Flt Lt Ann-Marie Noble’s Driving Ambition!

Formula Jaguar @ Bedford Autodrome

Members of Weapons & Survival Equipment Training Flight (nee Squadron) have fond memories of a former Training Development Officer that swept into their lives and with gusto threw herself into trying as many activities as possible. She is a real all action girl with a huge infectious smile, to brighten up any classroom or crew-room.

Flt Lt Noble arrived at WSTS in the March of 2009 and became an immediate hit not only with the trainees but all members of the teaching and management staff. Indeed I would hazard a guess that there are still quite a few members of the wider general staff at RAF Cosford who will remember her.

During her time with us she took part in many events, The Forces March and Adidas Thunder Run 24 hour to name just two of the more extreme and challenging ones. Always first to get her name on the list and if money could be raised for a Service charity then this made the challenge even more rewarding.

In July 2011 she was posted to RAF Marham which was a good career move for her but not a decision that went well with the armourers and squippers. Still they bade her farewell, wished her luck and promised to keep in touch and even meet up at some run or other.

Ann-Marie was diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2012 and a modality of treatment was prescribed to remove and repair the damage. The all clear was eventually given and the regular checks were presented as clear. A short period of rehabilitation was undertaken to return Ann-Marie back to full physical strength so that she could resume her very active lifestyle of skiing, running etc. I myself was discussing with her, ultra running and which event we were going to tackle. Life was certainly back on track!

During, what should have been a routine check, she was given the devastating news that the cancer had returned, was more aggressive and whilst possibly managed was not curable. Hence the diagnosis she has terminal cancer. This was in April of this year. One can only imagine how she felt at this time. If, like me, you have been following Ann-Marie on social media you will be aware of how positive she has remained and deeply focused on enjoying special events with her family and friends. These events are more commonly referred to as a ‘bucket-list’. A wish list of things to do, dreams to fulfil in the precious time that she has left.

During the early part of May, I was tasked to carry out a routine visit to RAF Marham and I jumped at the chance as this would give me the opportunity to meet up with Ann-Marie and catch up the old fashioned way, face to face. I duly popped round to visit and whilst having a cup of tea, Ann-Marie showed me her bucket-list and plan of how she hoped to arrange and fund them. One item that wasn’t actually written down but was in her head was to drive a Formula 1 car. This got me thinking!

Upon my return to Cosford, I set about making enquiries through various agencies, family and friends. Eventually I was given the details of Palmer Sports of Bedford Autodrome. E-mails were sent and the swift response was that a bespoke driving program would be possible, a date needed to be fixed. The only cost that we would have to meet would be the administrative cost. Ann-Marie was informed and asked to provide the dates that would best suit her and fit in around her chemotherapy modules.

This now led to the bit that I seem to be very good at, raising the necessary funds. If you can picture Puss from Shrek with the big sad eyes, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from! I tried to contain my begging to WSTS, but this included Cosford personnel that had moved to other areas and in some cases been posted further afield. The Officers Mess was approached on my behalf by Mrs Sue Winterbottom and they were extremely generous in adding to the swelling coffers.

A date of the 27th June 2013 was booked and all was looking good. I needed to transport Ann-Marie from Marham to the venue and then back again. It was time to call in another favour and contact a dear friend and former RAF colleague of mine who just happened to live in the vicinity of Marham. Oh! Did I mention he operates a chauffeur business! Brian Connolly was more than willing to collect Ann-Marie in a very posh Mercedes and deliver her to the Bedford Autodrome. Now to the return trip; FS Graham Lambe of this parish offered to drive her back, he just happens to live over Norwich way and his chosen vehicle, a Subaru Impreza.

On the evening of the 26th June I received a call from Ann-Marie, which I thought would just be a check of final timings. Alas Ann-Marie had undergone a routine blood test and she was in urgent need of a blood transfusion. The disappointment in her voice was obvious but I assured her that her driving experience was flexible and her health was what really mattered. A new date was selected and with a few telephone calls and Emails everything was re-arranged for Wednesday 16th July. Palmer Sport were very understanding and most accommodating in finalising the revised date.

The day finally arrived; Ann-Marie was collected and professionally delivered by her chauffeur Brain Connolly. The mini-bus containing Mr David Ghost, Cpl Steph Wright, Mrs Jacqui Nicholls, Mr Mal Macdonald with myself driving left Cosford. FS Graham Lambe following in his Subaru, I bet he’s never driven it so slowly before, I think 37mpg is a first!

The two parties came together at the main reception of Palmer Sport, and were allocated to the board room where Mick Maggio was introduced as our host and guide but more importantly he was the driving instructor/mentor for Ann-Marie. Tea, coffee and biscuits were taken whilst Mick explained how the day would evolve. This also gave the group time to chat and catch up with Ann-Marie.

