Heading west along the A303, and you’ll find an ex-military airbase, a remnant of World War Two sitting in the middle of the picturesque Hampshire countryside. And while Thruxton is still used as an airport to this day, it is for another pursuit that it is now known – motor racing.

Drivers of everything from cars and bikes to lorries regularly test their mettle on the world-famous track, but the site also throws open its doors to the public to have a go too. With the opportunity to drive supercars at high speeds right on our doorstep, I leapt at the chance to experience it for myself.

On arriving at Thruxton, the first thing you notice is the futuristic hospitality centre, built on one of the many sweeping bends of the track. It’s here I met Ben Norton, who discussed the history of the circuit.

“It’s a really unique place,” he said. “The circuit has had the same layout since 1968, and it’s the fastest in the UK. There’s no bit of it that’s straight. People travel a long way to race here, with some people flying in from around the world.”

To welcome visitors both local and international, the new centre was built in 2018 to celebrate the site’s 50th anniversary, as well as to host avariety of events.

“Before we had this venue, we didn’t have a place to look after people,” Ben said. “But now, it allows us to go from strength to strength. We’ve had everything from sports and clothing to chewing gum, so this helps us attract a non-motorsport audience as well.”

Inside the venue, you collect your driving card from reception. I was set to drive a Porsche Cayman, followed by one of the fastest cars in the world – the Ferrari 458 Spyder, which has a top speed of 200mph.

Before you can get your hands on the fast cars, however, it’s time for a safety briefing, as one of the centre’s instructors talks you through the layout of the track, and how to get around safely. There’s also a video, showing what steps you need to take in order to take the many bends quickly, but safely. Safety also extends to the Covid measures in place, with regular cleaning of cars and masks being worn to protect guests.

Then it’s out onto the tarmac, where you and your fellow drivers get put together with one of the instructors, who takes you on a ‘spotting lap’ in one of the circuit’s smaller cars. In my case, it was a Renault Megane, newly debuting at the circuit.

“We’re always trying to move forward,” Ben said. “One of the ways we do this by getting new cars for the driving experiences, such as our new Alpines and Renault Meganes.”

While it starts off gradually, across the three laps the pace really picks up, such that you can feel the force as the car takes the turns at speed. While racing may seem like just a matter of putting your foot down, it turns out that smoothness is the name of the game. Braking into a corner, and then seamlessly accelerating out the other side, is what allows you to hit top speeds, rather than slamming on the brakes at the last minute before hitting the accelerator after.

Following your spotting lap, it’s time to experience getting behind the wheel for yourself as you get one of the sports cars on offer. In my case, it was a Porsche Cayman that I would be taking for a spin around the track – and hopefully with no spinning off of it!

As you’re taken out by the instructor, it’s a little nerve-wracking at first as you try to piece together all the different instructions. Braking for the red cones, accelerating for the green, while trying to keep to the racing line, means my first lap wasn’t the speediest. But apparently, my time spent playing driving games was well-spent, as I was praised for my “very confident and smooth” style of driving as I took the Porsche around again and again.

Afterwards, you get a score card from your instructor, for which I got good marks around many of the bends in the track, with “great lines” along the course. Feeling good, I was ready to step into the iconic red Ferrari, and see what I could do with a supercar.

Joining me and Richard, my instructor, for this drive was also a curious looking camera. Looking like a ball on the end of a stick, it was a 360⁰ camera, which the circuit offers as an extra for those using its cars.

“The old fixed cameras were becoming a bit boring,” Ben said. “Moving to 360⁰ is something we’re leading on. It’s a challenge, but it allows our customers to look everywhere in 4K [definition], which gives a much more engaging experience.

“You can see everything happening and step forward and really become a part of it.”

With my dashboard eye ready to follow my driving, I eased the Ferrari out onto the track. This is easier said than done, with a paddle-based gearbox, and a lack of a handbrake, proving a bit of a puzzle at first. Though I didn’t know it yet, getting out of the car at the other end would also be difficult, as I lost track of the door handle.

Back to the circuit itself, and your first lap is getting used to the response of the Ferrari, which responds instantly to your inputs. Soon enough though, and you can take it around the corners before flying along the track. As I gained confidence, I pushed the car faster and faster, reaching speeds of around 130mph before I came back into the pit lane. It’s a fantastic experience, and you can only wish it can go on for longer.

Fortunately, in my case, it was. I’d also been booked into the opportunity to drive one of the single seater Formula Renault racing cars. And while the Ferrari is a magnificent beast of a car, this was my highlight. Away from the glamour and style of the Italian supercar, the Formula Renault is racing at its purest – gear stick, no windscreen, just you and the track.

Once you’ve been suited and helmeted up, I found myself sliding into one of these cars. There’s not too much to it – even the steering wheel has to be brought in – but it’s a very nippy vehicle. After a false start in the pit lane, I managed to get it out onto the track, and really go for it.

While the Ferrari was calm and air conditioned, the Formula Renault is noisy, with the smell of petrol in the air. But I loved every minute of it. You can really put your foot down and feel the vibrations coursing through the car, as you open up the engine. If you do anything at Thruxton, the racing cars should be your priority – there’s not quite anything else like it.

Cars aside, there are also plenty of other things to do at Thruxton. Besides the airport and the track, there is a karting track, a skid pan, and an off-road area amongst others. The variety of different activities means that there’s likely to be something for everyone, but also helped the centre during Covid.

“We were able to unlock venue at different rates,” Ben said, “such as opening the karting track but not doing the driving experiences until later. Meanwhile, we could do the races, but only behind closed doors, which was desperately sad. Having audiences makes a race meeting, it’s incredible with them and is such a great atmosphere.”

He added that the centre’s recovery is “going well”, and that staff are working hard to give the centre a firm footing for the rest of this year and the next.

So if you are in the area, or even if you aren’t, it’s very much worth a trip to Thruxton Motorsport Centre. It may be a little on the pricey side, but for petrol-heads anywhere in the world, it’s a paradise.