Press Reviews

I've been doing this for more than 20 years now so there's a lot of history and a tale or two to tell. Here's a small collection of articles that were published in the press.

They all have a story to tell and it's not always mine.

  • A Twingo being chased by a Porsche

    Lessons on the Limit

    With news filling the air of a potential French sprint series, we visited renowned driving coach, Don Palmer, to see if it's possible to cut down on lap times without spending money on aftermarket parts.

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    Some of you may be deep in thought about a monumental engine build or general motorsport preparation, but have you thought about spending money on yourself? Not on Nomex underwear, but on improving your driving ability.

    A well-prepared sprint / hillclimb / track car is usually wasted if its driver has never taken advice, or undertaken professional coaching. Some of you may already be competitive at venues like Prescott, Shelsley, Castle Hill or Gurston or generally quite handy on track, but spending the day with driving guru and legendary coach, Don Palmer will give you a better understanding of not only yourself, but your steed too.

    Having got to know our Twingo RS Cup long-termer kindly loaned to us by the Renault press department, we've come to realise that its agile persona and punchy 1600cc twin-cam could be the basis for a superb sprint / hillclimb car. So beyond the restrictions and hazards of the UK's roads, we were itching to reach its limits. The destination was Bruntingthorpe in Leciester, an expanse of airfield concrete that's big enough to soak up any spin.

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  • Mark Hales in the passenger seat talking lines

    Learning Your Lines

    Tired of the driving courses that merely show you the way round one particular circuit? The Octane team tried one that really teaches you how to tackle corners, on road and track.

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    There's a short hill that ends with a sharp, blind, left turn, followed immediately by a right-hand hairpin. You touch 100mph before braking hard, really hard, and if you get it wrong then there's no way you're going to make it through.

    I'm heading in fast for another go, veteran instructor Don Palmer in the passenger seat, urging me on. 'Brake, brake!' he urges. 'Now hint!' (more on that later...). 'That's it, now look through the corner, where's the exit? Lovely, and... LOOK! AN EAGLE!'

    For me, that ridiculous moment in which driver, instructor and bemused colleague in the back seat are staring at a magnificent bird of prey hovering over the lovely Anglesey Circuit while part-way through a tricky, high-speed, on-the-limit manoeuvre sums up two amazing days on what has since become the Octane Masterclass. We learnt a lot, we had fun, we had what felt like life-changing experiences - and I'd like to point out now that we have only since made this an Octane course because we were so impressed with it. This is not an advertising feature!

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  • A Z4M making tracks at Bruntingthorpe

    7 Days with a Z4M

    So what’s a BMW Z4M Coupe like to live with? Phil Royle spends seven days driving and, er, drifting one.

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    I’ve always had a thing for properly quirky cars – the sort of motors people might say they like, but would never actually buy, own and enjoy… cars exactly like the BMW Z4M Coupe; leftfield hero.

    Like many petrolheads, I’ve been an M-Power BMW fan for many a year: A hard charging carbon-air-boxed E46 M3 CSL straight-six sounds almost too good to be true, as does the E90 M5’s mega five-litre V10, once spinning at sufficient revs. Undeniably, BMW’s M-Power wing makes some of the best normally aspirated engines on offer. And the Z4M’s 343bhp, 365Nm 3.2-litre straight-six M-Power S14 engine is a tried and tested, evolved belter… perfect for that muscle car drag off the lights (easy 5.0sec to 60mph), the 160+mph Autobahn cruise, power oversteer on tap (thanks to glorious torque curve and the best possible throttle response) and a proper spank on track too. Tip top talents.

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  • The M3 Evo in a slide

    The Stuff of Legends

    Don Palmer's 'on the limit' driving has won many fans and helped hundreds of people to unlock their potential, Joel and I find out what it is that makes him one of the most respected and sought-after driving coaches in Britain.

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    The moment of truth. I'm going to deliberately provoke oversteer with the throttle. Accelerate hard in second and third, take a deep breath, I'm now bearing down on the first really tight left-hander. Entry speed okay, dab the brakes, feel the front end bite and tuck in and the rear simultaneously go light, start to wind off the lock... now hard on the power. The rear of my M3 slews round snapper Gary, who's standing just a few feet away, camera poised to capture my first spectacular drift. Perfect, shouts Don in my ear.

    Being a motoring journalist, I'm in the envious position of having done a variety of limit handing courses. I all honesty, I htought I was a pretty good driver; I could recognise where the racing line is and brake in the right places, but really I had no idea of what my M3 Evo was capable of. I needed some professional help, someone who could help me learn more about driving on the edge and more to the point, recognise when I am perilously close to falling off that edge. Every time I was at Bruntingthorpe for a shoot or a trash, there was always one particular person who, whatever he was driving, held perfect drifts all the way through the top bend and out on to the centre of the straight. I later found out that the guy behind the wheel was driving guru Don Palmer. It was time to give him a call.

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  • Performance Car's BMW

    Yaw Gorgeous

    Driving guru Don Palmer reveals the secrets of high performance car control.

