Living the Dream Leg Three: Pacing Piccadilly, Senna’s McLaren, British GT’s and the podium at Donington. (Oh, and a dead Hyundai i10.)

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Ash Miller in the UK
Ash Miller in the UK

History states that the great city of London is over two-thousand years old – the sheer amount of history absorbed in every crack and crevice throughout the glittering English capital would take almost as long again to document. Through wars, fires, famine and disease, the centre of the great UK empire continues to move from strength to strength.

Thankfully, these days a mild cold is about the most of your worries venturing into central London, and after crossing under the now familiar M25, I found myself venturing through the still-bustling city of the Monarch as the clock approached the midnight hour. Twisting between ages-old architecture, with the Thames on the right and Big Ben in the mirror, few sights are quite as stunning.

Finding my port of call, Clapham’s trendy southern suburb is home to relatives Neil and Francis Sanders. Having been in touch, I was very kindly offered a bed while in the heart of London.

The new day’s sunlight prompted the next phase of action, with a short walk to Clapham South tube station to catch the tube into the heart of London. Fresh Oyster card in hand, it was onto the famous underground for an adventure into the beating heart of the UK.

Thankfully, the only hard part of negotiating the tricky underground was the painfully resistant gates at the other end of the journey. Once over the barriers, it was time to hit the town.

Stepping into the heart of Piccadilly, London’s famous architecture is a wonderment for the eyes, so used to modernity. Strolling around and down to Leicester Square, every building is a sight to behold, and the vibe on the streets of Sherlock Holmes’ tales is electric. Lord Nelson towers above the city, a reminder of the great English Empire’s brute power that once propped up the greater part of the entire globe.

With time to walk around, I put my feet to work and paced alongside Hyde Park, heading towards Knightsbridge. The home of the famous Harrods, this time, wasn’t the attraction that stunned and awed my senses.

My eyes were met with a sight much prettier than shelves of merchandise, much tastier than exotic spices, and much more historic than the shop windows – Ayrton Senna’s 1988 title winning McLaren, in the flesh, in the new McLaren Cars showroom.

Having prevented myself from ruining a new shirt with drool, I got as close to the car as the guards would let me. Standing so close to the idol itself – one of THE defining cars of modern Formula One, was an awesome feeling. Seeing the name on the side, ‘Senna’, flanked by the Brazillian flag, was a reminder of the reason I was inspired to race – and, ultimately, why I now found myself in the UK to follow that dream.

Having wandered back to the tube and back to Clapham, I fitted in a quick afternoon jog around the trendy Clapham Common before finding my way out of the twisty confines of living London history. Next stop – Donington.

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Having glimpsed Senna’s McLaren in the shop front window, it seemed like a strange and eerie set of events to be turning up to the very circuit where he performed possibly his greatest drive. Wandering around the pit lane among the British GT machinery, the knowledge that here, in 1993, Senna made so many other world class drivers look decidedly amateur, was spellbinding.

Indeed the BritGT was up there with the most fascinating events. Scuderia Vittoria were again on track; however, instead of pokey, pointy Renault Clios, S.V’s vanguard were in charge of substantially more prestige models – A Ferrari 458 GT, accompanied by a Ginetta G55.

The mood was tense in the pits as the cars set off for the three-hour race into the sunset; the Ferrari held station in 5th, and the Ginetta 3rd in class, as the race rhythm settled in.

Tackling paddock hill bend will be one of the defining moments on the circuit. But rarely does a circuit emerge that has a genuine challenge, needing true commitment, like Brands

Safety car periods were frequent, and as the others worked their strategies, it became apparent that the Scuderia boys were one-up on the opposition, having made their second stop early, and jumping the others as they came in for their final pit visit. The last few laps wound down intensely, as Michael Lyons steered the 458 through the last safety car period, managing to maintain the gap as they crossed the line for an emphatic win. Although the G55 Ginetta wound up with a mechanical gremlin stopping it’s charge, it still crawled across the line to finish. Being a part of the team for such a win was awesome, and sharing the moment with the assembled Scuderia boys was something I’ll never forget.
Weekend’s don’t come much more action packed than that, so driving onwards back to Lichfield was awash with regrets at a weekend over. God help it when work happens again on a Monday.

With the week settling in, the action hasn’t stopped – albeit, action of a different nature, as the Hyundai i10 hire car decided to vomit its oil all over the road just outside of the Whorton-Eales residence as I returned to Footherley. Even away from the track, I can’t seem to escape such happenings.

Hire car down but borrowed van acquired, it was off to Palmersport’s Bedford base to sample the machinery there, and add to the amazing list of places visited, and senses thrilled. The day was spent finding out what it’s like to be part of Palmersport’s ridiculously impressive, and hugely professional setup – with so many features there to boggle the mind and mash your understanding for what’s possible behind the wheel of a car, it was yet another incredible experience to add to the list of magnificent cross-world encounters in the UK. From Caterhams to 911 Porsches, then Le Mans-style Jaguar powered prototypes and single seaters, the Palmersport fraternity is far and away the most eye-popping driving experience in the UK.

Sadly, the camera was flat for that chapter – bugger.

So, from tomorrow, the real work begins. Off to Brands Hatch to get to grips with the circuit; the historic and very quick GP circuit is famed for its Formula One races in the 80’s, a stirring, sweeping rollercoaster of tarmac laced between woods and lined with armco. With club racing usually taking place on the smaller loop, the full extent of the circuit is rarely on display. That is, until this weekend.

Tackling paddock hill bend will be one of the defining moments on the circuit. But rarely does a circuit emerge that has a genuine challenge, needing true commitment, like Brands.

Bring it on.

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