Category Archives: I Like Cars

Supercar Driving Experience at Blyton Park with Bose & PSR Automotive


As a child there were two cars I wanted, a Marcos Mantis and anything with a Lamborghini badge on it. Possibly even the ‘Countach’ that was blatantly an MR2 and always parked on the road outside my friend John’s house.

I also wanted a motorbike, an Aprilia Replica (I had a poster of one on my wall). And a helicopter. And a pig. I digress.

I was invited to join Bose for a day of supercar goodness at Blyton Park with PSR Automotive. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I’d stopped listening when I heard the word ‘Lamborghini’.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes.

The Red Arrows were practicing in the sky as I drove up through Lincolnshire, smoke trailing from their tails, I hoped they were going to write something. They wrote ‘O’ and it dragged down in the sky into nothing but a blur.

Whilst everyone tucked into their bacon sarnies and hot tea the rumours started to circulate, ‘That’s Dan from HQ, he’s a racing driver, but so modest!’ and, as the briefing began, ‘That’s Ben, he does track days!’ said the man next to me. There was a sense of nervousness, awe and excitement in the air.

I spoke to Ben ‘he does trackdays’ later. It was he who’d organised the event for Bose, using it as a sales incentive to drive business in stores across the UK, he also knew the joy and positivity that would come from such an experience and be carried forward in performance long after. Bose have sponsored Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 for the past three years, so there’s an obvious motorsport affiliation there, but it’s not every day the sales team get to drive a fleet of supercars, without limits!

We were split into groups of six, I was in the green team. We headed off to our first activity, the Autotest. Green team were excited, so excited that one of us had to go for a pee behind a shed. (Not me, this time).


The Autotest was a challenge of car control (in a BMW 130i) through a short course of cones – flat out, braking, turning, zigzagging, reversing into a ‘garage’ and slamming the brakes on at the finish line. The rest of green team talked about their cars and their abilities, one of the lads felt he’d suck at reversing as he wouldn’t be able to see through his own bicep. I was last to go, we were running out of time so I didn’t get to take all of the practice runs, but I still managed to be 2nd, much to my team’s surprise!

Later on we’d each have six cars to drive, three short laps per car, with the same instructor all day so that they could complete an assessment sheet on our lines, pace, progress etc.

There was a buffet lunch and a hot lap in an Aston Martin. As I got out of the car Marc, the driver (who also races a KTM X-BOW in Europe) handed me a USB stick containing footage of the lap. You’ve seen these things, where people scream with fear and joy, and try to grab on to things that aren’t there? Not me. When I watched mine back I was embarrassed. What is a ‘flappy paddle doo dah’, and why was I basically interviewing him about his life and telling him where I was born?

Then we had to go against the clock on a driving simulator. I was most terrible at this activity. All I did was shout ‘Jesus’ and ‘someone help me!’ No one helped me.

But let me tell you about the real cars.

Lotus Evora (3.5l V6, 300bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 170mph). Of all the cars this is the one I was most familiar with and I felt quite pleased it was the first supercar I’d be driving. Actually, I felt quite pleased that a Lotus was classed as a supercar! I’m a big fan of all things Lotus, and I love that they hail from the depths of Norfolk. I found it very comforting to drive, a real joy, but the gear change was lagging. This Evora had one of the earlier boxes, and apparently, the new ones are awesome – but how will I know until Lotus send me one to drive, hey?!


Porsche 911 turbo (3.8l Flat 6, 530bhp, 0-60 in 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). I have never had any interest in Porsches. I lie. The Le Mans ones are wicked, and in my first job (at Britain’s oldest newspaper!) I did photograph a lot of Porsches, mostly in trees and walls. I was so surprised to enjoy driving this car as much as I did. Whilst I still struggled with the flappy paddle gearbox (my fault, not the cars, I am used to driving a manual £150 Golf!) I loved the smoothness of the drive and felt immediately at ease driving it. So much at ease that I made the instructor /car guardian squeal and grab the steering wheel!

Audi R8 (5.2l V10, 532bhp, 0-60 in 3.4sec, max speed 196mph).
This car felt like a super-fast heavy weight. It didn’t feel as easy to drive as I thought it would, but that might be because I’d just stepped out of the more dainty engined 911 and this thing had way more grunt, felt more responsive and gave much more feedback than the Porsche. The R8 also sounded magnificent!


Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 ( 5.0l V10, 552bhp, 0-60 3.2sec, max speed 205mph). What was that, a choir of angels singing? I thought so. I never thought it would be possible to fall in love with a car, but, wow! When can I get one? Driving the Gallardo was like reaching another plane of understanding, like some kind of ethereal out-of-body experience. It was such a beautiful experience that I could barely concentrate on anything else, to the point that I didn’t even hear the instructor when he told me to go in, so I accidentally took four laps instead of three. Oopsie!

