Eyes Wide Open
SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND – It’s been a while since we’ve last caught up. We had a great time at the Formula Ford Festival and ended a really good weekend of intense competition by finishing among the top 10 in the Grand Final, which was respectable given the amazing quality of our competition.
We slept in at the hotel the night after the Festival and left early Monday morning for Woking to visit the McLaren Technology Centre. After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at what seemed like an empty hilly field; but as you drive on, the hill to your left slowly ends and you’re left with the insane sight that is McLaren. With a man-made lake in front, the giant metal monolith lays in the middle of the big hilly fields. It’s unlike anything I had seen before, and to add to our disbelief we soon learned this space-age building was constructed in 2004.
As we ventured closer two glass doors slid open and allowed us into the building, which was just as mental inside as it was out. Each of their championship winning cars, all in rows, were backlit by the massive windows that line one side of the outer ring of the structure. It is an amazing sight, and as Scott (Huffaker) and I stood in awe, we were rounded up into an elevator that was completely glass, and walked onto a walkway above the entrance – which was also completely glass, sensing a theme? Our guide, Danielle Fenemore, escorted us through each and every car with just about every fact there is about each. She then took us down their long corridor of every trophy they’ve ever won, dating back to Bruce McLaren’s first ever win in 1954.
We then ventured off to the factory where the road cars are manufactured and got a sneak peak of the latest McLaren GT (for Grand Touring), the first model that has been aimed at a more luxurious customer base, rather than one that’s just hunting for speed. For instance, the trunk has to have enough room for a set of golf clubs! We continued and went back toward the main part of McLaren until Danielle swiped her key card at a wall, and it slowly opened – of course there were secret doors! Behind it was every F1 car McLaren built and still owns, from the beginning in the 1960s until now. Impressed by that, we were then taken to the Formula 1 “Mission Control” room where the 30 engineers who stay at home base monitor every moment of every session at every race! They receive live telemetry and data and make real-time decisions for the cars on track thousands of miles away. It was a truly insane experience and one I’ll never forget!
After a night in with our parents in London, Scott and I met up with auto racing historian Steve Nickless for a visit to West Surrey Racing (WSR) on Tuesday. WSR might not be a particularly well-known name in the U.S. but it runs the ultra-successful BMW Project X program in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC). Dick Bennetts, originally from New Zealand, is the team owner, and he (and his team) have run F3 cars way back. They at one point ran both Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen, two idols of mine. Nevertheless, being in the sport for so long Mr. Bennetts had a huge amount to speak about – and loads for Scott and I to learn about – in nearly every form of motorsport there is. We spent an hour just in his office speaking about all things motor racing, from our thoughts on Formula E to how he switched to running a Ralt chassis from a March back in the early ’80s!
He then showed us around his shop and taught us all about the rules and regulations of the BTCC, and how they (and every team) always push the rules! We got a close up look at the BMW 3-series chassis he had run all season and won the championship – again – with Colin Turkington. The tour was amazing, but it was even more amazing to learn so much about all Mr. Bennetts had to offer! It’s always cool to get new viewpoints about different forms of motorsport.
The last two days since our tour of WSR we have been testing at Silverstone in preparation for the Walter Hayes Trophy. It’s a very cool sight to drive into a track you’ve played on video games your whole life. It’s just as much fun as I’d imagined; with the long sweeping nature of the corners, it’s very high speed and tricky to get right. Rain is in the forecast for the rest of the weekend but either way we know it will be a great event and I can’t wait to get started. So until then….