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21 August 2014

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Driving Days

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In a spin over the choice of driving experiences on the market? The Square Meal Venues & Events team steers you through the options


Mithril Racing Corporate Driving Days Nothing builds relationships – and morale – like sharing an experience with colleagues. And in a corporate climate where anything from giant Jenga to spa breaks can pass as teambuilding, a high-octane driving day makes the perfect antidote to away-day fatigue. Not just a memorable experience, it presents a challenge, encourages healthy competition and makes staff feel valued by their company.

Mediacom associate director Dan Wood says: ‘I love car racing – it’s a brilliant day out. It’s great to do something that challenges you personally but also adds up to a team experience. We talked about our office driving day for weeks afterwards.’

Having experienced great days out at Silverstone, Rockingham and with the Land Rover Experience and Ian Wright Organisation, the Square Meal Venues & Events team was so hooked on driving that we decided to explore the options available. 

Over the following pages, you’ll find details of the best track days, off-road experiences and alternative driving options currently available in the UK. From supercars to go-karts, via tanks and hovercrafts, there’s a driving experience to suit just about everyone, whether they’re a novice or a seasoned enthusiast. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.


TRACK DAYS

Home of the British Grand Prix, Silverstone (tel: 08704 588230) is a track that any true motoring enthusiast would give their platinum hubcaps to conquer. If it’s variety you’re after, this is where you’ll find the UK’s widest range of cars and facilities. These are shown off to the full in the adrenalin-packed Grand Prix Challenge day, which costs £699 a head and includes a no-nonsense line-up of supercars, high-performance coupés, rally cars and 4x4s. For something a bit less intense, Silverstone also offers tailor-made packages, for which companies can choose how many cars they would like to drive. The circuit lies within reach of London in Northamptonshire. The journey time from Euston, including transfer to the track, is typically just under an hour-and-a-half.

The oval circuit at Rockingham (tel: 01536 271274) is considered Europe’s top venue for speed demons who want to push their cars to the limit. Purpose-built in 2001, it has enough track for three events to be held at the same time and can accommodate a maximum of 80 drivers, divided into teams of 16. For the ultimate corporate event – recommended if you’re making the journey to Northamptonshire (one hour by train, two by car or coach) – the Platinum package offers a packed day’s racing and ample refreshment for £595 a head.

Its range of track days may be less impressive than those offered by Rockingham and Silverstone, but Brands Hatch in Kent (tel: MotorSport Vision, 01474 872331) is conveniently located just 20 miles south-east of the City. It lays on rally driving and off-roading alongside single-seater racing cars, high-performance saloons and karts.

If you’re based in west London, Thruxton Motorsport Centre (tel: 01264 882222) is an hour and a half away, and has recently added the Porsche Cayman, Lamborghini LP640 and Porsche 997 Turbo to its fleet. Thruxton is considered a venue for serious drivers, so its circuit is longer than most to maximise track time. The centre has great karting and off-road facilities available too.

For the truly Porsche-mad, the race coaches at Rupert Lewin (tel: 0870 350 0911) will train groups of up to 20 to tame the German supercar in a day at the 911 Race Car Experience.

Meanwhile, at Castle Combe Circuit (tel: 01249 782417) in Wiltshire, the corporate events team is ready to put together an afternoon or day of racing fun. Depending on their schedule and budget, clients can choose from a Ford Focus saloon, Formula Ford single-seater, Subaru Impreza or Lotus Elise on the track, or from a rally car, 4x4 or go-kart off road. The instructors at the circuit tend to be more mature than average, making it a good choice for senior employees who prefer instruction from experienced drivers. Average group sizes are 30-60 and prices start from around £6,000.

For a more retro approach, glorious Goodwood makes a fitting backdrop for the glamorous line-up of classic cars offered by Mithril Racing (tel: 01243 528815), which organises driving days at the site. Alongside single-seaters, karts and the usual line-up of high-performance racers, Mithril’s bulging toy box includes the Aston Martin DB4 and, the Jaguar E-Type and the AC Cobra. Its Goodwood Experience combines a spin in these classic models with practical driving techniques for £475 a head (or £555 including a flight in a 1940s Tiger Moth aircraft).