Ford Mustang GT (4.6l V8, 315bhp, 0-60 in 4.9sec, max speed 150mph). I would have actually been happy to only drive one lap in this car. It made a great sound, but it wasn’t for me. I like to be able to go round corners and not feel like I’m sitting in a massive box. Of course it was left hand drive, but after my death trap driving experience (now there’s a concept for you!) in Rwanda the other month, this was not something that fazed me. But, that red leather interior, I’m still not over that!


Aston Martin Vantage (4.7l V8, 430 bhp, 0-60 in 4.0sec, max speed 180mph). After the Mustang, this was the car that least interested me, so I was surprised to enjoy it much more than I thought I  would. It certainly wasn’t a track car, but I can see why people would love this on the road. It was very comfortable, and fun to drive. It could have been more fun if the instructor hadn’t grabbed at the wheel as I got the back end out on the last corner though!

All in all, a very enjoyable day. There was one major disappointment for me though, I didn’t get to bring the Lamborghini home.

Lamborghini. Heart eyes!


I was a guest of Bose and PSR Automotive. I did all my own driving, wowing and wooing, and as always, my opinions are my own.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Brands Hatch (Round 9)

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The last sprint of the season, and where better to be than Brands Hatch? Brands Hatch! I felt lucky and nervous. We’ve been there a few times (like that time we went to the truck racing and Mark delighted in finding a ketchup covered umbrella in the bin), but we’d never driven there.

It felt like ages since we’d been in the car, we’d missed round 8 of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship at Curborough because Adam drove into a wall and I had an operation to remove my unicorn horn.

We arrived the night before, stayed at the Mecure Brands Hatch hotel, hung out in the bar with our racing driver pals. We talked about cars and puzzled at the thinness of Nigel’s peppercorn sauce.

The bedroom was nice. The wallpaper above the bed depicted a speedo display (not the swim trunks, thankfully) and everything was all grey, red and white, like a boys bedroom from the eighties.

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We woke early in the morning, stumbled across the chequered flag patterned carpet and checked out. Actually, Adam checked out, I took pictures of the carpet.

We met everyone in the paddock, went to get scrutineered, and picked up copy of the programme. That’s me on the front cover! I’d like to say it’s because I am their star driver, but it’s possible that I was the only person going slow enough for them to get a clear shot.

I wore my (un)lucky shoes. You know, the ones that got covered in concrete last month. They had to be broken from their cast and forced into the washing machine before un-crisping with wear.

In a change from our normal order, I was first driver and Adam second. We took the car up to the holding area and waited for the VW qualifying to finish so we could go out for our practice – two runs, back to back.

The air was damp, and a light drizzle began to fall. I headed off the start line, slowly, trying to remember my way round, telling myself, as I swooped down Paddock Hill, ‘Don’t let off, don’t let off, don’t let off!’ Completing my one and a half laps I headed back across to the pit lane to swap over with Adam. Except, I didn’t turn into the pits, I turned back onto the track… whoops! I didn’t know which way to go, so I just went, and, well, as I drove round and saw the angry faces of marshals mouthing who knows what at me, I realised it was clearly wrong. Double thumbs up, and with a forced grin on my face, I drove the half lap back round to the finish again, where luckily there was now a marshal to direct me (with very vigorous arm movements) back to safety.

Practice number two got underway and as the drizzle let off the track felt a lot drier. I was over 13 seconds faster than my first practice, which was a relief.

Mark Swarbrick managed to spin off 3 times in one run, bless him. Martin Roberts, Nick Emery, Rob Holt, Terry Baker, Stuart Cheshire – they all went spinning, and Martin Scarfe broke his car on track – something to do the the distributor cap, I think.

And then it was time to wait for the afternoon to come round. To sit around and talk, look at expensive watches, and to eat cake. Luckily Mark’s Exige came readily equipped with a built-on cake serving station, and the bright orange paintwork complimented the lemon drizzle cake perfectly.

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The track was dry, and it was time for the three timed runs. As I came down Paddock for the second time, I saw a red Cup 220 Elise in front of me, in the distance. The thought of, ‘Hey! I’m catching them up!’ then became a reality and turned into, ‘Uh oh!’ I’m catching them up!’

I let off the throttle for fear that I might put them off or make them jump by sneaking up on them. It may have slowed me down a second or so, but it didn’t matter, I still had two more runs to go and the car was getting warmed up. To be fair, it was probably karma for my accidental wrong-turn sighting lap earlier!

