• Danny Lee

Silverstone Single Seater Experience Review

The Silverstone Single Seater Experience leaves you thinking one thing:

“They really just let people come and do this?!"

It's awesome, and if you’re thinking of buying it for yourself, as a gift for someone else, or someone’s buying it for you then you can rest assured that it’s gonna be a slam dunk.

I recommend it with complete conviction because I myself have done it four times over the years - you just don’t do that with ‘experiences’ unless it’s genuinely good. I consider it a must-do activity for anyone with even a whiff of a passion for racing that dreams of sampling a proper bare-bones hardcore machine. All the right ingredients are in the mix, from the cars themselves to the hospitality and guidance, and Silverstone takes such good care of you that if you don’t enjoy this experience then - to be brutally honest - it’s going to be your fault, not theirs.

Let me tell you how the experience is run, along with some specific things you’ll be glad to know ahead of time to make sure you get the most out of your drive.

Please check the following links to various places where you can buy this experience after you’ve read this article, using them to buy your ticket will help support my work. Thank you for doing so!

Buy from Buyagift

Buy from Red Letter Days

Buy from Silverstone

When you think of driving experiences you might think of the sort where you potter around with a strict instructor that won’t let you change gears or go above 70. Some experiences feel more like a photo opportunity where you get to say you’ve driven on a track in something impressive, but you’re not sure you really felt like it. Some experiences are out in the middle of nowhere with a picnic bench and basic amenities to keep guests comfy.

Not the Silverstone Single Seaters. You might not be in a prestigiously smooth 500hp super car but with these you alone are responsible and you can go as fast or as slow as you feel comfortable with. The track you drive them on, Stowe circuit, is an established permanent track that sits within the perimeter of the main Grand Prix circuit, with room on the straights to get up to 100 mph as well as different types of corners to let you feel just what they can do, they are not afraid to let you drive fast.

The first step is getting there, and being a major landmark there are plenty of signposts on the roads near Silverstone, and when you reach its doorstep there are clear signs and helpful marshals directing you to the Drive centre, where the experiences are run. It's really hard to get lost on your way to Silverstone!

The check-in desk is inside the iconic Silverstone Wing, facilities are therefore great. The staff were very chipper and clearly took pride in their care of you, checking-in was fast and they had enough staff to get it done inside of 5 minutes. I was called in for the driver briefing at the precise time the experience was due to begin, so don’t be late. Slick is the best way to describe things here and you do feel considered - it’s been about 10 years since my last visit and it’s always been good, but I’m impressed with how well catered for you feel here as a visitor nowadays.

Upon around 20-30 minutes of an easy going but detailed driver briefing, everyone in that session group along with any guests that are there to watch all make their way over to the dedicated paddock on the other side of the Stowe circuit. Whilst you’re grabbing your safety kit, any guests you brought along are guided by a member of staff outside as to what’s happening next and advised that they will be able to get up close with you in the car and take pictures of you whilst you’re sitting in it.

This small consideration is actually a big deal - it wasn’t always the case that your friends or family could be this close to you as you sit in the car but now they get to be around you and enjoy the fact that you are now sitting in a proper race car actually going to be driving this thing for real. My wife, Claire, bought me this experience as a gift and I was happy to see her walking right up to me as I had assumed that she was only going to be able to see me from the sidelines 10-20 metres away at best. This experience may be all about the driver but having the people that bought you this gift right there with you laughing and talking to you can calm your nerves and give both driver and spectator a reason to feel good - I love that they allow this now.

As you’re sitting in the car you are strapped in tight to a smooth formula type seat that almost disappears as soon as your backside meets it, as does the front of the car which feels impossibly small and exposed as you sit inside. The staff make sure you’re comfortable and secure and run through some final checks to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Soon enough your guests are made to vacate the area off to their vantage point, you flip your visor down and it’s finally time to flick the switch and turn the engine on. If you weren’t already hyped up, you will be once you push that button. The whole car rumbles and growls, travelling up through your spine. There’s no mistaking it now, this is no toy.

You will file out of the paddock and line up behind an instructor-driven pace car in multiple small groups. You might stall the car when you initially try to move away as it’s a performance clutch with little forgiveness for timid feet, so my tip here is to give it plenty of throttle - treat it like a vigorous hill start. It’s a racing car, give it loads of revs just to get it initially rolling or it’ll conk out and you’ll get a bit embarrassed.

Once on circuit you'll spend 10 minutes behind a pace car in multiple small groups - this gives you time to adjust to the fact that you are now on a race track driving a real formula car by yourself. Concentrate, though, as this time is not to be squandered - there is only one thing that might potentially blindside you and hamper your session in the car, and that’s the gearbox. It’s a 4 speed racing transmission that doesn’t have any synchromesh to help smooth out the gears AND you’re in a tight cockpit. This means it isn’t like your typical car’s gearbox where you can just lazily breeze it into gear with your little finger, you need to be fairly quick and forceful with it and your arm is going to feel like you’re reaching behind the back of the fridge whilst you do it. Use your time behind the pace car to get used to changing gears, you’ll be glad you did - it’s easy to trundle and forget about shifting up and down but you need this pace car time to get to know the gearbox. The slight awkwardness of the gearbox pays off when you slam it from 3rd to 4th at full speed in a flash with no syncromesh slowing the action down.

