Palmer Motorsport Sensation

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Palmer Motorsport Sensation

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Review of "Palmer Motorsport Sensation"

published 20/09/2006 | CareBear
Member since : 10/07/2000
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"Driving me Round the Bend - the NEED for SPEED"

Yes... that really is me!

Yes... that really is me!

Driving Days have been popular as presents and corporate days for many years now. I've often looked at the gift packages provided by the likes of Virgin, Red Letter Days, Lastminute.com and other similar providers and come to the conclusion that, although they sound like fun, they don't really sound good value for money. Parting with the best part of £200 seems to give you about an hours driving with the car often shared with others on the day. This has always put me off.

I've now found something that answers all of my criticisms and provides more to boot. That something is Motorsport Sensation from Palmer Motorsport.

Palmer Motorsport is based on purpose built tracks at the now disused Bedford Aerodrome just north of Milton Keynes. Primarily the haunt of corporate away days with exclusive use, individuals are also catered for on shared days. My own visit was on a corporate event but speaking to those who had been before the day does not vary for individuals.

The day starts, bright and early, with breakfast. Breakfast is a great opportunity to meet your "team mates" and to calm that nervous stomach with a good old English fry up! A Breakfast briefing (!) then follows. The Palmer team explain the set up and run through some very important safety issues. Safety is absolutely paramount here and, unlike airline safety briefings, I found myself listening intently. Everyone, seasoned track drivers and complete novices, seemed to appreciate the dangers that they were about to face.

Teams were made up of up to 20 people and, the briefing over, we were introduced to our "host" for the day - invariably a glamorous lass - and led to minibuses to be driven to our first station.

Where this day differs from most is that it really does involve a full day's driving. You don't just have your need for speed satisfied with one car, you get seven very different cars to try and you get a decent drive in each!

Each of the stations is fully equipped with all of the safety equipment you need including helmets and shoes. There are also tea and coffee facilities, newspapers and TV. There are sufficient cars for half of the group to be on the track at any one time. This means that there is little time "hanging around" getting bored and also means that it functions really well as a corporate day because you get a good chance to talk to colleagues or clients in between drives and have something fun to watch if the conversation does happen to dry up!

The drives happen on one of five circuits or two areas. Each circuit is set up for the cars that are used on it (some being used for more than one car) and give you the chance to push the cars to their limits if you have the nerve.

INTRODUCING THE CARS

My first drive of the day was in the PALMER JAGUAR JP1 on the North Circuit. With a top speed of 180mph and 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, this 6 speed sequential transmission car was a beast to start on! At the time I was scared witless, but upon reflection it was a good first car. The driving position was very low to ground making visibility poor for me at 5'4". My taller colleagues had no such problems. There was a little rain and as a result the track was rather slippery. It was here that I experienced my first spin, and, as my instructor said, better to spin in this car when he was there than experience your first spin in the solo Formula Palmer Audi!

One of the safety rules that we strictly enforced was three spins and you're in. Thankfully I didn't fall foul of this, spinning just the once. I must confess it was a lot less frightening than I thought it would be. My instructor, sitting beside me, gave very clear instructions through a microphone fitted in the helmet. The instructors really pushed you - no pottering round the course here, it was full throttle all the way. The JP1 was dual brake control but that was all the instructor had… My need for speed was definitely satisfied!

At the end of the session we were bussed to the East Circuit for a go on the SUPERLIGHT CATERHAM 7s. Now this was a car that I was really looking forward to driving. The contrast with the JP1's could not be greater. Modern to vintage, power to sheer exhilaration. If the JP1 was a rollercoaster it would be Blackpool's "Big One" to the Caterham's boneshaker. The drive certainly didn't disappoint: super light, easy to handle and boy, did they fly! 0-60 in 3.9 seconds it's not far off the acceleration of the JP1 but so much more fun as you throw it round the tight corners on the circuit. As it was wet, a few of our group fell foul of the "three spins" rule but no one was hurt! If I could take any car home, this would be it!

Next stop was for the only road-certified car to be used on the racetrack, the NISSAN 350Z. The most conventional drive of the day, this car motors! So powerful is the engine that you start in third gear! It's the slowest to accelerate, 0-60 in just shy of 6 seconds, but with a top speed in excess of 155mph it shifts! On the North Circuit speeds just shy of a ton were achieved. The fact that we had already driven on the North Circuit helped a little but the different driving position made the track seem quite different. I would not fancy driving this car on the roads. Temptation to use it to its full would be too great.

