Very few things about "get up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday and drive to a bit of concrete in Rugby" appeal. First, there's the hour, then the day, then the "desolate bit of ground" bit. If it were a palace of gold and rubies I'd be there before 5 a.m., not just stirring. Still, I had good reason for an early start: Autosolo.
Autosolo is one of the newer grassroots motorsports doing the rounds, and it's surprisingly simple. It's a simpler version of Autotesting, a sport that sees specially built cars driven to their limits around tricky courses, but there's no backward stuff, no 360s, and nothing too complicated. Unless you forget the course.
The idea is that you drive a fully road-legal car around a gated course in as fast a time as possible. You're given a map of the track before the day starts so you can walk and memorize it.
Competitors rock up in two types of car: either front-wheel-drive superminis (easy to hustle) or rear-wheel-drive sports cars (easy to slide). In auto testing, the cars of choice are either original Minis or Caterham/Lotus 7s -- both have a mix of ace handling and quick turn of pace, so they are ideal. For our Autosolo adventures, we took a Seat Mii (for its handling prowess and buzzy 75-bhp three-pot) and a Caterham Supersport (because it likes getting out and enjoys going quickly).
The competitors are a hardy bunch, having been doing this kind of thing for years. There were teams of families, old guys, young guys, people trying it for the first time and...us. You may have an image of the type of person who takes part in grassroots motorsport (adenoids, beard, pot belly, MX-5, and small hands), but it's incorrect: the people we met at that meet were truly lovely and keen to help out if needed. The Mii is an incredibly versatile little car; while its 1.0-litre engine may seem tiny, it provides plenty of go. Dynamically it's leagues ahead of the likes of the Peugeot 107, Toyota Aygo, or Citroen C1. Admittedly nearly a decade of development has occurred between the two being launched, but still. Up next, the Caterham: a car first designed in the 1950s in a shed in Norfolk and "refined" by Caterham in a shed in Dartford. About 99 percent of the time I'm not a fan of Caterhams. Drive them on the road and you feel overexposed, unprepared for a crash, and, if you're in a quick one, a little like a spin is a blink away. However, stick one on a track and you pretty much dominate. Caterhams are lighter, faster, and more fun than the competition. For Autosolo, though, the Supersport's wide turning circle was a bit of an issue. Some reversing had to happen. OK, a lot of reversing had to happen. Autosolo is a big 'ol bag of fun. It's fast, challenging, and really competitive. I'd recommend it to anyone -- partly for the low entry fee, partly for the wonderful people, and partly for the fact you'll end up addicted to it. Now, go forth and slide around a cone already.
|Seat Mii specs|
|Torque||70 lb. ft.|
|0-62 mph||14 seconds|
|Top speed||106 mph|
|Caterham Supersport specs|
|Torque||120 lb. ft.|
|0-62 mph||4.9 seconds|
|Top speed||120 mph|