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Topic # 66737 22-Aug-2010 18:13
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I have always wanted to drive a Formula 1 car. I hold no serious aspirations of being an F1 driver, and at my age, it's clearly impossible I'll ever get to drive one on merit. So what's the next best thing?

Yep, pay someone lots of money to let me have a go in their old F1 car. It turns out there are a few places around the world that do this.

At the top end, there's Ferrari's Client Services, but this carries a price tag of $[if you have to ask, you can't afford it], so they weren't a serious choice...

But there are a number of places offerring pretty realistically priced driving experiences, some in France, at least one in the UK, and some others dotted about. The prices aren't silly - starting at about $3000 NZD (including other cars as well) and going up to about $10k or so.

It just so happened that I was planning a trip to Prague in July 2010 to photograph the World Ultimate Club Champs and this is conveniently close to Britain where one of the F1 drive places was based. So I made some enquiries. It went something like this...

Me - "So, I'm going to be near Britain from about July 11th-16th. I would like to drive your F1 car. Are you seriously saying that for just $3000 I can drive a real F1 car as fast as I like around your track?"

Them - "Yes"

Me - "Sold"


There was in reality a bit of back and forth about dates, pricing, licenses and physical properties of the intended driver (ie. weight and dimensions) but it all worked out. Fortunately my broad shoulders would fit in the car. Yeah, my shoulders, that was it... shoulders.

Now all I had to do was get from Prague to Britain, find a place to stay and find a way to get around.

Me - "Dave, where do you live and do you have a spare room on or aboutthe 11th-16th July?"

Dave - "Well Neil, we live about an hour from [the F1 drive experience] and yep, you can stay with us"

Me - "Sold"


So that was almost everything sorted. Dave was catching up on a lot of work after the WUCC event so I had to find a way to get to the circuit and someone to take photos.., Fortunately my sister and her partner live a few hours away...

Me - "Tina, I'm gonna be in the UK, near Lancaster on about the 11th-16th July to do the F1 drive experience thing, do you think you possibly coul......."

Tina(Interrupting) - "Awesome! We'll take some time off and come down and see you, need a ride to the track from where you're staying?"

Me - "Sold"


So it was all in place, paid for (6 months in advance), the Volcano (EliJarJarCareful or something) quietened down, my shoulders weren't too broad and I was in the right country.

Now all I needed was the weather to co-operate.

Weather forecast... Rain.... Bugger.

Tina, Ross and myself arrive in Wigan to a nice B&B and attempt to find someone to have a meal. Unfortunately it would appear that someone has basically decided to close Wigan and the bits we drove through looked in places, deserted and unkept. Some streets seemed to have barely 50% occupancy with a huge number of properties empty and for sale, and a reasonable number actually boarded up.

We arrive at the track about 5 minutes south of Wigan on the day, earlyish, with the weather holding off, but rain forecast. We're greeted and it turns out there are 10 of us here for the day to do the F1 experience. I found out later that the F1 days are run very very differently from the normal days where they offer Formula fords, Ferarris, Aston Martins etc. On those days they can have HUNDREDS of clients and people just get names called, strapped in and go around the track with the instructors giving them just enough advice to prevent them crashing.

The F1 day was entirely different and I can't speak highly enough of the organisation, the instructors, the safety precautions or the value of the day. Everything was perfect. Well, one thing went wrong, but it wasn't the racing school's fault - more on that later.

It started with some fireproof overalls that accommodated my broad shoulders without problem, then we had a safety briefing where everything was explained. There was a lot of focus given to the safety angle, and we were assured there weren't any McLaren or Ferrari talent scouts watching to the stars of the future - the day was going to be about making sure we could safely experience the power of an F1 car, not about pushing to the absolute limit or racing anyone. For this reason, they didn't operate any timing systems at all... I knew this in advance, and it makes sense, but slightly frustrated me.

One other thing drilled into us was this... "You damage ANY of the cars and that's your day done, right there. You don't carry on.... If we scratch the mini on the way out the gate to see the track - day over. No refund"



The first thing to happen was 3 of us piled into a new Mini Cooper S with one of the instructors and he took us for a few laps around the circuit, pointing out the brake and turn in points, and explaining some basic racing theory about making the corners as wide as possible and using all the track. A lot of importance was given to the smooth application of accelerator and brake, and especially the transition... He pointed out that the first few cars would be forgiving, but by the time we got to the F1 car, a messy brake to accelerator transition could spin the car into a wall before we knew what was happening. All the students nodded along.

