I have driven fast cars, driven on autobahns and even been in situations where the road is just a blur.... flat out around corners on roads with oncoming traffic and yes my knuckles do go white sometimes, but what I experienced this weekend was just a different kind of high!
But let's start at the beginning. Getting off a charter plane with a gleaming row of hot looking Jaguar F-type convertibles to drive straight off the tarmac made me feel like royalty. The deep throated growl of the V6 as we sped down the brilliant Spanish countryside enthralled even more. Pushing hard, we arrived at the Motorland circuit only to be greeted by another gleaming line up. This time more power.... 542bhp V8 Jaguar F-type R and the icing on the cake – an empty circuit to drive on.
What a day it was turning out to be...... A diminutive little lady came up and introduced herself to me as Minna, my pro driver. She looked diminutive but turned out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing who drove like the devil. Her steering inputs so precise and minimal, no heroics. Just so clean and neat around the track that from inside the car, you never imagined what the speedo was clocking around the corners. "It's raining little", she said, adding, "not so good, makes track slippery!"
Before I could nod in agreement, she said, "But I'm from Finalnd, I like it. I drive on snow!" Instant respect.
Minna Sillankorva turned out to be the women's world rally champion from the 90s. The way she guided the car around that track was truly impressive.
I was a little more nervous getting into the driver's seat with her watching over me but once behind the wheel, all inhibitions fell away and my right foot took over. The track was a fun mix of slow corners, fast ones and a 1.7km straight to blast down on. With the music of the V8 playing in my ears, the circuit snaking and weaving in front of me and clocking 270kph down the straight, saying I had a blast would be an understatement. That Minna said, "You are a good driver and I am happy to sit with you", just made my day, but there was more to come.
Fun over, it was time to get to work and get the shoot done. So, there I am waiting for the camera crew when this matte black track car emerges from the pit garage with Damian (my appointed camera person) strapped onto the back of it. Trust JLR to have carved out the back of a Jaguar XK to make it into a track car. Minna appears as well and tells me she knows how fast I can go now, so she will drive the track car at the correct pace and to get set.
Correct pace! Yeah right!!!! Now I've tracked fast but what Minna had in mind was something else all together. From corner one, it was flat out. Now I understood why Damian had strapped himself in like he was ready for war. We were tracking at speeds of 190kph plus. Damian was looking cool, calm and collected despite being in an open car and he kept asking me to draw in closer, but I wasn't feeling as calm as him. At those speeds, every fraction of a second is critical, every ounce of concentration is needed to be chasing down a car so close. It was like being in a full blown race. Not only that but I was being asked to stay on the racing line and then go off it. Blasting down the straight off the racing line, tucking in behind the car at the last minute, braking till my head nearly rolled off and then back on the pace again. Watching the brake lights in front of me to know exactly when to brake and when to push. Two laps down, at this pace, tracking had every fibre of my body protesting and my neck tied up in knots. So much for my fitness levels. Made a quick mental note to start working out again. So, it was a big relief at the end of the third lap when they signalled to pull into the pits. I got out of the car with my body aching from the tension and feeling exhausted but my brain and my soul were on a high having had a blast driving on the edge..... The F-type coupe had been the perfect companion, obeying all my commands with precision and a pace that was quite incredible. It also let me feel quite heroic on the track knowing just when to let me go a little and when to pull me back. What a weekend! Perfect way to have celebrated a birthday too.