f you’re not one for reading through a review. I’ll cut to the chase – this was a great day and I learned a lot about my driving and how to drive at speed in control. I thoroughly recommend CAT Driver Training. https://catdrivertraining.co.uk
If you want to know more about my day and experience then please read on.
Millbrook Proving Ground is a very special place. There are all sort of cars being driven around the site undergoing research and development work. Due to this, I was not allowed to take photos on site. But I can tell you about what I saw. Probably the most special car I saw on the day was the Gordon Murray T 50. There were lots of McLaren cars, notably the McLaren Senna. I also saw an Aston Martin Valkyrie and Valhalla. There was also a dealer on site with a range of SUV’s from Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini and Aston Martin providing prospective customers an experience day with their vehicles of choice. There was a-lot to take in over a 700 Acre site not excluding a three wheeler Morgan being put through its paces.
I conducted training using my own car which I shared with my son. This offered me the opportunity to watch my car on some of the circuits as well as experiencing them first hand behind the wheel. Watching my car being in action and driving it myself was a great reminder of what a beautiful car the Lotus Elise is. In my opinion it’s he perfect car to learn how to drive in. The S2 111s I believe was the last Elise to not have any driver aids. With 156 bhp, the old Rover K series engine delivers perfect level of power for someone who wants to just have a blast or wants to really learn core driving skills. The handling in this car means with the right driving skill, it would put far more powerful cars to shame. What a car! What a beautiful car! Yes I love my Lotus Elise. Moving on and back to our CAT Driver training day:
Our day starts with the CAT instructor meeting us at the main Gates. We then follow our instructor to the CAT Driver Training Centre which is in the middle of the Alpine Loops. As you drive through the Millbrook facility you realise the size and incredible diversity of driving terrain available on the site.
Paul our instructor for the day makes us a cup of tea, asks us about our experience to date and then proceeds to explain the day and the objectives. In doing so, clearly demonstrating confidence in the company and the training process.
The first half of our day was a series of exercises. Designed to demonstrate you’re cars abilities and help you understand how the car behaves in different situations. It also shows you what your reactions to these situations are like, how you behave to each situation and what your natural instinct is. This is very instructive. I will take you through each of the driver training experiments.
Brake Control – Mile Straight
First up was a mile runway. We were instructed to go up to 40mph and then bring the car to a stop as quick as possible. We repeated this process and then moved up to 70mph. This was done over 2 runs. This may not sound exciting but it demonstrated when cold how the brakes snatch/lock up quite quickly and that the tyres were more prone to skidding. The instructor was able to identify which wheel had locked up too, by the behaviour of the car and the adjustment we made to keep the car straight. With the vehicle warmed up, braking became easier. The peddle feel was also notably more progressive. The braking process was an attempt at braking hard and then as the vehicle slowed to progressively push harder on the brakes to bring the car to a stop quicker. Trying to avoid modulating the brake pedal.
What made this test and the other test so good was that you were able to experience each element in isolation, helping keep your focus and experience on what was happening in that moment to you and the car. Understanding which wheel is locking up and causing the car to go off balance is useful. It may even lead to better brake maintenance or give you more confidence that your car is operating as it should. In this case, it also helped identify the control you have with your brake pedal.
During the mile test at the end of the runway, there is a curved bank that takes you back around. My instructor asked me how far I looked ahead. Which was about 10-20 feet in most cases. The instruction from this rookie error was to look further ahead and scan back. As the day progressed, this came up from time to time and I really noticed my failing in steering which was caused by me not looking far enough ahead. I will explain this in more detail later.
Accelerator Control – High/Constant Speed Circuit:
Next up was the high/constant speed circuit. This was one I felt very uncomfortable with. The teaching here was accelerator control. This is an incredible high banked ring. Designed to test a cars ability to track in a straight line at speed. Each lane had a speed number to drive at. The theory being that you can take your hands off the steering wheel and the car will track around the circuit without any driver input apart from maintaining speed. The learning here was how the car behaves and why. This really kept me thinking about my accelerator inputs. The first lane was 40mph in 4th gear. This made keeping the speed at 40 hard due at this gear selection as it was right at the low rev limit. The next stage was to go to the 4th lane and drive at 70mph. For added fun the instructor then asked me to take my hands off the wheel. maintaining speed was difficult and made worse by not having your hands on the wheel. This made me feel very uncomfortable. There were two car affects. One, the car would move between the lines slightly and second, the steering wheel had a slight judder. It was explained why these occurrences happened, unfortunately this is something I do not recall well enough to explain in this review. But my car behaved in a way a car should. Next, we moved to the outside lane and drove at 100mph. I was then asked to drive faster. I got up to 120mph but felt quite uncomfortable here too. At the top of the curved ring was a very solid steel barrier which was not at all appealing and especially while travelling at 120mph on a round circuit while steering straight. Yes, I had my hands on the steering wheel at this point.
These first two test were great for focusing your attention on a single peddle vs your inputs. All while gaining a clearer understanding on how a car works in certain situations.
Grip limits – Dynamic Pad:
This was an interesting exercise combining both accelerator and steering control. This was basically a case of follow a white line in a circle and progressively increasing speed. As speed increased, so did the steering input in order to continue following the white line. This exercise, as explained to me is why I crashed at Cadwell Park. It was explained that any big change in the input of either steering or acceleration can cause the car to spin. It was interesting holding the car on the slip limit and feeling the difference as the power increased and the affect this had on steering. In truth, I could have spent the whole day doing this. It was great fun and truthfully I think this to be a very important skill to master should your go on track days or go racing. There is another course dedicated purely to this aspect of driving ability which I intend book up soon.
Having had the basic elements of the car and driver inputs now explained to us, we head off for lunch . The plan on our return is to combine these new skills.
Outer Handling Circuit:
We put in to practice what we had learned. We also try trail braking during our circuit run. We work on steering in this section. I’ve heard conversations about looking where you are going to get the correct steering line. I’ve always thought that surely we all look where we are going? Paul talked in detail about the vanishing point. Looking ahead around the corner and then scanning back. This process helped me massively in reducing my steering input. This meant that I was faster and more fluid through the corners. The car was also far more stable.
This is not a track area and not an area I would be comfortable driving at speed. Lots of barriers and trees that don’t move. This was a great area to practice steering. I found it very satisfying to steer around long uneven corners with out making adjustment to my steering input. Something that seems to come more naturally by looking further ahead than I was previously.
Outer Handling Circuit – Consistency:
Timed laps around the circuit to prove consistency. My laps were very consistent. There was less than half a second difference and with each lap getting a bit quicker. These were short laps only 1 minute long. My son did this exercise 6 seconds quicker than me and just a little less consistent. For such a short lap I think it showed just how well my son Ashley did on track.
Summary – This was a great day. It was a solid days worth of training in my own car. You can conduct training as a single driver but I wanted to share the experience with my son. This did however mean that I only had half the time I could have otherwise had. I have a lot more to learn and need more track day experience. I’m looking to conduct more CAT training courses soon. CAT have 6 track day specific courses. I conducted lesson 1. As I work my way through the their training courses and do more track days for practice I’ll plan to give you more updates. I believe the combination of the Millbrook site and the CAT driver training approach to teaching makes this the best place to hone your skills. I can’t think of any other place that would give you the wide range of driving opportunities that are available at Millbrook.