Millbrook Driver Development Day 2016

First we hear from Ian Phillips who organised the event for us.


Another great day packed full of driving experiences was once again delivered by CAT driver training at Millbrook proving ground.  For those of you that have never been, Millbrook is a vehicle proving ground set in the Bedfordshire countryside just south of Bedford.


Colin & Jo from CAT always give you a warm welcome and today was no different.  We were met by Jo at the gatehouse, where the security staff put stickers over the lenses of everyone’s camera phones, and she then took us up to their facility located adjacent to the Alpine Loops part of the circuit.  Jo served up tea, coffee and biscuits while Colin ran through an explanation of what the day would involve and a safety briefing.

We were then taken down to the mile straight where we all had to take their Kuga up to 70mph and hit the brakes as hard as we could without getting the ABS to cut in.  Amazingly you can do that three times without running out of track.  At the end of the straight Colin goes through one of his favourite techniques of Single Input Steering (apparently one of Ayrton Senna’s favourites as well).


After this we moved on to the handling circuit and the Nissan 350z.  Colin has an ability to explain things like no one I’ve ever come across before and has the ability to produce those Light Bulb Moments, where what your body does to the controls of the car and how the car behaves on the road all start to make sense.  The day was a little wet and I was slightly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get the most out of the car and the circuit.  How wrong can you be?  Yes people – with the right instruction and safe environment you can push a 350z right to the limit of its traction and corner at some quite incredible speeds.  All six of us stepped out of the car with a grin on our faces, some grins bigger than others.  During the fun with the Nissan Jo came down to the circuit with fresh tea, coffee and more biscuits (I told you they look after you).

Once we’d finished with the handling circuit we drove back up to the CAT facility for lunch.  Colin even let me drive the Nissan on my own without him in the co pilot seat trusting me not to hoon off on the circuit by myself.  An excellent buffet was enjoyed by all while Colin made ready the race prepared Suburu Imprezza which was for me no doubt the highlight of the day.


Climbing in to the car was a little tricky as you had to negotiate the full roll cage and the race harness while lowering yourself into the very low bucket seat.  The eldest in our party was 89 and managed that ok, so age is no barrier to having fun in a car.  Each of us had our turn at driving the Subaru and I couldn’t wait to get going.  To give you some idea of what it’s like take a look at this   When all you can see as you’re approaching a hairpin crest is sky and Colin is saying Gas Gas Gas!  You have to take somewhat of a leap of faith but then you realise that corner is behind you and the next one is looming and you have to prepare for that.  Into the corner brake to get the correct speed, a bit of gas to level the car, now power through the corner, clip the apex and out the other side.  Oh look the SYSTEM!  As we came to the end of the loops for the second time and Colin said we’d head back he turned and said “ well done excellent drive I’ve nothing else to add”  Wow high praise from the master.


I think everyone enjoyed the day and each individual took away something slightly different.  Colin has a unique ability to judge people’s skill level and will tailor his training to suit your needs.  If you ever want to push your skills that little bit further than you can on the roads CAT are, in my opinion, the people to do that for you.  If you’re interested in doing something in the future let me know as I will organise another event later in the year.


And now we hear from Ray Blewitt, who attended the event


On Saturday 16th April 2016 a group of NAM observers and members attended another driver development day at CAT Driver Training located at Millbrook proving ground Bedfordshire.

Once again Colin and Jo from Cat were very welcoming and friendly.


Meeting in the car park we were met by Jo who ensured we had run through security and were ready to enter the site. Then onto Cat’s facility in the centre of the Alpine tracks.  Colin welcomed us whilst Jo made sure we were comfortable with drinks and snacks, and that we all had got the correct paperwork.  The question of what we would all like to achieve was asked and answers varied from having fun to evaluation of skills and techniques.


Next was a presentation on cornering techniques and vehicle dynamics, also how best to get through corners and what affects grip levels and how tyres are affected by forces exerted both through direction, road surface, speed , suspension and also the make-up of the tyre. (We all know that cheap tyres afford less grip.) Also how the way we steer has a direct input onto the vehicle handling. One of Colin’s favourite saying with this is Single Input Steering i.e. only moving the steering wheel once in every corner. Also the cause and effects of under steer and over steer, grip limits and how to maintain balance.


Now onto the fun bits. We then headed down to the mile straight. Vehicle used on this was a ford Kuga. Two techniques were used. For those who had never used ABS a full ABS stop from speed was used starting at 30 mph and going up to 70mph. Remember that ABS (Antilock Braking Systems) is designed to prevent the wheels locking so as to allow steering to be possible in emergency situations but does mean that the vehicle slows at a reduced rate. And for those who have been before Threshold Braking was used this is an emergency brake from 70mph to stop with as much force on the pedal possible but without the ABS coming into play. Technique is required for this due to as the vehicle slows and also as the brakes are held the brakes become more efficient and also the slower the vehicle the less braking force is required. If you manage to get to the limit of adhesion between the road and the tyres and maximum braking force the tyres on the front of the vehicle start to flex and the vehicle starts to become lively at the front. Keep calm and all is well.


Next onto the bowl and a demonstration of how using the accelerator can retain balance on the vehicle when steering is applied. Travel at 30mph lift off and steer sharply the body rolls weight is transferred unequally and traction is reduced, understeer is induced. Same again but with the gas held again the vehicle becomes unstable but not quite as much. 3rd time and with gentle acceleration through the weight is evened out and the vehicle remains controlled.

Next onto the handling circuit and time to implement what was demonstrated. Vehicle this time is a Nissan 350Z. This is now used to fine tune use of system and how to use the throttle to give balance through corners and a series of bends again this is done at speeds of up to 60ish mph. Obviously these are the places to hone any driver skills at speed due to this being the safest place.


Next we all head back up to CAT’s facility for lunch and more tea and coffee.  Option time now and we get to choose what we want to take round the 3 stages of the Alpine Loops. All of us choose to try the Subaru Impreza WRC this is a vehicle that has also been modified to make it even faster. Each member takes their turn in this as 1 it only has 2 seats and 2 you wouldn’t want to be in the back anyway. Out onto the circuit for a couple of laps using the system, limit point driving and techniques acquired or refined during the day. Again this is done up to speeds of around 60 mph as that is the speed limit and yes the instructor does tell you when you exceed this (oops). Remembering that this is a track so you can push just that little bit harder and faster.


After everyone has been round and those who needed have recovered a discussion about what we are taking away which also includes how we found the vehicles etc.  Conclusion everyone enjoyed themselves as usual and the scuby is quick enough to scare yourself in.


Many thanks to CAT Driver Training for another excellent day.

Ray Blewitt



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