It doesn’t matter whether you own a 200mph-plus supercar or one of the latest breed of SUVs that’s more capable off-road than you might imagine, there are plenty of ways to get to know your vehicle better. Ones that challenge your limits and provide hours of pleasure, with expert tuition and a safe environment thrown in.
What’s more, you don’t even have to own one of the aforementioned vehicles to join in the fun - and perhaps even learn a lot about yourself in the process. And it’s not necessarily expensive, either.
One of the latest to join the burgeoning market for marque “experiences” is McLaren, which offers a calendar of events that encompasses some of the world’s most famous, and demanding, race circuits.
It’s not all about going as fast as possible in circles, however; on the lifestyle side there’s the opportunity to go ice driving in Finland, touring events in the Alps, Canada and the USA, as well as trips to watch McLaren’s F1 cars at Grand Prix weekends, a Winter Ball and more. And you probably thought it was just selling cars.
The company has clearly struck a chord. Jamie Corstorphine, the global marketing director of McLaren Automotive, told me: “Some of our customers have attended every Pure McLaren event we’ve run.” I joined some of these die-hards at Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix, for Pure McLaren Track Level 2 & 3 course. Sadly I don’t have the buying power to consider the new McLaren Senna but I might, just about, be able to stretch to buying one of these Pure McLaren experiences.
That’s because, usefully, a McLaren 570S is actually included in the £5,195 cost of my two-day course, as is catering and accommodation. Not that I got anywhere near the orange 562bhp wedge on day one. No, before I did that I spent a few hours in the classroom with McLaren’s senior driving coach, Bradley Ellis. I’ve been writing about cars for about 20 years and have been fortunate to drive around lots of racing circuits in various cars, but I’ve never been in a classroom since I left university, unless you count going to parent’s evenings at my childrens’ school.
Yet I have never really been properly schooled in track driving, certainly not to any real depth. That’s about to change, Ellis breaking down the full Grand Prix layout into bite-sized pieces, talking me through the various elements before I’m allowed anywhere near McLaren’s mid-engined supercar and 3.66 miles of Silverstone’s hallowed Tarmac.
It’s genuinely enlightening. The classroom theory of braking and turn-in points, techniques such as trail braking, weight transfer and gear-shift strategy, all take some of the mystery away from what is a tricky track to learn. We’re not finished yet, either, because after the classroom theory there’s a track walk during which we learn the apex of every corner, which kerbs to avoid and, should you need them, possible escape routes.
Not that I’ll be alone out there, alongside me in the 570S will be Elliot Cole, race-driving coach and sometime stunt driver. Quite why anyone would want to sit alongside anyone in a supercar around a track is anyone’s guess, but Cole takes it seriously, having taken the time to properly study the psychology of learning and various coaching techniques to be able to recognise how to get the best results from the people he sits alongside.
Hugely professional, then, but still enormous fun, Cole pushing me hard during our six 30-minute sessions in the car. Each one is timed, with telemetry and video analysis afterwards to see where any improvements can be made.
Over the course of the day we chip away, Cole’s assertion that I can do a 2 minute 27 second lap eventually achieved, by putting into practice those techniques learned both in the classroom and out on the track. The sense of elation is palpable, I’ve genuinely learned a huge amount, and am a better driver because of it.
The real customers are receiving the same level of tuition, in race and road cars, some borrowed from McLaren, others in their own cars, one owner having flown their car from Kuwait in order to take part. It all allows owners of modern supercars to truly exploit and enjoy their car’s performance, in the safe confines of a track and under professional instruction.
It’s little wonder such events prove increasingly popular. Corstorphine says that more than 800 people took part in Pure Mclaren events last year, adding that it’s also a useful way of getting to know their customers. And the customers gain access, too; McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt is taking part himself, spending time with the people he sells cars to. Racing driver Bruno Senna, nephew of three-times Formula One world champion Ayrton, is also here, as are the people who developed the new McLaren hypercar wearing the legendary Brazilian’s surname, all amiably mixing and chatting with the people who buy and drive the products they build.
Not that you have to buy one of the cars. You can attend without being an owner, the Pure McLaren events starting from just £1,000. That will get you a 570S on track with an instructor alongside for a few sessions. Break down the costs and that’s actually decent value, which is comparable with similar schemes from manufacturers of high-performance cars such as Porsche and others.
Indeed, McLaren is following a well-trodden route. The customer experience and travel industry is clearly good for business. Porsche has purpose-built Porsche Experience Centres (PEC) at Silverstone, Le Mans, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Leipzig and more, some 135,000 people having used its Silverstone PEC since it opened in 2008.
Via its Porsche’s Travel Club you can take part in any number of drives all over the world, or if you have the time (and money) take part in a Global Expedition 1-6 with Porsche, taking in Australia, Africa, South America, Europe and Asia in separate legs - the Europe one costing around €20,000 (currently about £17,800) for 14 days - or collectively as a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
That latter option will cost you €149,000 (£13,800) per person sharing a car of four over 84 days, increasing to €238,990 (£214,700) each if it’s just you and one other person aboard.
Porsche is not the only firm offering adventures and purpose-built centres. Mercedes does, too, at its Mercedes-Benz World facility at Brooklands, or around the world via its Mercedes-AMG Driving Academy.
Land Rover owners can test their vehicles off-road, with its UK Experience Centres having more than 135,000 customers drive Land Rovers to their limits at purpose-built off-road courses last year. These experiences start from a few hundred pounds, as opposed to thousands, and are offered free with the purchase of a new Land Rover; Porsche and McLaren also offer experiences included with new car purchases.
Of course, if you want to travel farther afield there’s the opportunity to do so. Land Rover has experiences on the ice in the Arctic circle or to the sun of Namibia, with five-day tours costing about €6,000 (£5,400).
For historic vehicle aficionados, Land Rover’s sister company Jaguar has tours around its Classic Works, with track and road drives possible in everything from E-Types to D-Types, from just £650. That looks like incredible value when you consider a D-Type sold recently for almost $22 million.
BMW, Audi, Bentley and others offer similar track-based driving experiences and travel options, the range of trips and experiences available fulfilling almost every desire, be it a trip to watch freestyle skiing with Audi, visit a sustainable sanctuary in Shanghai with a hybrid-powered BMW i8, or attend the famed Pebble Beach concours d’elegance with Bentley.