A tour of the workshop was then given; the various vehicles that are on offer to drive were explained and were in various states of routine servicing and or repair. How you get that much engine into such a tight space is truly amazing. Next Mick took us out trackside to see the various cars being put through their paces by their normal paying guests.

Time for more refreshment and lunch was laid out in the board room and extremely tasty and refreshing. If you’ve never had crab and salmon finger sandwiches or fancy cakes liberally doused with coke then you’ve never lived or had Dave Ghost join you for lunch! Needless to say we used our napkins to soak up his little mishap. Mick returned to give an oversight and safety brief to Ann-Marie regarding the vehicles that she was about to drive.

It was now time to go back trackside and do the business. First up was a track familiarisation which would involve Ann-Marie driving with Mick alongside her offering advice and coaching her as to the approach into and out of corners, application of power and or brakes and basically build her confidence in handling the car. How remiss of me, I haven’t told you what she was about to drive. A BMW M3 GTP, a 4 litre, 420BHP timid beasty with a top speed of 185 mph! Check out her smile to see if she was ready for this. Several laps were then driven under the guidance of Mick and we were able to see her speed and handling improve with each lap.

As the BMW then entered the pit area, Ann-Marie’s second car was prepared and positioned as she went to don her protective coveralls. This was what it was all about, the car in question; a Formula Jaguar, 3 litre V8, 250BHP with a top speed of 170 MPH. The main difference this time is this little baby is a single seat race car and possibly as close to a F1 that we could get. The thought of driving solo was beginning to dawn on Ann-Marie as can be seen by the look of intense concentration on her face as Mick delivers his final coaching points. Apprehension etched into her fair features. The engine roared into life and with shouts of encouragement from her friends the dream drive began. Well done girl for a smooth departure from the pits, at least you didn’t stall it! For the first two laps Ann-Marie followed a pace car to help build her confidence and she soon mastered the handling. The pace car then pulled in and she was off. Once again her ability quickly grew and her laps became faster and the entry and exits of corners became smoother.

Now if you’ve ever been to a motor sport event you’ll know that you only see the car for a brief second or two as it speeds past. This is where Palmer Sport sprung another surprise, this time on her friends. One of their young drivers Kieran Vernon arrived in a Jaguar JP-LM Superride, this is a beefed up version of the Palmer Jaguar JP-LM, 3 litre V6, 265BHP with a top speed of 167 MPH. The Superride has fatter tyres, more downforce from the body work with another 15% power!

One by one he took us for a lap of a circuit to show us how it is done. A pure adrenalin rush as we nudged 165 MPH around the south course! The vision of grown adults (mainly armourers), jumping up and down with excitement was a joy to behold. ‘Kids in a sweet shop’ springs to mind. Steph Wright’s choice of skirt not the most appropriate clothing, however it did prove enlightening for Kieran who and I quote “never had a skirt flapping in my face at that speed before.” Steph’s reply had us all in fits of laughter “I had it clenched between my legs as hard as I could but it just slipped out!”

Ann-Marie now returned to the pits, where Lee Marshall uploaded the telemetry data from the car so that her performance could be analysed and explained by Mick. Just looking at her infectious smile will tell you that her dream drive had a huge success. The earlier look of apprehension replaced with one of sheer joy. A couple of her friends were overheard to say that their faces were aching from smiling continuously as they watched Ann-Marie enjoying her event. I must say I agreed with them. Still, there’s more, Ann-Marie was ushered towards the Superride and Kieran took her out for a few laps to show how the experts do it!

Upon our return to the main reception we were fortunate to meet with the main man himself, Jonathon Palmer chatted with Ann-Marie and posed for a photograph with her. Jonathon, if you were checking on your staff, I would just like to say their behaviour was impeccable, they were courteous and warm hearted in their dealings, not only with Ann-Marie but her friends, dare I say ‘Pit crew’.

Unfortunately Ann-Marie’s driving experience had now come to an end. The final surprise was sprung as I gave Ann-Marie a voucher to go Indoor Sky Diving and an envelope containing the remainder of the money collected. I would like to say a big thank you, on behalf of Ann-Marie, to everyone who generously donated to help her tick off another item on her bucket-list.

Also many thanks to Palmer Sports without whom this would never have happened; Jonathon Palmer, Mick Maggio, Kieran Vernon, Miles Patience, Lee Marshall and Clare Saunders, these being the personnel with whom we had dealings. Knowing that an organisation like this will have many ‘back-room’ staff our thanks to all that made her day such a fantastic success. Formula Jaguar.

Finally it was time to say goodbye to Ann-Marie and give our inspirational girl a hug as we wished her a safe journey back to Marham in the Subaru.