The newly opened Mercedes Benz World (tel: 0870 400 4000) is bringing a thoroughly modern approach to a legendary location. Brooklands in Surrey, the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, but the facilities at the development have been brought bang up-to-date. Corporate driving days – in a fleet of the latest Mercedes models – take a practical approach. Either added on to a conference at the state-of-the-art venue or booked separately, corporate packages for up to 500 focus on skills such as braking, slalom, over-steer, under-steer and car-control.

If you want to make motor-racing a key part of a corporate teambuilding day, the racetrack at Prestwold Hall (tel: 01509 882324) in Leicestershire will be hosting The Italian Job packages. Points will be awarded for slalom skills, braking and holding the racing line in liveried Mini Coopers, before moving on to a bus and an E-Type Jaguar. A full day with lunch at the stately home is £195 per person.

Although a track day at one of the UK’s more famous circuits gives guests the ‘boast’ factor, working race circuits come complete with grandstands, pit lane walls and crash barriers – all potential hazards for the novice driver. Alternatively, you can still try all the high-performance cars at Palmer Sport’s Bedford Autodrome (tel: 01234 332400), but, with 400 acres of flat grass to run off on to, drivers are not constrained by speed limits or pace cars. Dedicated exclusively to corporate events, Palmer Sport can accommodate up to 120 drivers on six different areas at a cost of about £700 a head.

Most driving days clock in at more than £500 a head, so they add up to big-budget events. It’s worth noting that shared days, at which small groups can share the venue with other parties, give you the range of experiences of exclusive-hire track days without the hefty price tag. Just off the M1, about an hour’s drive north of the capital, Big Thunder (tel: 0116 279 9318) runs a shared event that offers five cars and includes breakfast, lunch and refreshments for £265 per person.

Track days can be a daunting prospect for women, and according to the team behind Formula Woman (tel: 0845 094 2094), female drivers also learn differently. As a result, the team runs corporate events for groups of women alongside their women’s race team. Although there’s nothing different about the driving itself, the female company offers a ‘less intimidating’ experience and is even able to provide women-only instructors, all of whom are racing drivers.


OFF-ROADING

Off-roading is a great way to combine a foray into the great outdoors with a more high-octane pursuit. It’s more specialist and technical than a track day and will appeal to motoring enthusiasts interested in the capabilities of a £50,000 all-terrain vehicle.

Using the benchmark for 4x4 vehicles, a Land Rover Experience promises world-class instruction in the most up-to-date vehicles. The company has 11 sites across the country, two within easy reach of London. Eastwell Park (tel: 0870 264 4467) and Hounslow Hall Estate (tel: 0870 264 4465) offer flexible corporate days on working farms, and include other outdoor pursuits, such as archery, clay-pigeon shooting and teambuilding games. The driving adventures are tailored to different levels of experience: Level One tackles steep inclines, deep water, rutted tracks and ditches while Level Two handles more advanced techniques.

Land Rover Experiences are usually more expensive than the unbranded packages offered by other specialist centres, so if you’re on a budget or just fancy a more relaxed approach, it could be worth checking out the competition. Most off-road centres offer Land Rover or BORDA-accredited instructors, plus a range of terrain and other outdoor activities that larger groups can rotate with the driving.

The Ian Wright Organisation (tel: 01732 529511) has given its events an educational slant, aiming not only to build team relationships, but also to enhance other skills through mixed classroom- and activity-based courses. If you need help developing business plans, opt for ‘Take a 4x4 adventure to a better business plan’. Or to improve service, there’s ‘Quad bikes – the best tools for fantastic customer service’. Owner Ian Wright, a former British Sporting Trials Car champion, has a huge amount of experience in delivering corporate driving events and designs his own cars specifically for the purpose. Venues are also chosen with the corporate market in mind – alongside acres of suitably rough, muddy terrain are some top-class country house hotels and immaculate conference venues.

Off-Road Motivations (tel: 01264 710080), about 60 miles from London in Hampshire, offers clay-pigeon shooting, archery or quad-biking alongside off-road driving. Challenges such as blindfold driving and reverse steering also keep things interesting.

