my driving test.
Immediately the instructor told me to 'Accelerate! Accelerate! Accelerate!' So I floored it and reached over 60mph in roughly five seconds. Instantly I met the turn at Club. I braked, took a neat racing line (Bond would be proud) and accelerated out of the bend. Another turn took me into a straight, where I picked up some frightening speed and changed up to fourth gear (I would never get past fourth, even though the car had six). I braked, changed down to third, turned in at Abbey, accelerated out, took the gentler curve of Farm, accelerated again, then braked sharply and turned very hard at the hairpin at Village. At this point, I was being a little cautious with my steering. My arms should have been crossed, but were barely beyond half-past twelve. Indeed, I might have gone off the track had my instructor not grabbed the wheel and yanked it down until it locked. Lesson learnt.
I accelerated out of Village, approached another sharp turn at the Link, then entered the long Hangar Straight, where, with my instructor's encouragement, picked up as much speed as I could muster. And with that, lap one was over. Two more to go.
The other two laps were much like the first, though were perhaps a little smoother. I grew in confidence as my familiarity with the track, and the car, increased. I remembered to look at my speedometer on Hangar Straight during my third lap. It was past 100mph and still climbing.
Before I knew it, the experience was over and I was pulling into the pits. It was the drive of my life and my heart was thumping. True, I didn't have Bondian perils to deal with – huge newspaper rolls, caltrops dropped from the villain's car, Vesper Lynd lying in the road – but it was exciting enough taking the turns, making racing gear changes, going hell for leather, and hearing the throaty roar of the Aston Martin's V8 engine. I wish I'd had a chance to explore the car a little more (maybe tested out some of the switches and buttons – the ejector seat's standard, right?), but perhaps I'll hire an Aston Martin for the day for my 50th birthday.