PalmerSport experience

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Driving day numbers are down, but there’s no need to worry

A company that relies heavily on corporate customers can’t have found the past two years easy. With this in mind, I was keen to ask Jonathan Palmer how PalmerSport has coped with the recession.

Even though Bedford Autodrome is still the place to go for the ultimate driving experience, the profit margins must be tight – a situation that is surely only exaggerated during a credit crunch. You pay in excess of £700 to drive six cars, but these you are encouraged to drive to within an inch of their lives. On my two visits here there has never been a problem with any of the cars, which is testament to the behind-the-scenes work that goes into preparing them and indeed the money that is spent.

“Business wasn’t down a worrying amount in 2008/09,” says Palmer. “It was certainly significantly down, but we were still doing a lot of business at Bedford and it was up on 2003/04.”

MotorSport Vision, the umbrella company that owns PalmerSport, remains coy about how many people it has had through its doors over the past few years, but it would say it was “up to 20,000 a year”. If each of them is paying £700, that amounts to £14 million at the peak of business. It’s a hefty sum, but factor in that it has just bought 27 BMW M3s, which it will then modify by lowering and adding a rollcage – among other improvements – and the money is soon spent. And that’s not considering the cost of instructors, the food – which is delicious by the way – fuel, tyres and any other running costs.

“If someone else tried to do what we do, they’d lose shed-loads of money because there’s a lot of expertise involved in giving people the quality and the extent of product at the price we do,” says Palmer. “A lot of that comes from volume, and if we were doing the volumes of our competitors then it wouldn’t stack up.

“Also, if you took your 911 round here you’d need a set of tyres at the end of the day and it would cost you about £2000 to do it, so I don’t think we’re that expensive.”

Although PalmerSport’s numbers have been down, it’s easy to see why there is confidence in the product. “PalmerSport is not an area of business that we’d anticipate growing beyond the levels we had in 2007,” says Palmer. “We won’t be back there this year, but we probably will next year.” No doubt it will.

In my experience the PalmerSport day at Bedford Autodrome is one of the best overall packages out there. For more information call 01403 733999 or visit www.palmersport.com