If you want to stick to driving, find a centre that offers additional motor activities. At Priory Events (tel: 01737 822484), 35 minutes from London in the Surrey countryside, 4x4 driving can be accompanied by quad bikes, devilishly fast Apache off-road twin-seaters and Honda Pilot racing buggies.

Leisure Pursuits (tel: 01342 825522), near East Grinstead, specialises in off-road driving. Its army of vehicles includes quad bikes, RallyKarts (an off-road go-kart), Powerturns (wedge-shaped buggies steered by levers) and three monster trucks that can be driven over saloon cars. It’s more of an all-round entertainment site, hosting up to 300 people over two 30-acre sites.

Keen 4x4 owners might want to test their own car, and most specialists happily accommodate owner-drivers at corporate events, says John Morgan of John Morgan Corporate Entertainment (tel: 01903 812195). But he advises choosing a site with harder surfaces, such as former quarries, to ensure everyone keeps moving.


KARTING

It’s tough to find 100-acre sites with undulating terrain in town, so for an urban driving day, afternoon or evening, go-karting is the London alternative. Most experiences follow a tried-and-tested formula. The winner-takes-all format usually involves a qualifying session followed by a Grand Prix-style race and podium glory for the first, second and third places. Alternatively – and the most popular set-up for teambuilding – is the relay-style, non-stop team race of an hour or two, during which tactical pit stops and driver changes are decided by teams. Some centres also offer timed race sessions that cater for mixed ability groups because participants are not in direct competition on the track.

The outdoor F1 City Racing Circuit (tel: 020 7476 5678) claims to be the fastest and largest in London, offering single or twin 200cc engine karts with a top speed of 75mph.

In addition to its original site in King’s Cross, The Raceway (tel: 020 7833 1000) has opened an indoor karting centre in Docklands. Expect an exciting banked circuit, a fleet of powerful 270cc karts, and excellent events facilities, including conference rooms, a bar area and VIP room – and not a basket of chicken drumsticks in sight.

For more challenging racing and a clear conscience, Revolution Karting (tel: 0207 538 5195) has an outdoor track in Mile End, offering 650m of tough, technical racing in ecologically friendly electric karts. The circuit is floodlit for evening races and barbecues.


ALTERNATIVE

If you’ve conquered racetracks and traversed mountainous terrain, why not apply your well-honed driving skills to one of the alternative vehicles on offer? You could turn your hand to hovercrafting in the amphibious surf-and-turf experience of Glide3 (tel: 0845 226 0748). Strictly speaking, you fly, rather then drive, a hovercraft, and here you’ll be taught how to fly round circuits and negotiate various challenges. It’s a truly collective learning experience. While racing days can divide groups into more or less confident drivers, it’s unlikely anyone will have ‘flown’ a hovercraft before, so it’s a great leveller for mixed parties. And at top speeds of 40mph across land and water, it’ll get the adrenalin going, too. Based less than an hour from London, in Essex, Glide3 takes 12 people per corporate flying day, with catering and awards, at about £200 a head.

Rather less nimble, but no less fun are the JCBs and dumpers at Diggerland (tel: 08700 344437) in Kent. The theme park runs corporate events for groups of 20 or more – mostly all-male parties, though women are encouraged. The racing option involves JCB or dumper race heats over the all-terrain course while a teambuilding alternative sees groups attempting digging or pick-up tasks. Prices start at £65 per person.

Car-crushing must surely be the ultimate activity for frustrated drivers, but for this you’ll need a tank. Northamptonshire’s Tanks-a-lot (tel: 01295 768400) has 130 and, as is often the case with the more unusual activity companies, it’s run by fanatics with an infectious enthusiasm for tanks and army games. A corporate day, priced at about £6,000, offers a range of challenges for groups of 10 to 100-plus (although the optimum is about 40). Alongside the tank driving, participants can try SAS woodland patrol, complete with booby traps, trip wires and mortar shooting.

 If it’s a less macho approach you’re after, tank driving is also offered to corporate groups at the rather more stately Newick Park (tel: 01825 723633) in East Sussex. With 200 acres of parkland to play with, conference guests and residents can add a tank to their day’s schedule for £200 an hour for eight people.


This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2007.


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