Run two 144.21, run three 142.65. In total I knocked just over 25 seconds off from my first practice, to my last run. Considering I’d never driven there before, and also that I didn’t need to carry a map, I feel pretty happy with that. It put me 11th out of 14, and to be honest, I thought I would probably be 14th. Adam, on the other hand wowed us with a time of 135.78 and 4th place. He didn’t need a map either.

The results…

Production:
1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake

Production Modified:
1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Simon Foley, 3rd Andy Pidgeon

Supersport:
1st James Tubby, 2nd Stuart Cheshire, 3rd Russell Whitworth

Supersport Modified:
1st Nick Emery, 2nd Rob Clark, 3rd Paul Neale

Jez Braker was in a class all of his own, wafting round the track in the comfort of his Z3.

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It was a fun and successful day, but what had been on almost everyone’s minds throughout it’s entirety was the Championship.

Xavier Brooke was crowned the champion in Production, and Duncan Fraser in Supersport. I was a bit disappointed we didn’t get to parade them around on our shoulders, but their trophies would have been too heavy for us to carry.

Nigel Hannam missed winning the Production Championship by just 1 point. One. Duncan already had the Supersport Championship in the bag before Brands, which was lucky, because he didn’t have a car to drive.

Overall for the year I came 14th out of 38, and 6th in the class I was competing in – Production. (7th in Production and Production Modified combined). That sounds good. Well done Karen!

Adam came 4th… overall, in the combined championship results, 4th out of 38. Bloody brilliant. I taught him well.

Onwards!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Hethel (Round 7)

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Last time we were sprinting at Hethel I had a bit of a bad experience with a small but angry man. I was put off. I did think about not doing this round, but I really do love the track, and I didn’t want to miss out. I’m also now prepared with my windscreen washer jets ready and aimed, just below waistline for the embarrassment factor.

Back into Norfolk we headed, through villages with funny names, passed fields of free-range piglets. We arrived in good spirits and drank milky tea, stood in the warm wind.

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One of the organisers asked if we had our club trophies with us, I wasn’t sure, but, remaining positive, I said we could always make some. I reckoned I could find some old half eaten sandwiches later on, and they’d do the trick. I once got stuck on the M6 for four hours and fashioned a birthday card for Adam from rubbish I found in the footwell. Crafty.

We were soon underway with the first practice. Adam did an incredible 140.46, the fastest practice in class, and I did an embarrassing 150.10. Not really a terrible time, but seriously, almost 10 seconds behind Adam… come on!

Returning to the paddock we heard the scream of tyres and a loud thud. Clouds of gravel dust filled the air, and as it settled we saw that Simon Foley had hit the barrier. It felt like ages before we knew that he was okay, he seemed to be in the car forever. At first we thought he was in there, then we thought he must have got out, then we wondered if he’d got bored and jogged off.

They pulled his car out of the barrier and back into the paddock. Simon was fine, his car was a mess. Adam, Duncan and Mark took the under tray off, and other things, and everyone chipped in somehow. I stuck extra large googley eyes on the back of the car, and Martin Scarfe stamped on a wasp.

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It was soon time for the second practice, and I stood waiting with Jill at the driver changeover point on the pit lane, watching the cars go by. Adam was going well, he really was. ‘Wow!’ I thought, ‘Adam’s really going for it!’ as he whizzed past and spun into the pit wall, hitting the large painted Lotus emblem with the hind quarters of the car, like a big-butted target practice. He dragged the car off, finished his lap and came back in. We took the car back to the paddock, pulled off the loose bits, and asked the scrutineer over to check he’d be happy with us going out again. The consensus was gaffer tape, and a lot of it.

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There was too much taping to be done, and not enough time, so I had to forfeit my second practice and get the cake out instead. A nice old-school sponge, with raspberry jam and buttercream. (Later on Xav said the cake was the highlight of his day. I had to agree, and I didn’t even have a slice!)

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Mark and Phoebe headed off to Waitrose and returned with a haul of ice creams for everyone. I had a Fruit Pastilles lolly and it was rather nice, but very difficult to eat in the hot sun.

Back to the sprinting, Adam’s first timed run was over 3 seconds slower than his first practice… I wonder why that was?! Mine was 148.98. Parp.

Swiftly, or not so, onto the second timed run, and Adam managed 141.75, which was damn good. Putting him just 0.43 seconds behind Xavier Brookes who ended up taking first. Eventually!

I did 146.74, which is not my fastest time at Hethel, but it was still not bad, and enough to gain me 4th place, which I do believe is the highest position I have achieved in sprinting (unless you count ladies trophies, of course).

