Did my first ever AutoSolo last weekend. It was on the Goodwood circuit, and it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that this simple event, which took all day and seemed to have my driving partner and I constantly occupied, was the most carefree and enjoyable day’s motorsport I’ve had in 40-odd years.
So what is AutoSolo? it's a bit like an Autotest, except without the need for the practice and memory training that makes such events a specialised discipline.
AutoSolo simply involves turning up in the car you normally drive and following a relatively simple cone-marked course, while requiring no special helmet or licence.
Other virtues? It’s a stark test that depends at least as much on driver skill as car choice, and you will most definitely discover how your car behaves on the limit (and how good you are at keeping it there).
Marshals – and when you’re not driving you’ll be one of them – set up a course that takes 50-70 seconds to negotiate in an average road car.
The field, 27 entrants in our case, get three timed runs through it, with points being deducted for cones touched. Then the field attacks it three times from the other direction and you stop for lunch.
In the afternoon you do the same on a new course – which means that by 4pm you’ve had 12 chances to demonstrate your skill on the limit – at 40 mph.
Our mount was a Renault Clio RS 200 Turbo, a near-ideal car for the job. I drove with my son, Jon, who has often been my driving partner, and we finished second and fourth in class (me fourth). It sounds a lot better than it is: our class contained only seven entrants. In the main field, we were ninth and 19th.
Jon soon sussed what was involved – a good mix of speed and precision. I learned much more slowly, always driving as quickly as I could, but sometimes missing gates and scattering cones.
Only at the end did I notice that hitting obstacles was much more sternly punished than driving more slowly – so I’ll know what to do next time. And there will be a next time, for certain.
The Goodwood Road and Racing Club runs three or four of these events annually, and there are more around the country. We’re hooked – not least because the people you meet seem to be the kind whose company you’ll enjoy
What would we change? The Clio was agile, quick and looked great but I suspect an earlier RS with a non-turbo 2.0-litre engine and a manual gearbox would have done a bit better.
The launch control and paddle shift of the latest edition are a bit of a hindrance in low-speed agility, and so was the (slight) turbo lag of the new 1.6-litre turbo engine. And for someone built like me, extra support from a firm harness and a racing seat would have helped.
But I’m quibbling. What we both need is more practice at the discipline, to remember to take a better look at the courses when we walk them next time, and to know the rules a bit better. Then we’ll start to do ourselves justice.