After lunch we found ourselves on the off-road track in a NISSAN PATHFINDER. The course, for me, was a bit of a let down. We went up and down steep inclines, through water and on a see-saw but it was more of an easy drive than a challenge. I also found myself relying on my instructor's instruction too much as my driving position was poor and visibility severely limited.

As half the group went off-road the other half were on the skid pan performing figures of eight in an EVO VI. This was probably the hardest drive of the day, fighting every instinct to correct the skid so that repeated figures of eight could be performed with the car travelling sideways at all times.

Next we found ourselves in the only solo car of the day, the FORMULA PALMER AUDI. Driven on the complex West Circuit this is a serious racing car. It really is the real thing. The circuit includes straights, chicanes and hairpin bends to really test your driving skills. I'm afraid caution got the better of me and I certainly didn't push this car to its limits. I let most people past me as I pottered around stuck in third gear as I was too scared to risk the slightly awkward gear changes! Your drives in this car are computer monitored and a prize is offered for the person who best matches a professional drive around the same circuit. Needless to say, my trace was nowhere near the professionals!

Our final stop of the day was on the tight West Circuit with the Clio Cup. Now I drive a Clio every day but this was something else. Stripped of all the interior save for a plastic bucket seat and with sequential gears which required double-declutching this was really a fun drive. The instructors were brilliant at pushing you as far as you were comfortable and a little beyond whilst still retaining a sense of control.

As half of us drove the Clios, the other half were partaking of a much more sedate but competitive spin on a go-kart track!

A Porsche 911 has been added to the 2006 programme.

SAFETY

Safety is absolutely paramount. I've mentioned the spin rule but in the event that you do spin off there is plenty of run-off for you not to come a cropper! Tyre walls are placed well away from the track to allow you to slow down.

All of the vehicles are carefully checked before you go out and other safety equipment such as helmets appear to be in good condition. The tracks are checked before each session and again as necessary. By way of example, lots of people spun in the JP1s in the rain at the same point so the safety car was sent out to check the track again.

All of the instructors were professional and accurate in their instructions. Many were training to be pro-drivers.

HOSPITALITY

Corporate days are won and lost on the hospitality offered. Although not top notch, the food was good and plentiful. Service was fast and friendly. All in all, the catering was in keeping with the event.

The hosts were friendly and always willing to help.

The whole operation was incredibly slick. Track times were adhered to but at no point did we feel rushed or, indeed, slowed. To coordinate 5 groups and a total of 95 people can't be easy, but they managed it beautifully.
EXTRAS

No track day would be complete without a prize-giving and this one is no exception. Where Palmers go the extra mile though is that they give everyone their exact positions on every car and overall. You also get the computer printout of your solo Audi run showing exactly how you performed against the professional.

The fact that you get all of your stats also has the added advantage of promoting real competition between the teams and their members. For the record my best drive (competitively) was in the JP1s (a pitiful 62nd!) and my worst was in the Caterhams at 92nd. In my defence all of my team did badly in the Caterhams due to heavy rain but I can honestly say it was the best drive in terms of pleasure! Despite my poor performance my team came second!

THOUGHTS

This was almost the perfect corporate day. There were no decisions to be made. There's just one excellent programme and, once booked everything is taken care of. Everyone can partake and get something out of the day, no matter how good, or bad, a driver you are. The on-site hospitality was excellent.

All information required was sent through in advance in the form of glossy brochures and invites - a very professional service.

The early start did mean that we had to provide overnight accommodation in nearby Bedford but that just provided an excuse for dinner and (rather a lot of) drinks.

Driving home afterwards was hard. We were all physically and mentally drained and somehow my 1.2l Clio just didn't pack the same punch!

I don't know what the day cost but I'm sure it wasn't cheap - it was worth it though!

10/10 for this event

IMPORTANT INFO

Drivers must be 21 or older (over 18s may be permitted with restrictions) and in possession of a full manual driving licence which must be produced. Spectators are not encouraged but who'd want to spectate when there are all those cars to drive!

Guests under 5' or over 6'4" or who weigh more than 18 stone might experience some difficulty - we had one guest who couldn't fit in the JP1s.


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Comments on this review

  • Soho_Black published 22/10/2006
    My flatmate has been on one of these and he came away buzzing in much the same way you did. We couldn't stop him talking about it for a week!
  • Ailran published 27/09/2006
    north of Milton Keynes, you'll make us sound like northerners if you say that!!! Sounds really good and as it is only 10 minutes away from me might be worth a try :o)
  • Vodkaboy published 22/09/2006
    This sounds fun - really fun! Now, if they had planes...... :)
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Product Information : Palmer Motorsport Sensation

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Listed on Ciao since: 22/08/2005