Normally at this time of year, my off-the-field sporting exploits involve wondering whether I’ll bother to scrape a season’s worth of mud off of my football boots, and wishing I’d removed that soggy towel from my cricket bag after the last game of the previous summer.
But not this year. No, this summer’s sporting preparations are of a totally different kind.
So far, they have involved me having fittings for boots, helmets and white clothing (but not my cricket whites), complete with a trip to Snetterton to test drive a racing car.
That’s because I’ve been given the ‘guest car’ slot in the Radical SR1 Cup, a low-cost, one-make UK race series for Radical’s entry level SR1 model that runs over four weekends between June and September.
The championship launched in 2013, designed as an accessible entry point onto the Radical racing ladder and a stepping stone for those looking to take their track day experience into racing proper.
In 2013, Sir Chris Hoy, one of our greatest Olympians, took the SR1 guest car slot to launch his racing career. Last year, the guest car was driven by Andy Green, he of world’s fastest man fame,as he prepared for driving Bloodhound at 1000mph.
And this year it’s me, neither an Olympian nor a record holder, rather someone who wants to share with you the ups (hopefully) and downs (most likely) of a racing season as a novice.
How have I got on so far? Well, the helmet is a size medium and the suit a 52, whatever that means. Oh, the car? Well, it’s blown me away.
Now as you’d expect in this job I have driven a fair amount of performance machinery on circuits, but never a race car, which rather unsurprisingly turns out is a completely different proposition.
The SR1 weighs just 480kg before my 75kg joins in, and power comes from a 1.3-litre Suzuki bike engine with a considerable 185bhp. It also has fully working aero and produces noticeable levels of downforce; a novice’s car in name only, in other words.
It is, simply, uncompromised as a driving machine by the need to be used on the road, therefore every part of its make-up is designed to get you around the circuit as quickly as possible.
I didn’t start too well. After three nervy installation laps behind the pace car, which included me stalling in the pitlane, I met with my instructor, Radical legend and thoroughly all-round good guy Roger Bromiley, who talked me through the car and showed me a video of the Snetterton circuit and its optimum lines, before taking me out in my SR1 (in Autocar colours, of course).
Roger’s car control was as mighty as the potential performance of the car. All of which left me thinking 'help', followed by 'how am I ever going to be competitive in this championship?'.
My first outing proper started with a spin on my first lap, but the fact I managed not to stall it was the first sign that things might just be okay.
The first challenge Roger had set me was to get the lines right. The speed could be added later. After a morning following this strategy, Roger joined me for a passenger ride where a thumbs up followed for the lines, before another session watching a video to see where the speed could be added (pretty much everywhere).
The 'lightbulb' moment came when I worked out to stop driving the SR1 as I would a road car around a race track, and start treating it like a race car. So on Roger’s advice, I started braking much later for the corners, turning in much more positively, and using all the available track; missed apexes and not hitting the white lines on the exits of corners means you’re not using all the track and therefore could be going faster.
The day ended with no more spins, some practice race starts that didn’t involve a repeat stall from me, and finally a pat on the back from Roger.
He left me with plenty more advice and stuff to ponder – to keep improving is going to be tough, and I’m going to be up against some serious competitors with considerable track day and testing experience, if not racing mileage. And if it rains, well, that’s something else completely.
But, as I think I’ve heard every cliché-riddled racing driver ever say, I’m going to give it my best shot to be competitive and do you lot and Autocar proud. Or something.
Next up is another test day – with an added competitive twist – at the Bedford Autodrome, followed by the first race on the full-length Silverstone circuit in June. Brands Hatch GP, Snetterton and Oulton Park are also on the calendar.
So, dear readers, I hope you’ll wish me luck and will follow my progress on this blog, on Twitter (@autocar and @mtisshaw) and in the magazine. I’ll need your support.