ARDS: First Step in to Racing

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I wrote this article for GirlRacer.co.uk:

What is known as the ARDS (Association of Racing Drivers’ Schools) test is the first requirement for applying for a race licence.

This test is something that I have wanted to do for years, so a build up of excitement, anticipation and nerves amalgamated to form one very notable day for me.

It all started a few weeks before when I sent off for my Go Racing Starter Pack. It contained everything needed to begin – from the MSA (Motor Sports Association) Competitors’ Year Book, ARDS DVD to paperwork for the medical and to apply for the Competition B Licence.

So what did I do first when I received my pack? I didn’t thumb through the rules and regulations in the blue book, I put the DVD on! I had heard that the DVD was the best way to learn what is required for the test and many people advised watching it several times to learn the content. Luckily my track and car experience meant I could watch the over steer and under steer demonstrations just for pleasure as I already knew what they were! It was pointed out in the DVD that if you plan to race in the UK then you should expect to have to do this in the rain. This was no surprise as I looked out the lounge window to see just that – rain! I learned the flags relentlessly so their meaning became second nature to me, anybody could shout “Red and Yellow Waived” and I could return “Slippery surface imminent”!

The week running up to my ARDS test it was difficult to concentrate on anything else. I had flags waiving in my head and racing terminology zooming around. The medical examination was slightly nerve racking because I feared they may find something wrong that I did not realise existed! It meant so much to me that I had to ensure nothing was overlooked; medical assessment completed and passport photos taken I was eager to get that licence to start racing.

The night before, I drove up to a hotel near Silverstone – the race circuit where I was to complete my test at. Luckily I won a competition with Seat and they paid for my hotel, a full ARDS day with test and tuition with Rob Barff, renowned racing driver used to strengthen driver line ups. At the hotel, I read over the flags revision again before going to bed. The plan was to get a decent night’s sleep to ensure I was well rested for the day in store. Unfortunately though, the excitement and nerves meant that I woke up roughly every 2 hours until I actually needed to get up! It’s amazing how your body cannot switch off when it has been waiting for something for years, which at the same time makes it apprehensive, excited and nervous!

At the track the test was to be done in a Renault Megane 225, with a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds, which was excellent because my love of driving stems from a French hot hatch – you cannot deny Renault, Citroen and Peugeot hold well deserved reputations for building some of the best hot hatches of all motoring existence. Think Renault 5 GT Turbo, Peugeot 205 GTI and Citroen AX GT. At the track there was some classroom learning about how the racing line is not necessarily the shortest line round the track, but more the fastest way round the track. We also learnt a wet line – which was essential on that day because it poured!

On circuit the idea in your ARDS test is to demonstrate that you are safe and in control of your vehicle. A good track driver has strong awareness of not only the car and its controls but also other track users. We were out there with Ferrari Experience Drivers on their treat days which meant at times you could be behind someone with no track driving experience at all, who brakes in the middle of a corner. Although I was not expecting them to do this, I thought the driver could be daunted by the sheer power and expense of these beautiful Italian Supercars, besides my goal was to be safe and pass my ARDS test, not show off my ability to be a monster on track! This is a key point actually and if you are thinking of doing your test, some of the best advice I received was to hold back 10% of your ability.

Rob Barff was very complimentary about my driving which I have to admit did provoke a grin from ear to ear. His words were: “The way you steered there just as we said in the classroom was short sharp steering for the slow chicane and then you relaxed and so gentle on the steering for the longer faster bend, you would make your dad very proud”. My Dad competed in the invitation only Birkett 6 hour relay race when I was just a baby and not even the roar of a V8 Aston Martin upset me! Silverstone in 1982 and Silverstone today are very different circuits but to return to where it all started was quite something.

So the practical was done and dusted, how about the theory behind it all? Well if you think a question asking you about over steer is to do with steering too much then think again, it’s not a trick question. It actually is referring to the over steer that you know - and probably love - if you are a real wheel drive fan and enjoy swinging the back out!

Incidentally the advice was right, flags are very important! The flag to start the race in the event of start light failure is the NATIONAL flag, NOT the Union Jack! It depends where you are of course. All these little pointers that I drilled in to my head in the weeks of preparation for this magical day paid off.

At the end of the day, practical was passed, theory was passed, medical certificate was handed in and I was well on the way to starting my first race. The next part of my story was to find a race championship to enter...and a car...