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    The slowest corner of the circuit, designed to induce understeer and punish excessive entry speeds, is fast approaching.

    Leaving it to the last possible moment, I give the brakes a hint by dabbing the middle pedal gently, then I bury it into the carpet. The turn in point nears. I reduce my braking effort and give the steering its own hint by applying a few degrees of lock. With the turn in point beneath me, I apply all the required lock smoothly, fingertips barely squeezing the wheel rim, feeling for grip, and swiftly come off the brakes. The 335d turns in perfectly, the rear follows in line. Front end glued down, I complete the turn, wind off the lock quickly and get on the power. 428lb ft of torque sends the back end round a few degrees, and a tweak of opposite lock brings it back into line. “A gorgeous piece of work!” yells Don Palmer, high performance driver coach and master wheelman.

    It was in stark contrast to my earlier attempts. A mess of scrappy understeer, missed apices and lost time. The complement was aimed at myself, but in truth the good work was Don’s. What a difference a day with Palmer makes.

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  • Line up of those attending the first Masterclass

    First Masterclass

    The week before last I attended Don Palmer's and Mark Hales' first track 'Masterclass'. The event was based at the newly re-developed Anglesey Circuit.

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    There were six participants in total, making an excellent pupil / coach ratio of 3 to 1. We arrived at the circuit at around 9am, to be greeted by fantastic sunshine and probably some of the best views available at any circuit in the UK.

    Mark and Don set out first to explain the objective of the 2 day course. In short, the objective was to explore and deconstruct the process of track driving, and work out how to optimise one's line and approach to cornering. Mark and Don were both keen to stress that this was not about learning Anglesey (or any specific circuit), but rather helping us to equip ourselves with the tools and processes to analyse a circuit and analyse our own driving. In short, to raise our awareness of how to optimise our track driving techniques.

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  • Don talking, viewed through the windscreen of the Clio

    Too Cool 4 Skool?

    If you're anything like us you'll think you're the nut behind the wheel, but how many times have you nearly ended up in that ditch. Time to swallow your pride and pay a visit to the Don.

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    I’m a bloody good driver. I can take racing lines. I brake in the right places. Nothing is beyond me. I’m the nuts… At least, that’s what I thought up until a month ago when two experiences changed my perspective completely.

    Being a journalist, I’m in the jealousy-provoking position of being able to test lots of nice cars. Most of the cars I have driven have been front-wheel drive hot hatches that can be chucked about and are more than forgiving when you make a mistake, which, of course, I never did. However, there was one car that set me straight. The Renault Clio V6.

    The Mk1 V6 had a fearsome reputation for swapping ends at any opportunity. I’d been told that the Mk2 had undergone a few chassis mods, which had cured the snappy rear end, but as the test car rolled into the office car park, I couldn’t help being slightly apprehensive about driving it for the first time. The fact it was raining didn’t help.

    On the way home that evening I was surprised at how planted the rear-engined Clio felt, but there was one problem. As I made my way down the winding country roads, I suddenly realised that I actually wasn’t that great a driver. Yes, I could drive the Clio quickly in a straight line, but then who can’t? It was round the twisties that I suddenly realised I had no idea of how far I could push the V6, where the limit was or even when it was getting close. I just couldn’t read the signs and something had to be done. Quickly.

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  • The Porsche 944 leaning heavily on one wheel

    Life in the Fast Lane

    In today’s high speed world, fast cars are commonplace — but do motorists have the skills necessary to drive them safely? Dave Blows took his Impreza Turbo for a day out and made some startling discoveries…

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    Driving guru Don Palmer loves to screw with your head. And when he’s finished and you reach for the cigarettes, the realisation dawns that what you’ve just experienced was almost as orgasmic as the real thing.

    Let’s face it, short of sex (or scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final) there’s not much that compares to driving like a lunatic in a ballistic chunk of metal on four (or fewer) screeching tyres at speeds and angles that seem impossible in the real world.

    I went to Palmer fuelled by a desire to understand what my car can do but, more significantly, what I was capable of. Despite owning a Japanese rice rocket, the times I’ve been in skids or slides matches Baldrick’s sexual conquests, but at least I had a cunning plan to find out what it’s like to lose control and emerge both unscathed and enlightened by the experience.

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  • Impreza 22B having a slide

    Driving Ambition

    "Do less be more" is the mantra of top driving coach, Don Palmer. Intrigued, we took the 4wd Project WRX, a rear-drive Nissan 300ZX and a top-spec Subaru Impreza 22B to Bruntingthorpe airfield to discover what that mantra means to two different drivers.

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    Before any of us buys our dream high-performance Japanese car, we like to think we give consideration to several important factors: peformance, handling and braking abilities, tuning potential, purchase price, insurance costs, image... But one thing I'll bet most people don't put on their pre-purchase checklist is the skills of the person who's going to be driving it - that means you!

