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And so it begins… again?

After spending close to 18 months now in the UK and feeling relatively acclimated and “at-home” we’ll say, it was time to take some hobbies more seriously again. With my PRO/AM sailing opportunity to compete in the 2023 Fastnet stuck in an awkward maybe, but maybe not situation, I started to ponder what else I could do with my time this year.

A new colleague of mine on the trading floor, and club formula racer and motorsport nut outside the office, knowing I had previously raced both saloon cars and motorbikes competitively, said “why don’t you go circuit racing again?” It was a muted reaction on the spot, but over the course of the day I thought well… after all, why not explore?

Let the research begin…

So what’s this ARDS process?

This wouldn’t be a bad spot to check out my other blog post about MotorsportUK as a sanctioning body under the FIA and motorsport in the UK broadly if you’re not familiar. For the rest, let’s talk ARDS, or the Association of Racing Drivers Schools, and the ARDS test. If you started looking into circuit racing, you’ve come across this acronym, possibly together with BARS and ARKS.

Step one is to buy a “Go-Racing” starter pack (-£105). This does a few things: most importantly it contains your paid-for first year license (you’ll note it looks different than the application you would download off the MSUK website directly if you were renewing). In addition it’ll have a handful of information packets and the infamous instructional film from MSUK and accompanying 202x yearbook.

After you’ve reviewed the video once or twice and read up on Section Q of the yearbook (if you’re circuit racing), it’s time to book the ARDS test itself via one of the approved schools – in this case I went with Motorsport Vision (MSV) (-£270) at Brands Hatch outside of London.

What to expect

MSV at Brands Hatch has you doing your track driving portion (practical) in track-prepared BMW M4 cars

Your booking will be for an AM or PM session, it only takes half a day to complete. On arrival, it’ll feel a lot like a track day – check in with front desk, get directed somewhere, chat with folks, etc. I got to a classroom where I found my 3 other classmates (4 to 5 to a class if not mistaken) and shortly thereafter our theory (Peter) and practical instructors (Wil Arif) rolled in and we got started.

You start with theory, where we re-watched the MSUK video, had a light 30 minute discussion on some race concepts, reviewed flags one final time, and right into the exam we went. A few things worth mentioning:

  • You only get approximately 25 minutes to finish the exam (and you’ll probably use them all)
  • The Flags section of the exam requires a 100% in order to pass overall
  • The other scenarios-based multiple choice requires a ~80% in order to pass overall
  • You really can fail… one of the four of us did (read: not me thankfully)

After finishing (and passing…) the written portion, the class shifts to the driving half. The format is straightforward and split into 3 parts – (i) you go out with the instructor for sighting laps and to learn the racing line, (ii) swap seats and practice what you were just shown with further instructor guidance, and (iii) the instructor will tell you the examination bit is starting and will go quiet for 3-4 laps. Some quick notes:

  • You aren’t trying to set a lap record, I’d say 80-85% track day pace is more than enough
  • Navigate the track the way the instructor showed you, regardless of your take on where the racing line may be (or not be…)
  • Speak through what you’re doing; “I’m going to pass this traffic”, “I’m going to stay right here to let this car by”, “That car up ahead just spun, I’m slowing down”, “Yellow flag is waving”, etc.
  • In summary, the examiner is trying to decide if they’d be comfortable racing with/against you in a competitive environment on a circuit – nothing more, nothing less – it’s your job to show them you can hold your own and won’t be a danger, or a menace, to your fellow competitors
  • Just in case it isn’t obvious – spinning, 4x4ing on anything but the track surface, and most particularly, hitting literally anything – probably equates to a fail on the practical bit

To conclude…

So theory is checked off, driving instructor is happy with your skills, license application is stamped and signed off (good time to remind you to bring your application… casualty número dos of my group) – you’re done!

I knocked out an eye exam at a nearby optician, filled out the remaining sections of the application, got some passport pictures printed in a drunken state at midnight in one of those booths you find in train stations (Friday escapade, another story another time), put it all together and shipped it off to MotorsportUK.

… And a few weeks later, you should find this in the mail, in all of its glory. Congratulations!