Some drivers got called back to have another go because there had been a fault with the timing gear. They rushed their race suits back on, and rolled their cars off the trailers, heading back to the start line.

Somehow something went wrong with the timing gear again. We waited patiently. And then we went home. The guys from Borough 19 must have had some serious number ninja-ing to do, because it wasn’t until four nights later, that the result arrived.

What’s this? Oh yeah! It’s the results from Hethel…

Production:
1st Xavier Brooke, 2nd Adam Ruck, 3rd Phil Stratton-Lake

Production Modified:
1st Martin Scarfe

Supersport:
1st Stuart Cheshire, 2nd Andy Hughes, 3rd Jill Cheshire

Supersport Modified:
1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Nick Emery, Jason Weatherall

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I was sad about the car, Adam was sad about the car. But, let’s look at the positives – it’s all about the experiences, and about learning news things.

So, here’s two top things I learnt from the experience: however good my mum is at knitting, she still can’t be persuaded to knit a new rear clam for the Elise, and, however much suncream you use, sunburn can still have a debilitating effect. I couldn’t lift my left arm for three days.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Blyton Park (Round 6)

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We checked in at the Wortley House Hotel. They took a swipe of my card, just incase I tried to steal a tele. Getting to the room, Adam realised he’d forgotten to pack my special driving shoes (clapped-out old Converse). ‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘We’ll go and find a Tesco’. I’ve never had supermarket shoes before, but I know that they are cheap, and I also know that they are probably made by children.

We got in the car, and, almost immediately, we got out again. The battery was flat. After a few minutes of flapping, I phoned Mark. ‘Any chance you could pick us up a battery charger?’ I asked, half joking, half desperately hopeful. His response was quick, of course he would, he was near Grantham and would take a detour. ‘No Problems. Anything else you need?’ he asked politely. ‘Yeah, could you get me some shit shoes?!’

An hour later Mark and Phoebe arrived bearing gifts – a battery charger, and £10 plimsolls from Sainsbury’s, gratefully received.

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We had dinner, we had drinks, we chatted with other LCUK Speed friends, and then we headed off to bed. On our way up Phoebe noticed flyers on the windscreens of the cars, she suggested we go and remove them so our windows weren’t slurred with papery wet stodge by the morning. I handed them to the guy on reception, they were from a rival hotel. He seemed unfazed. ‘But they’ve spelt corner wrong!’ I prodded at the capital K. ‘No, that’s how they spell it,’ he said, matter-of-factly. ‘This isn’t the nineties!’  I said, as I stomped off to bed.

We slept to the hum of the battery charger and woke to the thought of breakfast.

I couldn’t get the room door to lock as we left, so I told reception that it was still open, and that if anyone had done a dump on the bed, it wasn’t me. I mean, they already had the idea that I was illiterate and might do a runner with the tele, so I was just forestalling any other judgements they might have made of me.

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We arrived at Blyton Park. The grey sky hung over us, still and unmoving. As the first practice got underway, the rain started to fall. Lightly at first, but as we queued, it got heavier. My optimism turned into disappointment. 87.21, slow coach.

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The rain stopped play, and we all gathered under the gazebo for shelter. I shuffled round, trying to avoid conversations about Brexit. The rain began to slow, Xav brought out the chocolate brownies (props to his lovely daughter for sending them along with him) and we were told we could take our second practice, if we wanted to.

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It was wet. I eased my way round the track, splashing through puddles and taking in the view. 100.41, surprisingly not the slowest car out there.

After lunch the sun came out. I actually shouted ‘Sun! Sun!’ and might have come across a little bit deranged. Again.

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The track was still slippy, and my shit shoes were giving me gyp, sliding around on the grass and mud covered pedals (thanks Adam!) and feeling like I was wearing heavy cardboard shoe boxes, not shoes. I got an 83.09 and Adam got a DNF as he wasn’t fully on the track as he crossed the finish line. We cleaned the footwell with an old towel and vowed to be better organised with shoes and useful things in future. (Who are we kidding?!)

The track was dry for the second timed run, but I just didn’t feel that confident, until I’d gone all the way round and was back in the paddock wishing we could have another go. 78.47 for me, and another DNF for Adam. He was going so well, I mean soooo well, but then, just a second from the finish line, he spun off, firing a cone in the air like some kind of disappointing £3.50 fireworks finale.

I was 9th out of 13. Adam was 13th. Unlucky.

And now, over to the winners enclosure…

Production: 1st Nigel Hannam, 2nd Xavier Brooke, 3rd Richard Hardwicke

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Andrew Pidgeon (Coincidentally, both the fastest and the slowest drivers of the day – unless you count Adam of course, who didn’t even get a time!)

