Driving on a racetrack feels like it’s quite a different skill to driving on the road. But, in a subjective way, does track time help you to become more accomplished when you’re tackling your favourite B-road, or just ploughing up the M1?
To find out, I spent the day at the Goodwood Circuit, in rural West Sussex, where Alfa Romeo had arranged for me to take my ARDS test.
The Association of Racing Drivers Schools test is designed for people who’ve done a few track days and now fancy going racing in the UK. It requires you to pass a medical, a multiple-choice written exam – where your knowledge of the flags used by marshals at races is tested – and take an on-track driving assessment.
Alfa provided a Giulietta Cloverleaf to take the test in. My instructor took the wheel first, showing me the racing lines and rattling off the names of the track’s major bends and twists with impressive fluency.
Then it was my turn. The Goodwood circuit is pretty old school – it’s very fast – mostly tackled in fourth and fifth gears in the Alfa, with very little in the way of run-off areas.
A quick check to ensure that my driving position was spot on, with the seat set low and the wheel brought up close, and we were off.
The Giulietta offers just enough power and grip to let you focus on being smooth with your steering, throttle and braking inputs.
A key section of the assessment is your ability to manage the transfer of the car’s weight, so as not to overwhelm the tyres, and to be super-smooth with your throttle, braking and steering – all skills that are all great for staying in control on the road.
The increased speed on the track requires you to look much further ahead, while passing slower cars forces you to trust your peripheral vision – both pretty useful to bear in mind when taking on a busy motorway.
It’s a track assessment, so speed is more important than when you hit the road. However, the ARDS test is about ensuring that you’re a safe driver – rather than a super-speedy one – when you hit the track.
And although I don’t have grand plans to take up racing full time, having my driving examined for the first time since I passed my driving test, and picking up some useful skills feels positive, both for driving on the road and the track.