While most people were sorting out romantic dinners and gifts for Valentine's Day a few weeks back, this lucky couple (myself and Cat, my much better half) headed out to Redstar Raceway for some driver instruction and a bit of high speed driving. Sure it's not the normal thing to do for couples, but chaps, take it from me when I tell you that the aphrodisiac power of a bunch of roses doesn't quite hold up to the supercharged V8 growl of Jaguar's F-Type R Coupe. Sure, I know I'm a car guy, but there's summin' rather special about being let loose on a racetrack in a 405kW supercar. While I was the one who fully benefited from this experience, thanks must go to Dean Knoop and the rest of the crew from Jaguar Land Rover Midrand for inviting myself and Cat along for their Valentine's Track Experience. As a motoring journo and photographer I get to attend events like this often but it was something completely new for Cat, so over and above all the awesomeness that took place, it was even better for me because Cat got to see what a day in my life often looks like - that rocked!
Before heading out on track the instructors showed us all how important braking systems and tyres are with a few demonstrations on the pit straight. In the practical demonstration one of the advanced driving instructors launched a car from the end of the straight and got it up to 60km/h, and we all had to guess where the car would come to a stop during emergency braking. Let's just say that if we were standing in the road, I'd be typing this from a hospital bed. Most of the car guys were close, but those new to these kinds of demonstrations had their minds blown. When the same test was done with the Jaguar kicking it at 120km/h the results drew many gasps of disbelief thanks to the distance being more than triple that of 60km/h. I'll leave out the exact facts and figures, mainly because I can't remember them, but it certainly gave everyone something to think about. Also the fact that the demonstration was done in premium cars with all the best safety systems available, high performance tyres and advanced driving instructors at the wheel sort of makes you weary of that cone filter-fitted 2000 Opel Corsa barreling down the road behind you on the daily commute . In the real world out on the road with pavements and trees and taxis things can be rather scary if you don't have a good following distance and a modern, roadworthy car.
With all the demonstrations out of the way, it was time to head out on track to experience the safety systems on various Jaguar models. The first test was a demonstration of how ABS works, for this one we lined up at a designated start point and nailed it until we reached a pair of cones that were set out to mark the braking point. Depending on the car, speeds reached around the 100km/h mark and that's when we had to jump on the brakes hard enough to engage ABS, Thanks to the life-saving system the car slowed to a stop in as short a distance as possible in a dead straight line. Without ABS you're likely to see the car swing out of it's lane, which as you can imagine is rather dangerous. The next test was related to this one, but instead of simply slamming on brakes when we reached the cones, we had to do an emergency lane change at the same time. This was to show that ABS not only affords the car maximum traction while coming to a stop, it allows turning of the steering wheel to get out of the way of danger without having the front wheels lock up - if you're locked up you ain't turning - if you ain't turning you could find yourself up close and personal with the car/tree/robot/obstacle up ahead. Again, something that surprised most who attended.
Once everyone had experienced the tests in the full range of cars it was time for some laps of Redstar Raceway with the driving instructors alongside in the passenger seat giving, well, instruction. It's amazing to feel how the cars behave and respond when they're on the right line and you're applying the right amount of accelerator and brakes at the right time. Driving aggressively may well by heaps of fun, but driving smooth is where it's at. This was second best part of the experience (I'll get to the first just now) thanks to being able to drive a few of Jaguar's awesome new models at speed on track, we had the opportunity to drive the Jaguar XF S and R-Sport, the Jaguar F-Pace S and R-Sport, and the Jaguar F-Type Coupe and F-Type R models. Of course the last car was the best - it's not everyday you get to drive a supercar worth over R2,000 000, especially one from a manufacturer that you have a rather healthy affinity for. Of course the fact that the F‑Type R is powered by a roaring 5.0-litre V8 with a supercharger bolted and power figures of 405kW and a whopping 680Nm of torque is just an added bonus, as is launching from 0‑100km/h in 4.1-seconds thanks to a brilliant all-wheel drive system.
So the best part? Instructor's Revenge! This is where you get to go out on the full track as a passenger while the team of advanced driving instructors take the cars to 10/tenths to show off what they can really do. This was Cat's favourite part of the day too because she got to ride shotgun in the aforementioned supercharged V8. She's a nervous passenger at the best of times but the instructors are such a great bunch that make you feel perfectly safe and comfortable so when the car returned to the pits after the hot laps a very happy, smiling Cat emerged from the car - that's when I knew this completely random Valentine's Day experience was a clear winner. Finishing off with a brilliant catered lunch meant one truly memorable Valentine's Day.
Once again, a huge thanks goes out to the Jaguar Land Rover Midrand team for this amazing opportunity, not forgetting the team of instructors, and of course Dean Knoop - you guys rock!