Supersport: 1st Andy Hughes, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Russell Whitworth

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Paul Neale

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We drove home, weaving along the country roads across the fields of Lincolnshire, and, as the lights faded we knew what was to come. Bloody alternator!

The rest of the journey involved poor Adam pushing the car uphill, the most massive disappointment in the AA, a recovery driver who couldn’t recover the car the 8 miles we had left to travel because his tacho had nearly run out, a taxi ride, picking up the Mercedes, and limping the Elise home.

You know how some days you realise that you should have just stayed at home?!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship 2016 – Silverstone (Round 5)

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We drove over to Silverstone the night before and met up with some of the other drivers. They’d been to Abingdon CARnival for round four of the LCUK Speed Championship.  We’d not been at Abingdon for several reasons, one of them being that I don’t like portaloos. We got scrutineered, signed on, walked the track, and chatted to people.

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We found food in Milton Keynes, at Middleton’s. It was kind of weird because there’s a Middleton’s in Middleton, Norfolk and it’s a pub-type place, with their own little butchery at the back. This version was busy and ‘trendy’ with industrial ceilings and steel mesh room-dividers. I’m not usually into chains, but this one is small, and good. Somebody smashed a plate and our waitress Ioana told us that in her country (Romania) it was customary to throw plates and glasses out of your upstairs windows in celebration.

We listened to Salt-N-Pepa in the car. Parked in the petrol station, ate ice creams and discussed what ‘cool’ cars we could buy and drive fifteen hundred miles to Romania.

Back at the Hilton, the room smelt of oldness, like my nan’s purse. There was a fly circulating. The bed creaked and graunched with the slightest movement. I discarded the dirty pillow and slumbered off.

I woke at 4am to the sound of city bird song; vocals influenced by ringing phones and car alarms. It was so loud, surprisingly loud. Turns out Adam had opened the window – that’s why I had itchy hay-fever eyes and it sounded like there was a pigeon on my bedside table.

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The day started off foggy and cool. At Silverstone Stowe we were briefed by the MG Car Club team. There were little historical tit-bits thrown in, it was clear that they were proud of their connection to the site, and rightly so.

Whilst we prepared for the sprinting, elsewhere at Silverstone it was day two of the world’s largest MG event, MG Live, and Lotus Cup Europe racing was underway.

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For some reason, I felt nervous. I wasn’t the only one. It might have been the massive and intimidating tyre walls that were striking fear into us all, or maybe it was just excitement. The track looked awesome. Bendy bendy awesome.

First practice got underway, Nigel met with the tyres, Xav bypassed them by going straight on through the chicane. My time was 65.63 and at that moment I was 6th. That moment soon passed!

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The sun started to break through, and we got on with practice two. I was slower than I had hoped to be, I didn’t have enough wang, and I couldn’t quite remember where I was going. I don’t think any of us had driven here before. But you know, in my first year of sprinting I used to have to take a map with me at all times (see here) so really, for me, I was showing excellent improvement!

We had our first timed run, and a bit of fun as Martin Roberts pirouetted  over the line. Then it was lunch time. I drank a can of ginger beer/liquid sugar. I love ginger beer, but not this one.

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The sun was shining properly now, we took our second, and then third runs. I got my time down to 61.51. I really wanted to be below 60, but I’m not that good.

There were a lot of cars to get through, over 100 of them, but we still managed 2 practices, 3 timed runs, a lunch break and a peace-and-quiet break for the local vicar to deliver his sermon. Nice.

Adam ended up 3rd, with there not being much between his time and the four drivers behind him. I was 9th, out of 11. I was exactly 3 seconds slower than Adam. That’s too much.

Overall I was 44th out of 104. That sounds alright.

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The roll of honour looked like this…

Production: 1st Xavier Brooke, 2nd Nigel Hannam, 3rd Adam Ruck

Production Modified: 1st Stephen Morrison, 2nd Barry Savage

Supersport: 1st Russell Whitworth, 2nd Martin Roberts, 3rd Dave Pollard

Supersport Modified: 1st Duncan Fraser, 2nd Nick Emery, 3rd Jason Weatherall

And hey, guess what? I won a trophy! MG Car Club Best Lady Driver. Yes, that’s right, fastest womb on the track. Woot woot!

It was such a great day. A wonderful track, and a brilliantly organised event. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get to see LoTRDC main man Paul Golding – but then I saw a photograph of him dressed as a (female?) Brazilian volleyball player, and felt just a little bit relieved that our paths had not actually crossed!