There has been no grass growing beneath the feet of Jonathan Kotyk or Aaron Jeansonne these past few weeks as they continue their British tour with the Team USA Scholarship, in preparation for this weekend’s Walter Hayes Trophy race. Here’s Jonathan’s take on his first experience of London and an eye-opening visit to the McLaren Technical Center:
With a little time on our hands following another successful test last week at Donington Park, Aaron and I caught a train Friday afternoon to London. It was about an hour’s ride from Huntington to King’s Cross which brought us into the heart of the city. Our plan was to spend the next few days touring around before our highly anticipated visit to the McLaren headquarters on Monday.
With no firm plans or hotel reservations we headed out into the city…on foot. My initial impression reminded me of New York. The only things missing were all the flashy billboards and tall city skyline. The sidewalks were full of people traveling home from work so we tried to stay out of the hustle and bustle of the city life. Since we didn’t know where we were headed we stepped into a small cafe up the street from the train station, and while we were there we decided to find a place to stay for the night.
A few people had recommended we stay in a hostel, which is like a hotel but is more like a college dorm room. Neither of us had ever stayed at one so we had no expectations. The hostel we found was called the Phoenix and was about a two-mile walk away in the Soho district. It was cool to see London come alive as the city transitioned from day to night along the way. When we arrived at the hostel, we found out that each room had six beds so that meant we would have four other roommates we didn’t know. We knew that would make for an interesting stay!
The next day we set out into the city for more sightseeing. We worked our way south and came across Big Ben. A short walk later we saw the London Eye, which is a big ferris wheel that sits along the River Thames, then made our way along the river. We couldn’t believe how unique the architecture was and how well kept the old buildings were. A short while later in the distance we saw one of England’s most famous landmarks, London Bridge. We eventually made our way there and snapped a few pictures. Aaron checked his step counter on his phone and saw we had already walked nine miles. No wonder we were hungry! So we decided to stop for a quick bite to eat at a Pret A Manger. It’s like a Panera Bread with an Italian-inspired menu.
We had already decided not to stay in the hostel again, so instead we found a small hotel in South Kensington. The only problem was that it was a four-mile walk. With it starting to get late in the day we headed over to the hotel walking past the Queen’s London residence, Buckingham Palace, along the way.
In total we had both walked a total of 19 miles through the city streets of London, so naturally on Sunday morning Aaron and I were a bit worn out but we still decided there was plenty more to see. This time we headed west which took us through a more residential part of town. With a big day ahead of us on Monday we called it an early night in preparation for the next stage of our adventure.
On Monday it was time to head to McLaren’s headquarters in Woking, which is an hour’s train ride southwest. Before the sun was up we made our way over to Waterloo Station. Many people in England rely on the public transportation system utilizing trains and buses. Even though it was early in the morning we couldn’t believe how busy the station was as people headed into the city for work. Our biggest challenge was trying to figure out how the train system worked, but we managed to find our way through the busy station and found our seat on the train.
From Woking Station we had a short taxi ride to McLaren headquarters. My jaw dropped as we pulled in. The McLaren Technical Centre is a state-of-the-art facility which houses McLaren’s F1 team as well as a production facility for their road cars. When you walk in the main door, many of their past and current F1 cars are on display. They also have their hyper cars in-house like the McLaren P1.
Mat Betteridge was our guide for the day and he greeted us when we arrived. Mat first took us past the cars on display giving us the history of McLaren. From there we made our way over to the current F1 cars. McLaren builds their F1 cars from the ground up. Their team includes a talented group of designers, engineers, mechanics, and many other trained personal to run a world-class F1 team. From driving past the entrance, you would never know an F1 team was there.
Continuing on our tour Mat showed us their wind tunnel, fitness center and carbon bay where all of the McLaren F1 cars’ carbon fiber parts are made. If that wasn’t enough he also gave us the tour of where the McLaren road cars are produced. Each car is handmade, and it was incredible to watch the cars being built from the ground up. After being treated to an amazing lunch, Aaron and I journeyed by taxi, train and foot via London back to the Dempseys’ house in Corby and packed up that night to be ready for Silverstone. Needless to say, we slept well!
The following day, Team USA’s Jeremy Shaw arranged for another amazing tour at Wirth Research. Wirth is based near Silverstone, which gave us the opportunity to stop by on our way to the circuit. Wirth gave us the chance to run some laps on their racing simulator. It was a great time and we will cover our experience in the next blog as well as our first day’s test at Silverstone in preparation for this weekend’s Walter Hayes Trophy.
Thanks for reading!