MARULAN DRIVER TRAINING CENTRE
Marulan Driver Training Centre is the brainchild, creation and passion of owner Garry Wilmington and his wife Natalie. Those of you who followed motor-racing in the 1970s and 80s might remember Gary – he drove in the Touring-Car races (equivalent of today’s V8 Supercar series), mostly at the wheel of a Falcon; as well as several other categories too. Gary is passionate about encouraging young drivers to develop their skills, and also providing a facility where they can drive quickly in a controlled and safe environment – rather than hooning around on public roads. As he says, “I believe in people having a future.” Part of putting that belief into action is helping to develop future racing drivers, but part of it is also trying to reduce crashes on the road by allowing them to satisfy their “need for speed” on a track. After long holding a dream of being able to do this – and in the meantime serving for quite a few years as manager of Wakefield Park at Goulburn – Gary created this specialised facility at Marulan, which is about 30km north of Goulburn on the highway between Goulburn and Sydney. As he says, it’s ideally positioned to attract people from Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Wollongong, Nowra, and the Southern Highlands. The facility is called a “Driver” training centre, and while it is probably aimed more at “drivers” – that is cars – than riders, it does cater for bikes too. Planning began back in 1991, but it took a long time to get approval – and funds – to allow the project to go ahead. But go ahead it eventually did, and it was opened in January 2009. As I said, Gary is passionate about developing the skills of young drivers, and so driver-training is a big part of what they offer. And it starts at pre-licence age, where kids of 15 and 16 can learn proper car control before they even get their Ls. They can even provide cars (for a fee, of course) for you to drive. Up-coming race-drivers and riders are, as I said, also an area where Gary can help. He was telling me that the two closest race-tracks, Eastern Creek and Wakefield Park, don’t provide practice-time for Juniors. Why? Apparently because the numbers aren’t sufficient for those tracks to put aside track-time for them. But as Gary says, “The numbers are small because there isn’t anywhere to practice! But here they can come and practice.” It’s not just a bitumen track though. There are good pit facilities, plus a main building where group-training takes place, as well as including a café that serves tea and coffee and makes light meals. If you’d like to check out more details about the place, have a look on their web-site at www.mdtc.com.au. I’m writing this in early 2010, and in the year since it’s been open the place has become quite popular and well patronised. Of course it will take time to really build up, but already the Police are using it as a training facility for their motorcycle riders. Of course also a big part of what they do, again as I’ve already mentioned, is to provide a facility for track days, where you can bring your car or bike (no, not on the same day!) and do the usual track-ride-day. And that was what got me interested. I’ve never done a ride-day at a race-track. The price here is a bit less than the more established race-circuits, and I thought it might be good to ride there and have a bit of time on a track. After making initial enquiries I must admit I was put off a bit by the dimensions of the track. It’s only 1km in total length, with a main straight of just 500m. Now, my intention was not so much to try scraping the pegs around corners, but to have a bit of a blast at high speed without having to worry about the boys-in-blue with their radar-guns. But with a 500m straight I figured that’d be like trying to do a high-speed run in your driveway! So instead of booking in for a ride-day I thought I’d just go there for a look first. It was a good destination for a day-ride anyway, and I could have a look, take a few pics etc. So that’s what I did. (Although, due to the weather at my end being a bit inclement – well, it was actually raining! – I ended up going in the car). But I still checked it out, had a good look around, and had quite a long chat to Gary also. The place is easy enough to find; although it’s a fair way off the highway, along a special (sealed) access road that runs past a few farms. So it’s out in the middle of the bush. You’d reckon that’d be an ideal place, away from neighbours who might be annoyed by the noise etc. But, typically, no; there are still people who complain! Gary said they regularly got complaints from a farm that was 3km away! Now, while he was telling me this, we were standing probably 20 metres away from the track-side as a ride session was in progress. And we were able to converse quite easily. Okay, cars might be noisier, but it really comes down to people and their objection to anything that even vaguely intrudes on what they consider their rightful isolation and tranquility. A very telling point is that some of the complaints were apparently made on days when the centre was actually closed! Okay, well let’s get to the track and the action. As I said, the whole thing is just 1km in length. Although it seems longer than that sounds (if that makes sense!) when you’re there looking at it. As you’ll see if you look at the diagram of it on the web-site, it basically has a straight at the front, with wriggley bits around the back. It reminded me a bit of Eastern Creek in that sense; although the direction is clockwise, not anti-clockwise. The straight, as I said, is only 500 metres, but it kind of looks longer from the side-lines; although it probably seems pretty short when you’re out there on it! It’s also up-hill and slightly undulating. There are a couple of corners that are fairly open and sweeping, but most look pretty tight. The riding is done in different groups, depending on how fast you ride; as is usually the case. However where most tracks regulate this by imposing a maximum speed for each class, here the division is determined by how hard you ride. If you’re going to ride like a Rossi wanna-be, then you’re in the fast group. If you ride like a grandad (that’d be me!) then you’re in the slow group. Groups are sent out, in rotation, for 10 minute sessions at a time. Then you can calm down, watch the others, and then go back out for another 10-minute thrash. While I’m talking about how they operate, I should mention cost. The cost for bikes is $110 per day; with a once-off (for a year anyway) Licence fee of $30. As I said before, that’s a bit less than you’d pay at one of the major race-tracks. It was interesting watching the bikes go round. The first group I saw were motards. They looked pretty serious, and were fun to watch, as they went sliding into corners, the riders sticking the leg out motocross style. Then various sports-bikes took to the track. Some riders obviously a bit more enthusiastic than others. As you'll see in the photos below, some were lifting the front wheel out of the bottom corner onto the straight. The track sessions aren’t actually races, of course (well, not officially anyway!), but there was obviously some competition between riders – as you’d expect. And it was interesting to watch the comparisons between bikes and riders, and see who “won”. Everyone was riding fairly hard (no wobbly grandads from what I could see!), and it was good to watch; like watching actual racing sometimes! I got talking to a couple of riders who had ridden there from Canberra, for their first time at the track. One had a Honda CB1000 and the other a Yamaha R1. Both were loving the experience! The guy on the Yamaha said he was riding the whole track in 2nd gear. He said, “I tried using different gears but I wasn’t any faster, so I just left it in 2nd.” I had noticed, while watching it earlier, that it was revving pretty hard on the main straight! (But then with 2nd gear running to probably well over 160kph by red-line, I suppose you wouldn't really need another gear!). I spoke to another guy later who was a regular rider there. He was wheeling his R1 into the back of a van at the end of the day. I asked if he had enjoyed the day. “No!” came the surprising reply. Then he explained. “It’s like deciding to go to the gym. It seems a good idea before you go, but after you’ve been you feel totally buggered!” Yes, I suppose it can be hard work! During my time there I didn’t see anyone come off. Although I was told that before I arrived the track was a bit damp, and a couple of riders did go down. Not hurt though, which was good to hear. Medical facilities are on hand, of course. This is a great facility! And Gary and Natalie deserve a hearty congratulations for establishing it. And for their enthusiasm and concern for young drivers and riders. I kept thinking about Gary's words, "I believe in people having a future." At around the same time I was there, there had been several horror crashes on NSW roads. This facility provides training and also an outlet for that "need for speed". Hopefully this will go some way towards giving people a future; people who might otherwise end up a roadside statistic. That's one of Gary's main motivations. On a lighter note, there could be one danger to watch out for. I overheard a couple of staff talking as they were packing up at the end of the day. “Did you find any snakes today?” asked one. “No”, replied the other, “Not today.” Ah, yes, the advantages of a peaceful bush location!
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