Today is the first driving test for AFK Racing and we all need to pass.

We’ve been friendly rivals in the virtual world of online racing for more than two years, but now we’re a team, each rooting for the other. As Natalie Knowles, her brother Nick Creed, Tim Parsons and I met in the paddock of Oulton Park, near Manchester, nerves were high. We knew very little about each others’ real-world driving ability as our only on-track contact (and there was plenty of that) has been regular Thursday evening hangs in the online lobby of  Gran Turismo, arguably the world’s most popular arcade/sim racing game

gran turismo virtual sim racing game action

Virtual racing with @27racers. Photo: Nik Berg/Sony

During COVID lockdown, in 2020, we all joined the 27Racers club started by former Evo and Top Gear magazine guys Nick Trott and Paul Regan, and took part in weekly events which were often as much about livery design skills as they were about racing prowess. More importantly, they were a chance for contact with people outside our mandated bubbles. The build-up to each race and the post-race dissections on Twitter were as amusing as the racing itself. Friendships formed.

This year, the online group of friends decided to meet-up in real life, and the four of us converged on an actual race circuit for the first time. We decided to go racing, for real, in EnduroKA. It’s a cost-effective endurance racing series for the almost-comedic Mk1 Ford KA. Founded in 2019, the discipline has become massively popular in the UK, with more than 60 teams registered for 2022. The little KAs run spec suspension, brakes, wheels and tires, and are fitted with mandatory roll-cage, racing seat, harness, fire suppression system and electric cut-off switches. No performance upgrades are permitted so everyone on the grid goes into battle with less than 70 horsepower.

EnduroKA cars race action

Real racing with EnduroKA. Photo: Marke Lees/EnduroKA

We’re still building our car, having sourced a genuine one-owner example with barely 11,000 miles on it. Before we can race our little KA, we need to get our race licenses, first. Without four, there will be little point to AFK (Away From Keyboard) Racing’s newest endeavor.

In the United States, you have a choice of sanctioning bodies to obtain a license, such as the SCCA and NASA. On this side of the pond, it’s the job of Motorsport U.K. What’s common to both countries is that if you are a novice (or in my case let your license lapse a long time ago) then you need to attend a racing school.

In the U.K., there’s a multiple-choice exam in addition to an on-track assessment. Everyone on Team AFK Racing was most worried about the written portion. U.K. motorsport rules are all contained in a yearbook, known as The Blue Book. It is 472 pages long. The chapter on circuit racing runs to 22 pages of technical minutiae and none of us were sure quite how much we should have memorized.

Thankfully veteran instructor—and four-time Formula Ford championship winner—Malcolm Barfoot offered a reassuring briefing. The first part of the test was about flag signals and we had to get every answer correct. The next set of questions covered other on- and off-track safety (and we could afford to get three of them wrong). This portion of the test wasn’t anywhere near as tricky as we’d imagined and we all got through with flying colors.

Next up: the driving assessment. Malcom stressed that the examiners weren’t looking for raw speed, but our ability to follow the racing line and be alert for other drivers on track. It’s the latter that ended up being the most challenging as our tests took place during an open track day.

Full-bore Touring Cars, Ferrari Challenge racers, and a selection of speedy road cars from Caterhams to Porsches joined us on the circuit. Motor Sport Vision (MSV), which operates Oulton Park, provided us with two carbon-roofed BMW M4 Competitions. In addition to the pack of other speedsters, we had to contend with the M4’s 500 horsepower, all while trying to learn the full 2.69-mile circuit and its dozen corners.

AFK Racing bmw m4 front

Motor Sport Vision

As it turned out, we did’t quite have access to the full stable of M horses because MSV restricted the learner car’s throttle. This was probably for the better. While the BMW wasn’t exactly slow, nobody set any lap records.

I was the first out, but no sooner than we started the M4, the session was red flagged, as a car caught fire. The 20-minutes wait time didn’t do any favors for my nerves. When we finally got on track, my instructor Marc Kemp performed a couple of demo laps, talking me through the rather technical track. Then, we swapped seats and I completed a handful of circuits, never quite getting the hang of the late-entry Shell Oils corner and taking it into two bites instead of one elegant sweep. Marc then sat in silence, watching closely, as I aimed for two clean laps, dodging a spinning Renault Clio and pirouetting Caterham in the process. (I think the accident avoidance actually put a few brownie points toward a passing grade).

Back in the pits, I gave my teammates the thumbs up and waited anxiously as they drove the course. In about an hour or so, everyone made it through the driving test. We were officially racing drivers.

A few days later, we met again in our virtual world. As we traded digital paint, it was clear through the chat that we couldn’t wait to put our licenses to use at a real race in September.

Stay tuned to see how we get on.

AFK Racing group

Nik Berg