Tuesday 6 December 2016

Gina has never been on a race track so we wondered would it make her a better driver

Published 20/04/2015 | 13:02

I am always going on about track days teaching drivers a better way to drive. It was time to put my money where my mouth is so I brought a complete novice to Rally School Ireland and put her in the hands of the instructors.

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I have spent a lot of time on tracks with instructors in order to improve my road-craft, I wanted more car control so I could better understand real car behaviour in extreme but safe situations. It's taken me to tracks in Germany, Spain, America and Ireland, but it's the people in Rally School Ireland that have provided a lot of that instruction.

They teach kids as young as ten to take a rally car around their circuit, they also teach people my age how to drive safely but quickly. I never stop learning how to drive, every car is different and every road has it's own challenges but with enough training I can take the wheel of a high powered sports car as quickly as a one litre city run-about.

I wondered what would happen if I took an average driver straight off the road and put them in the hands of the instructor. I found a willing driver with no experience on track and made the offer.

Gina Eagan is a girl in her early 20's, she has been driving for four years, as a bonus she's into cars but has never driven on a track in anger. Like most people, she drives to and from work in her five door diesel hatchback and apart from a little driving around at the weekend shes never thought about her driving skills since taking her test.

We landed in Rally School and Gina was whisked away to get a fire-proof suit and helmet on, the first car she'd be taking out is a Mini. This front-wheel drive car will handle like her own so she could get her eye in so to speak. David Smyth was her instructor for the day and he brought her around the track for several laps, each time she passed the line she was getting quicker.

When she got back we found out her lap time, it was 1.07.60 which isn't bad for the first time on the track. David told me that Gina had a good confidence behind the wheel and he thought that she could go into something faster.

At this stage Gina was just grinning from ear to ear, she had started out being very nervous but now she was starting to ask questions about the angles on the corners. There's nothing like racing yourself, once you have a lap time you've given yourself something to beat and that's real racing.

After a quick coffee she was off in a Nissan 350z!

The 350z is an icon, it's almost always in most racing games like "Need for Speed" series. The car is renowned for being able to drift and power slide it's way around most tracks, it can be brutal and unforgiving, if you get it wrong the 350z will put you in the hedge.

Here's a girl who has just done a few laps in a Mini about to take a 300hp monster around the track. The power sliding soon started, a little bit at first more by mistake than anything but soon Gina was going for it. A bit like the Pringles tag line 'once you pop you can't stop' that's what happens when you first find that you can control a slide, you start to seek out the turns that'll allow you to do it.

Gina did many laps, she was very tired by the end of the day. It's adrenalin, tension and concentration that wears people out. During the day she had driven a Ferrari and a Subaru on top of the 350z and a Mini, her lap times had tumbled to just over a minute by the time the four-wheel drive Subaru laps were over.

Gina told me that she felt more confidant and able to understand what happens when you drive fast. She had a deeper understanding of tyres, grip and power but above all car control. She felt safer behind the wheel as well as having bags of fun and memories to take away from the day.

I recommend anyone to take a driving day, if you are young or old you'll learn something that will help you in your driving life. Most people have never had t stand on the brakes in a emergency but on a track you do it all the time, correcting a slide becomes second nature and if you add the fun to it a track day is worth it's weight in gold.

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