Wail on an Ariel at VIR

The VIR Driving Experience is an affordable way to drive an Ariel Atom.
The half-day program runs the Patriot Course in the infield.
Half-day and full-day options are available for you to drive one of these expensive toys at VIR.

Driving an Ariel Atom has been every car enthusiast’s dream ever since we saw Jeremy Clarkson annihilate his ample English jowls on the “Top Gear” test track. The cars have been available stateside for several years now, but the $47,500 toy is out of reach for many people. What if you just want a turn behind the wheel?

That’s why the VIR Driving Experience exists. It offers potential owners, Atom fans, enthusiasts and other mere mortals a chance to drive one at speed on Virginia International Raceway. There are two levels of driving access: a half-day and a full-day experience. We recently tried out the half-day test ($525). Since it’s designed to be extremely beginner-friendly, it starts with a classroom session covering the basics.

Their instructors are properly equipped to handle tough questions, though: They’re real instructors with credentials. Our instructor, Keith McIntosh, has raced karts and Formula Fords and has instructed drivers for 20 years.

After instruction, drivers get into the provided driving suits and helmets. Unfortunately, there’ll be no face-peeling going on: Their helmets are full-face. It’s probably best that way, though, because the experience uses fenderless Spec Racer Atoms, not street versions that would protect your face from stone attacks.

The Patriot Course is a small track set up in the infield, and it mimics portions of the full course’s major elements. The entire half-day experience is comprised of lead-follow sessions, with controlled passing. Debriefing and further instruction follows each of the three 15-minute sessions.

How well you and your fellow drivers behave on track determines the speed of the pace car, which increases for each session. If you’re with a good group, you’ll be lapping at very satisfying speeds. In fact, when helmets come off at the end of each session, the paddock fills with smiles.

This makes it an excellent morale-boosting corporate outing, as well as a fun bachelor party possibility. In order to cater to corporate clients, they’re considering preparing the only automatic-equipped Atom in the world. Withhold your groans; no one will be forced to drive it. It’s merely for those who don’t know stickshift.

If half a day of wailing on a 200-horsepower, 1300-pound track toy isn’t enough for you, the full-day experience runs four 20-minute sessions on the VIR South Course ($1695). That includes sessions of open lapping with no pace car. For more information on Ariel Atoms and the VIR Driving Experience, visit their website, or call Graham Howe at (434) 822-9130, extension 304.

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