SPEED STARS COMPETITION – ADVANCED DRIVING COURSE

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I was fortunate enough to win an advanced driving course courtesy of a show on the Ignition channel hosted by Marius Roberts called Speed Stars. Basically they take two South African celebrities or sportspeople and have them race each other in an Opel Adam S.  We were to be joined by some local celebrities, all of whom I, and most of the other competition winners, had never heard of, which probably made their day that much more enjoyable.

Shout out to Emtee, Miss Pru DJ, Zweli Dube, K Naomi, Tweezy and Slique, whoever you are…

I love driving. I may be a judgmental hypocrite when it comes to cars (all Hyundai i10 drivers are accident prone nervous wrecks and all BMW drivers lose the use of a hand whenever they’re in their car. That is why they can’t operate the indicators) but I love driving all of them. So, the thought of a day ripping around a skidpan, racetrack and a high speed oval filled me with many butterflies.

Butterflies in tow, my lovely wife dropped me off at King Shaka International Airport at 5 am, due to the obligatory ridiculous hour and a half before the flight requirement… I checked in at the self-check-in counter, took ten seconds, and then waited impatiently for my flight at Fego, because the SLOW lounge only opens at 6 am. I was served possibly the worst breakfast I’ve ever had to pay for in my life… But whatever, I was flying to Joburg for an advanced driving course!

The flight was uneventful. We landed at ORTI. I walked many kilometres looking for the shuttle-bus driver with his sign (Speedstars Opel), but I found I was at the wrong terminal, international arrivals, so I turned around. I eventually found him pretty much where I’d started my long trek around ORTI, terminal B. We waited for the other winners and then set off for the Gerotek testing facility.

Then we had to turn around because we’d forgotten someone behind.

Then we set off for the Gerotek testing facility again.

The crowd of competition winners were as varied as they were interesting. There were hard-core drag racers, 4×4 enthusiasts and ordinary people who entered for fun and just happened to win.

The taxi ride from the airport to the testing facility was probably the longest hour and a half of my life. The driver took the back roads to avoid the Etolls… Which is fair enough I suppose; I’d do the same thing.

The main car sponsor of the day was Opel. The cars available to us, 2 x Opel Adam S (110 kw), Opel Astra 1.4 (0 kw) and 1.6t sport (147 kw) and an Opel Mokka, the hatchback with platform shoes.  We got to drive all of them. The instructor for the day was an interesting guy also called Marius. He tests new cars, and hosts advanced driving courses. I want his job…

Well at least the first part of his job, I don’t think I am verbose enough to keep talking for 6 hours.

First up were the braking demonstration and the beginning of some of my frustration. I am not a patient listener. I never have been, I have ADD and can’t listen to people talk for more than twenty minutes without getting fidgety and bored. Instructor Marius, from Driving Dynamics, is a lovely man, but he talks a lot, as is evidenced by the sunburn, garnered while we were standing on the test track, outside the cars, listening to him.

I wanted to be in the car! I wanted to be slamming on brakes and testing the ABS and EBD and all the other fancy abbreviations, but I wasn’t. It was a great lesson though, your average driver in your average car has no idea how far it takes for a car at speed to come to a complete stop. If you’re travelling at 160 kph and slam on brakes you will not stop in time to avoid hitting whatever it is you’re trying to avoid. Speed is great, but under the right circumstances. It is not great when you’re driving past a school for example, or anywhere pedestrians and livestock regularly cross the road… Or if you’ve just watched a F1 Grand Prix and suddenly think you’re Lewis Hamilton and fancy a drive around the neighbourhood in your 320i.

At Gerotek there is a lovely little race track. The Dynamic Handling Circuit, I think it’s called.

After the safety talk and some more interesting anecdotes from Marius we set off. I started out in the Adam S, lovely little car, light, agile and quick. Marius’s assistant for the day, Ronaldo, stayed at the front and made sure that we didn’t go too fast, because the point of the exercise wasn’t to race, but to learn how to handle the car around twisty bends, and all that. Try telling that to a bunch of competition winners on a race track driving cars that aren’t theirs. I can’t speak for the other guys but I just wanted to keep going faster…

To be honest I think I had the most fun in the Opel Mokka, it was under-powered compared to the rest of the cars, and had a higher centre of gravity so was harder to drive quickly. My goal was to try keep up with the Astra 1.6 sport ahead by carrying higher corner speeds and using my brakes as little as possible… And I did!

My least favourite was the 1.4 Astra which was sluggish and too heavy for its engine.  I don’t think I got it out of third gear because it just wouldn’t accelerate…  The best car to drive was undoubtedly the Adam S. It felt almost like I was driving a front wheel drive MX5 and I’d have loved to have had another go in it, but by then everybody else had discovered what a great car it was and opportunities to drive it were scarce..

