The work on the car was started early to make sure everything got finished in time, but the real first step to becoming a racing driver is getting your licence. The process is quite straightforward, but needs approaching carefully:
1. Order the “Go Racing” pack from the MSA – £104, including the cost of your first licence.
2. Read, watch and digest everything in it!
3. Arrange a medical, either with your GP or through a race school. If you’re under 45 you only need to do this for your first licence, not at renewal.
4. Book a test with a race school, and pass the written and driven tests.
The minimum age for circuit racing licences (ARDS National B Race) is 16, but there are formulae running under Junior licences, with a minimum age of 14. You don’t need to hold a road licence for any competition licence.
The Go Racing pack comes with a booklet outlining most things you need to know for the written test, and the rest is covered in the revamped but still wonderfully 90s DVD. It’s worth going through this a few times, because the pass rate for the written test is 100% on knowledge of marshal flags and still high for everything else. A lifetime spent watching motorsport certainly helps but won’t cover it on its own, so don’t skimp even if you already feel knowledgeable.
Your approach to the medical depends how friendly your GP is. The content is quite similar to a Class 1 HGV licence so it should be familiar to them, but how much they charge varies, and I found it cheaper and easier to get my medical done on the day of my exams. Most race schools will have a doctor present on their ARDS (Association of Racing Driver Schools) courses for this very purpose, but check when booking. If you do have any conditions which you think could be a concern, it’s worth getting your medical well in advance and contacting the MSA to discuss with them ahead of booking a test and committing the money.
There are schools running ARDS tests at most circuits around the country, and picking one you’re already familiar with would be a big benefit. The cost varies but is typically £250-350. There are companies who run ARDS tests on track days, but I don’t recommend this – you want to be driving smoothly and consistently without distraction, and being hassled by thirty other cars sharing the circuit with you isn’t ideal. A much better approach is a dedicated ARDS day, where a race school has hired the circuit exclusively for licence testing.
The process on the day is usually an early arrival, and then a briefing for the day which takes the form of – you guessed it – the throwback DVD again. Tempting as it would be to glaze over as you’ve already seen it enough times, bear in mind the examiners will be around and might notice who’s taking things seriously. With that out of the way, you’ll do your written and driven exams, with the order down to chance. Your homework will decide how you do with the multiple-choice written questions, but the part out on track is decided mostly by your mindset.
You’ll go out on track with an examiner sitting beside you, usually in a fairly ordinary car. I did my test in a Renaultsport Clio 197. The one thing I can’t underline strongly enough is that you aren’t out there to set a lap record. You aren’t trying to prove you’re the next Ayrton Senna, nor to overtake everyone else on the circuit. What the examiner is looking for is a smooth and consistent driver who’ll be safe and predictable to race alongside. That means mechanical sympathy in your inputs, a proper application of the racing line, and repeatable performance lap to lap.
If you don’t already have a good working knowledge of the circuit you’ll do your test on, the modern era is very much your friend. YouTube is full of circuit guides and advice to find your way around, and a good onboard video can make the scene feel familiar before you even turn a wheel. Ultimately, if you approach the day with good preparation and a calm mind, you’ll be absolutely fine – and most likely pick up some tips from the very knowledgeable examiners as well. On my test day I met not one, but two drivers who would be entering Roadsports with me that year!
After a successful day, through the post comes the coolest card you’ll hold all year… Best get testing that car, because it seems we’re going racing!