When the 10 minutes of familiarisation under controlled pace are up, you’ll file back into the paddock ready to be released onto the track for the full speed session lasting 20 minutes. Now you are truly on your own, it’s up to you from here.

The first thing you might feel is a sense that you shouldn’t be doing this, because here you are going full throttle in a 280 horsepower per ton race car with nobody sitting next to you to rein it in.

You grip the tiny formula steering wheel as the car jostles you with little wiggles left and right as it follows the track surface and you feel a metaphorical axe raised above your head when you reach the top of 4th gear on the long back straight, 100mph or so, picking the moment when you should really be slowing down. The long left-hander after the chicane gives your stomach that slightly hollow feeling as you throw the car in and let it turn as hard as it can, before you then enter the esses that lead you towards the end of the lap, buzzing each kerb and clipping each cone marker, or trying your best to at least. The right hand kink before the last corner comes at you so quickly and you feel a tiny bit of uncertainty at the back of the car as you skim over the top of it. It’s so highly repeatable with such an interesting layout with all the corner types you hope to see on a typical day out - you’ve got slow turns that lead on to long straights where you reach high speeds, you’ve got fast chicanes that tip you from side to side in the blink of an eye, you’ve got heavy braking zones where you can feel the harnesses bite into your chest, you’ve got a long mid-speed corner that pins you to the side of the cockpit, you’ve got those esses that feel so good to slice though and that last right hand kink tests your commitment as you fly into a braking zone whilst the car is still settling. It’s a really interesting track that gives you a lot of variety and those 20 minutes feel like a long time.

As this is a group activity, you won’t be the only car on track, up to 12 cars can run at once I believe but with a lap of Stowe circuit being around 1 minute long that gives each car an average of 5 seconds of fresh air between them and you can easily go multiple laps with nobody in front of you. When overtaking does need to happen, the two straights are the designated passing zones and the marshals posted on track were flawlessly observing. I think I was especially lucky with the bunch of guys I shared my session with as everyone was super courteous. I trust Silverstone above all others to call out any misbehaviour but luckily there wasn’t any to be seen. This isn’t the sort of thing that would attract casual drivers that are just out to bump into their mates and have a laugh, after all, this is serious stuff.

When the time is up and the chequered flag is waved, you’ll park back up in the paddock and flick the ignition switch off to put a neat little lid on your high-speed adventure. You’ll be sweating and smiling, your guests will be able to walk over and see your face as you lift the helmet off over your head and breathe. After my session I was just flooded with adrenaline and satisfaction. This was once again an amazing thing to do and I was really glad that my missus was there to see me in my happy place. Speaking of which, here she is now to sum up how it felt to see this gift put into action.

Given you’ve seen the onboard footage and a few photos, is the photo and video package worth it? To get everything, photos and video, costs £60 so it’s not exactly peanuts, it’s expensive enough to make you pause for thought. The 360 video is clever but the quality isn’t mind-blowing, it’s all recorded by a portable action camera with a 360 degree dome, so the video quality isn’t amazing and the audio is more or less 95% wind noise. It would be much improved if the cars were fitted with fixed lenses that give a clearer image from better vantage points with a mic feed in the cockpit away from the wind so you can hear the engine. If they did this and the quality improved as a result then this would be a 100% solid buy all day long, as it stands it’s a cool memento to have but you can judge for yourself whether you’d pay 60 quid for the photos and onboard video, check the video at the top of the article to see for yourself. Whilst the video sacrifices quality for versatility somewhat, the photos have one job to do - capture the moment. In this they succeed and I was happy with the photos. You get your media on an SD card directly after the drive and it’s nice and quick to collect.

You also get a copy of your timing sheet when you exit the car too. On the day I was actually second fastest overall, but I was beaten by a fellow iRacer so I don’t feel too bad. When I was inside the car I was convinced, "this feels so fast that there can’t surely be anyone going quicker than I am now, it’s not possible." Well it was possible...

The single seater experience casts a glimpse into the world of real world motorsport that to me, and all you folks like me, is like renting out a dream come true for a while. You will be allowed to go as fast as you like so long as you look like you’re in control, there’s nobody holding you back. This experience is also hardcore enough that, like me, you might just end up going back again someday to do it even better. There are much worse ways to spend £250 so if you’re in range of Silverstone and you’ve always wanted to drive something that actually resembles a hardcore race car, just go for it.

I’ve done this 4 times and had brilliant experiences 4 times, and if you’re scouting it out as a gift for yourself or someone else, you’re on the right track. I'll be back again someday for sure.

Buy from Buyagift

Buy from Red Letter Days

Buy from Silverstone

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