Fighting my fears on the track
I haven't slept well for about a month, and that's not my only confession in this blog post.
I would also like to announce that I'm officially a bit of a wimp. No, let me be honest, I'm a total and utter yellow belly! In fact, I always have been and I'm starting to think I probably always will be.
So, how much of a wimp actually am I? Well, I was so scared of a certain type of animal when I was a kid that I'd have to wear wellington boots, Dad's Barbour jacket and two or three pairs of gloves before I'd dare venture past the wire mesh, into their domain, hold my nerve before gathering the confidence to... collect the eggs!
That's right, chickens used to scare me silly, it was their beady eyes and beaks.
I wasn't much better with geese.
On holiday at my godfather Hughie's house in the Lake District in the 1990s, I sprinted away from a goose so quickly that he sent me a badge in the post emblazoned 'Proud to be a Wimp'! My family thought it was hilarious but I took a while to see the funny side.
I remember once watching a TV show, I think it was old Jezza Carkson who was commenting that he feels sorry for fighter pilots or adrenalin junkies because they need to live life on the very edge to feel alive, whereas his mum and most of us mere mortals just need a cuppa and a Garibaldi to get the same buzz.
That doesn't quite describe me. I love my snowboarding and I'm planning something pretty extreme for Sport Relief 2010 that remains a secret for now, but let's just say I am well aware of my own mortality and the dangers this world possesses.
So, why make this confession now, and why the sleeping problem? Well, rather perplexingly I also can't say no to a challenge and that's precisely what could be heading my way on 10 October when I could have the opportunity to take to the track at Silverstone in my first ever race.
Now, don't think I've suddenly decided that a dozen F1 races and sharing the TV with David Coulthard qualifies me to do the business behind the wheel. Nor do I have a deep-seated desire to follow in the footsteps of my Uncle Michael, who in the 1970s was a top European stock car driver (the photos are cracking!).
Do I look nervous in the Lotus?
The fact I might be battling former F1 driver Martin Donnelly, who races in the series, has unnerved me even more. I also balked slightly when I met my car for the first time this week and saw 'Andy Green' emblazoned on the side of it.
If that name doesn't immediately ring a bell, let me remind you - the last guy to drive my sexy little British racing green Elise is the current holder of the Land Speed Record. Not a title under threat from me, I can assure you.
So, that's my predicament. However, as Baldrick would put it: "I have a cunning plan!"
And here's mine - learn, learn, learn!
This weekend I will be tapping into DC and Martin's knowledge in the paddock at Monza. In fact, David will be at the race and on the day before will be giving me his expert guidance around the home of British motorsport. We'll also be recreating Eddie Jordan's past by dragging him along as a rather reluctant team boss to whip me into shape. Should be cracking fun.
I'm essentially asking anyone who can help for advice. I even saw Jos Verstappen the other day, and thought about asking him if he could recommend anyone.
So, the first stop on my road to not disgracing myself was at North Weald Airfield. It was an important base for the Battle of Britain, and for one rain-soaked afternoon I battled around in front of my instructor Andy from carlimits.com. Along with Wayne, official mechanic and unofficial photographer, their mission was to assess me, realise how much of a novice they had on their hands, and start at the beginning.
Andy and I prepare for action
The only thing more embarrassing than arriving in my wife's seven-year-old Mini One was when I spun the car at 30mph and Andy said, "OK, let's start with how to hold the steering wheel..." Suddenly I felt very, very vulnerable.
It was a hardcore day, actually, as the weather kept me on my toes. Where to look, how to steer, what not to do with the brake, accelerator and even the clutch.
What really shocked me was that most of it was trying to unlearn what I had spent the past 13 years on the roads trying to do well. For example, "don't look where you're going, look where you want to go". What? That feels so unnatural.
Perfecting the cornering at North Weald Airfield
Added to the huge learning curve is the pressure I've started to feel. Obviously I don't want to wreck a car kindly being lent to me. Of course I don't want to let everyone down by qualifying and finishing last. But above all I just want to survive the race in one piece, and that brings me back to being a wimp.
I watched Lewis Hamilton's incredible drive in the wet in Monza last year when he launched a series of audacious overtakes in horrendous weather and I can only conclude that I have a 'mortality' switch in my brain that he doesn't.
Andy, the instructor, asked me to drive around a corner using just one finger on top of the steering wheel as opposed to two hands. The lesson worked but I felt like I was driving towards certain death as I launched myself to the left at 70mph, whereas Lewis, Fernando Alonso or any other 'natural' racing driver would have probably just felt intrigue and excitement.
So, what next? I have another couple of track days lined up, I'll avoid all youtube clips of racing car crashes, and just concentrate on the recurring, and seriously delusional, dreams that I may one day have the swagger of James Hunt and the charm of Jim Clark.
I do wish my first forays into racing cars weren't quite so public. Having quoted Baldrick, here's another cracker. As that famous sage David Brent once said "If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence you ever tried." If only it were that simple!