“ Country: United Kingdom / Sports Locations Type: Raceway / Sports Type: Karts „
~A Lot of Hot Air~
Last year my mother bought my sister a hot air balloon ride for her birthday, only to discover a few days later that the company who'd merrily taken her money had declared bankruptcy. Although she eventually got her money back, Mum had pretty much given up on the idea of the hot air balloon so she decided to try something else. Before our recent visit to Salisbury, Mum called and told us not to expect to be able to head home after lunch. We would be required to stick around for 'a treat'.
I don't know how Aileen (my sister) worked it out, but she called me to say she had a suspicion that we were going go-karting. If that was going to be karting then I'd be more than happy with that as it's something I really enjoy although my husband has always refused to go with me. My step-father did his best to throw us off the scent with strange instructions to bring torches and daft things like that but we were all rather hoping we were going driving.
~You're probably safer driving there than driving back~
After lunch we set off in the car with Mum still refusing to say where we were going. We drove for about 15 minutes until we saw the signs for Wessex Raceway. Even though we'd all suspected we were going racing, it was a bit of a relief to have it confirmed.
Wessex Raceway is located in what looks like an old barn or a warehouse in the middle of the countryside south of Salisbury between the villages of Coombe Bisset and Sixpenny Handley. Given that the address of the place is Grimsdyke Granaries, I would assume these are converted grain stores. Once we were inside, there's a spacious reception area where we checked in and Mum asked us how long we wanted to drive for. She kindly offered to buy us up to an hour's driving but the guy who runs the place said that would be way too long and suggested we just go for 30 minutes, explaining that we'd be driving in 10 minute bursts and it would take quite a while to get through the three drives. I was impressed that he didn't attempt to sell us more than we needed especially since Mum was willing to buy us more.
The price for people turning up out of the blue - the so called 'Arrive and Drive' packages - starts at £19 for 10 minutes and rises to £69 for 60 minutes. About 10 years ago I organised a lot of team building sessions at a race track in Suffolk and the prices were very similar so I was quite impressed that ten years later and without negotiating a deal, it seemed to be a very fair price. Wessex Raceway is in a part of the country with a strong military heritage and they offer a lot of special discounts for military personnel as well as arranging sessions for those who've been injured or lost limbs in action. I was quite impressed by their commitment to supporting the forces. Wessex also have a number of other attractions including the 'running around in the dark shooting people' type activities which I would imagine were a bit tame if you've just come back from Afghanistan.
Once Mum had paid, we went to get kitted up. I popped off to the loo, knowing that once I was in an all in one race suit, I'd struggle if I needed a wee. I merrily missed the sign for the ladies and went to the gents instead, wondering if they were unisex loos. Thankfully nobody else was in there so I got away with it.
~Suits you, Sir~
A long rail down one side of the reception area held race suits in a variety of sizes. Hubby and I grabbed the mediums whilst Aileen and Joyce - who are both very short - went for smalls. My advice was don't choose according to height, go for girth as neither of them could do up their suits and whilst my medium was roomy enough, it wasn't really long enough in the legs. Much to my surprise the suits have Velcro instead of zips. I asked one of the staff why they do that and she said that too many of the men who use the track are determined to believe they are smaller than they are and they kept busting the zips so they replaced them with Velcro. I remain unconvinced that it's the right way to go.
Once our suits were on we were shown into a small room with a TV screen and shown an introductory video about safe driving, understanding the flags and the lights, and explaining the basics of how to drive the carts. With that completed we went into the race hall to get our helmets, balaclavas and gloves and were then shown how to get into and out of the karts. I had some concerns that my sister's girlfriend who had back surgery 18 months ago might get into the car and never get out again but her bigger problem was having extra short legs and needing a 'booster' seat.
~Hot Hot Hot~
We went to Wessex on a Sunday afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year. It really wasn't an ideal time to be driving around in a boiler suit but on the plus side, the large doors at the end of the race track were left open and it kept things a little cooler but - more importantly - stopped the build up of petrol fumes during the afternoon.
Once we were in the cars, the four of us set off. I appreciated that we were able to have the track to ourselves as we belted around. I was a dreadful show off, put my foot straight down and threw myself round all the corners. I love the speed and I have no fear when karting. As the only one who'd done it before (though I'd played that down a bit) I was the only one who knew the racing lines and how to approach the corners so I had quite a big advantage.
The track is 700m long and has an excellent combination of sharp bends, a chicane and one lovely long straight to really put your foot down. When we came off after our 10 minutes were up, some people who really knew what they were doing went on after us and we watched them to understand how to do better next time round. Upstairs from the track there's a nice bar where we sipped cokes and compared the print-outs of our times and were surprised to be called down to the track for our second go. Everyone knocked a few seconds off their lap times second time around and once the more nervous ones had spun a few times and hit the tyres, they realised it wouldn't hurt and got into the swing of things. I was surprised that my hubby who hammers down the motorway, was the most timid of the four of us, but impressed that he was working really hard on trying to work out the best route around the course.
Between our second and third drives we waited 20 minutes as more people had arrived in the meantime. For our final drive, the staff asked if we'd mind sharing the track with three other people. I was a bit worried we'd be getting in their way or annoy them by not knowing what we were doing, but once we got onto the track, I barely noticed they were even there. Our last race was a frustrating one which I spent on my sister's tail, unable to force my way past and getting increasingly wild on the corners in my attempts to beat her. By the time we got off the track all four of us were dripping sweat and our arms and shoulders were aching from the effort to hold the cars in the right places.
I've raced at several tracks, large and small and I've always enjoyed it but I thought Wessex was a superb indoor track. The staff were friendly and encouraging, happy to give tips including the classic "When you see the sign that says brake, BRAKE". When anyone got stuck they were fast to get out and get them moving again and best of all, there was very little need for flags or lights. None of us got warned or told off and I don't think I saw a flag in the entire afternoon.
Karting is never a cheap activity but I thought Wessex Raceway gave great value. I was impressed by the friendliness of all the staff, thought the pleasant air conditioned bar and the super-clean loos (even in the gents!) were in a class above the track I used to use in Haverhill, Suffolk, and I loved that I didn't get choked up on petrol fumes. The other drivers didn't ridicule us (at least not within ear-shot) and everyone was very encouraging. It really didn't matter that we were probably the slowest people there that day as what matters is the relative performance within your group and not that you're 5 seconds off the pace of the track record or anything like that. The place felt safe, well run, efficient without being over officious, and I would recommend it very highly.
Wessex have a website - www.wessexraceway.co.uk - with all the contact details and prices and numbers you can call to check when sessions are available. There's no need to pre-book, but do check the times for public sessions. They run a wide variety of different session for adults and juniors, organise various races and I would always recommend go-karting as a great option for any corporate team-building events. It's not the most exciting track I've raced on - that honour would go to a place in Dijon, France which had some fabulous ramps or to the outdoor track in Milton Keynes where you don't need to worry about the fumes, but for the friendliest and most relaxed place, it scores very highly.
Units 3 & 4 Grimsdyke Granaries