    Let's face it, if you've attended numerous trackdays and lapped the Nürburgring a hundred times, you don't need to be told how to drive. Or do you? It may be a cliché but, as far as I can see, driving is one of those skills that you can never truly perfect. It's such a variable art, dependent to a large degree on your state of mind, the car you're driving, the track conditions and what's going on around you, all of which means there's always room for improvement. Even drivers of the calibre of Colin McRae or James Thompson still practise, don't they?

    I went to Palmer fuelled by a desire to understand what my car can do but, more significantly, what I was capable of. Despite owning a Japanese rice rocket, the times I’ve been in skids or slides matches Baldrick’s sexual conquests, but at least I had a cunning plan to find out what it’s like to lose control and emerge both unscathed and enlightened by the experience.

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  • Don and two listeners sitting on the bonnets of their cars

    The Holy Grail

    I'm lined up at the starting gate, marked out by a couple of cones [...] Somewhere down the line there's a corner, marked by more cones - and I'm going to take it sideways.

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    Mastering Power Oversteer has always been the Holy Grail

    I 'm lined up at the starting gate, marked out by a couple of cones. The M3 SMG kindly loaned by the BMW press office idles beneath me with the velvet metallic potency of an MPower straight six. Ahead there's a flat, wide expanse of concrete and tarmac, pimpled with red and yellow cones. Somewhere down the line there's a corner, marked by more cones - and I'm going to take it sideways.

    Only question is, will I be in control?

    My first ever sideways moment still has the power to bring me out in a cold sweat, the memory reaching out down the years and stabbing me with an icy finger. MGB V8, my first powerful rear-drive car; sharp right hander; waaaay too much gas, much too early. The rapid rotation only ended when the outside wheel thumped a kerb, which jolted the car mercifully back into line. The bolt of adrenalin would probably have been very handy if I was being chased by a bull and had to vault a 6ft wall. Strapped in to a driver's seat, it only served to send my heart-rate bursting through the red line.

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  • Clarke on the Edge

    Greatest Drivers

    "I believe that everyone can drive on the limit if they want to."
    As one of the most respected and sought-after driving coaches in Britain, Don Palmer should know.

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    "The greatest motorsport all-rounders, Moss, Andretti, Clark et al share the same basic attributes. Driving talent always shines through," he says. "The top guys have a fascination about driving on the limit, they can jump in any car and go straight there."

    And it is for his work with 'on the limit' driving that Palmer has won many fans and aided hundreds of drivers to unlock their potential.

    "Driving is a head thing. I simply help people develop appropriate beliefs about their driving," he continues. "It's about getting people to focus - I get them to focus on what really matters. We start wherever they are and go wherever they want to go to." This is one of the keys to the way Palmer works with drivers. Each individual has their own target, whether they are serious racers, weekend fun racers, track day drivers or simply road drivers wanting to learn more. Whatever the need, he can tailor his coaching to satisfy it.

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  • BMW 528i driving round cones

    Less is More

    You never stop learning behind the wheel of your car, yet to extract the maximum, sometimes you need to put in the bare minimum. Dominic Holtam gets enlightened.

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    As journalists we are blessed with the opportunity to drive all sorts of cars. We know that some of them have to be treated with respect, some can be frightening. We see all sorts of driving styles and, at some level notice that we could improve the way we drive. The question that we face on a regular basis is "How on earth does that bloke do that?" And more importantly, having identified what we aspire to: "How could we learn how to do that?" No matter how many cars you drive, no matter how many circuits you lap, or how many powerslides you catch you can always learn more and improve your skills. It's a thought I can't shake as I bounce an M3 backwards over the grassy infield on our Car of the Year shoot.

    As I come to a halt five feet from the Armco I recall, with vivid clarity, the sight of a hard used white E28 M5 being held almost on its lock-stops for several hundred yards. The guy at the wheel was Don Palmer, driving coach and oversteer guru. I decide its time to give him a call.

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  • Don drifting a BMW

    Get my Drift

    Driving sideways can be loads of fun and looks pretty spectacular. But how do you really control a car during a slide?

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    While we'd all like to think we're handy behind the wheel, nothing highlights your shortcomings as a driver more than a few laps with someone who can safely push their car around a race track beyond its limits.

    It's even better if they talk you through what they're doing and better still of they're prepared to sit next to you and give advice. It's a form of informal coaching which isn't pressured.

    A good coach will fill you with confidence, not dazzle you with their brilliance. They'll allow you to shine by bringing out your best, not overshadowing your talent. And they'll never jump down your throat if you mess up. Bandy the name Don Palmer around any decent track day crowd, and you'll find at least half the drivers have learned their trade from the Maidenhead based Driving Development founder, and the other half wish they had. You'll be hard pressed to find a regular track-day driver with a serious performance car who hasn't either been coached by Don, or who wants to be, or who should be. Palmer's taught many of the students on Jackie Stewart's American Based motor industry training programs the fine art of on-the-limit handling; sideways driving world record holder Simon De Bank is a former student, and there are hundreds of other Palmer coached drivers now experiencing a whole new world of driving pleasure.

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2013 Don Palmer. All rights reserved.