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After we’d all had our runs in the different cars Marius took us on a hot lap in the Adam S. I loved that too and, while the other winners were blown away that he could take the S-bends flat out, I convinced myself that I could too if I had a bit of time to practice. I didn’t get to test that theory fortunately, because if I was wrong I would have had a massive accident and wrecked a very fancy, and not cheap, little Opel Adam S.

We had a lovely lunch and afterwards went to the skidpan where we all got more sunburnt. The point of the exercise was to learn how to control skids under braking and emergency evasive manoeuvres and some more about the wonders of brake assisting technology.  Once again Marius explained it all very well, at length…

We got driving again and all I wanted to do was pull up the handbrake and slide the cars around, but that wasn’t allowed, so I did what the instructors told me to do. It turns out that I have some bad steering wheel habits that I need to correct.

Sadly we never made it to the high speed oval… Time ran out and we had to shuttle it back to the airport to catch our flights home.

It was a great day, something I could do every weekend in fact. Thank you Speed Stars, Khwezi, Marius Roberts and instructor Marius from Driving Dynamics for a brilliant experience.

Now, where am I going to find some money for a racing car…

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Gluten Free Beer and Free Range F1 Cars

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I don’t really like craft beer. It’s not that I have anything against it. There is no political, social or otherwise important reason for me to not like craft beer. I just don’t like the way it tastes. It’s too “earthy” for me. I’m scared I’ll take a sip and choke on some peat or barley or something, and then have to pick little bits of dust out of my teeth afterwards. (However, if one day I say I love a particular craft beer and its logo appears on my blog because they’re paying me, feel free to call me a hypocrite).

I’m the same with food, if it has a label that says “organic” or “gluten free” or “free range” I’ll consider buying it unless there is a cheaper non-“special food made from happy chickens that walk free and eat the best corn” or whatever, then I’ll pick that one. Whilst I have empathy for the chickens on chicken farms and their cramped up lives in horrible cages, I still need to eat and the sad truth of the matter is that if I have to pay R25 extra for a happy chicken, well, I’ll buy the cheaper one and apologise to it afterwards for the horrid way it was treated while it was alive.

Many people really don’t have the luxury of eating organic happy chickens with pesticide free broccoli. Petrol and electricity prices are through the roof. People are battling to get by so when I see the latest internet outrage about the horrible treatment of animals we eat I generally move on to something else less judgemental. Truth be told, the person on the street doesn’t know if there is any discernible difference between the free range chicken and the other one. The label on the lettuce might say it’s organic, but how do I know they’re not lying. It could just be the result of some clever branding. We’re told by an assortment of “experts” and marketing gurus that yes, the expensive free range lettuce is better for you so you should spend more money on it, because it really is better for you. Is it? I don’t know, to me it just looks and tastes like lettuce.

Don’t get me started on gluten free products. How did gluten become the enemy? People have been eating bread for thousands of years and gluten was never an issue then? My limited research on it tells me that only people with a certain disease have to worry about gluten. All the other people with so called allergies can rest easy. Proper doctors say that. Yes people will buy gluten free bread, beer, pizza at twice the price of normal bread, beer or pizza because they’ve believed the lies and it makes them feel special to say, “hey look, I’ve got something wrong with me so I have to eat this more expensive pizza over here”. If you’re reacting to anything in bread I’d first take a look at the preservatives they’ve put in it, or the colouring or the sugar? Not the grains or wheat. Wheat is good for you, isn’t it?

Why would you want something to be wrong with you anyway? I never want anything to be wrong with me and even if I think there is something wrong with me I’d rather ignore it until I’m absolutely sure and then go see a doctor.

This brings me to the point of this little diatribe.

Formula 1 is supposed to be about the best drivers racing against each other in the fastest cars. Sure everything around F1 makes it more slightly more interesting and saleable, the girls, the technology, the money, the tyres, the pits stops and all that, but what gets people watching is the racing. People love the rivalries and the speed, the combination of man and machine at the limit competing with nineteen other drivers all doing the same. Somehow some clever people in their marketing department seem to have missed that. I love hearing about the hybrid engines and all the gadgetry that goes into them, but not as much as I love hearing a screaming V8 revving to twenty thousand rpm.

So like the organic and free range things we see every day, we may be told that the new F1 is better for us, that the more expensive smaller hybrid engines and stupid tyres that don’t last will benefit normal cars but to me that is just marketing rubbish. The cars are the same as the old ones, just slower and more expensive.