The order of the cars we were going to drive was as follows...

- Mini Cooper S, with an instructor, for about 10 laps
- Ferrari 360 - with an instructor, 10 laps
- Aston Martin V8 Vantage with an instructor - 10 laps
Then the single seaters - no instructor
- Formula Ford - 7 laps, with an instructor in a pace car
- Formula Ford - 10 laps, no pace car
- Formula 3 - 10 laps
- Formula 1 - 10 laps

So first up was the Mini. I have driven a lot of Minis, although this was the first time driving a new shape one... It really wasn't that quick or exciting, but I managed to impress the instructor sufficiently so that his only feedback was that I missed a couple of apexes. The other drivers all got through ok - a few people were plainly there just for the experience and even at this stage appeared quite daunted. Despite the cars being spaced out, and only a couple of cars on the track at once, I caught and passed many of the other drivers during this stint. Well, by passed, I mean I caught them up and the instructor radioed the cars in front to move over!



That was fun... what next?

Ferrari 360? Yes please. This was one of the highlights of the day. The F360 was an absolute ball of fun. It was quick, sounded amazing, brakes were ok and it responded so well to being told to do stuff... I only got it sideways twice :-). Again I found myself picking through some of the other drivers out on track. I'll never own a car this expensive and this was the first time I had driven a $150000 car. It was about a 2002 model and had a traditional 6 speed manual box - no flappy paddle shifting here. The instructor here had his own brake pedal and was holding an engine kill switch the whole time. Fun.



Then the Aston Martin Vantage V8. This was the unfortunate surprise of the day. I thought it was horrible. It seemed slow, the engine felt lazy, you could barely hear the exhaust note and it wallowed around terribly. 10 laps in this wasn't much fun after the F360. I tried to enjoy it, but it understeered when pushed too much. I guess it would be nice as a long distance tourer - but it's not a sports car.



The weather was still holding off ok, the track was still dry, but we all knew what was coming. Rain. At some stage.

We were meant to do the Formula Ford after lunch, but things had gone smoothly so they took half of us and strapped us into the Formula Fords (FF) before lunch. I was in the first group. Once we found a car that fit my broad shoulders, I had a decent wait while everyone else got ready and strapped in. I nearly fell asleep.

The initial FF drive was 7 laps behind an instructor in indian file, with the instructor increasing the pace every lap and us meant to keep up. I was about 3rd in the queue and I've driven a FF before quite quickly so wasn't concerned about this... It was a fun experience though. The interesting thing people may not realise is that a lowly, old Formula Ford with a 1600cc xflow engine is faster in every way (except PERHAPS top speed) than most supercars. It was MUCH faster than the F360. Despite having no wings it also cornered better and pulled itself up under braking much quicker than any of the tin tops. Before I knew it, 7 laps were over and our pace was nothing like as quick as I hoped. I still felt like we were trundling round.

But now of course, it's time for the unpaced laps. With the 7 laps under my belt, and having driven a FF before, I immediately gave it beans. FFs are just a blast to drive. The track was still dry and after a couple of laps to test the braking limits (see where they locked up) I started hammering it into every corner so hard the back feels like it's going to lift up over your head and around the corner the back is ever so gently drifting. An open wheeler is great to throw into corners - you can SEE the front wheel - there's never an excuse for missing an apex. Then...... 10 laps over. time to come in.



Lunchtime.

I could just say we had lunch, but that would be doing a dis-service to the catering crew. Lunch was epic. It was hands down the nicest catered meal I have ever had and I wouldn't have been upset seeing it in a flash restaurant. I wish I had taken pictures of the food. 10/10, 100% on the lunch. Prawn filled avacado halves, chicken and bacon wraps with apricot... Amazing.

With lunch devoured and my broad shoulders pressing against the racing suit it was time for the Formula 3 drive. This was the first time during the day I felt a little nervous... there were 2 reasons for this...

1) I had never driven anything with any sort of aerodynamic package before.
2) It was raining.

There was also a third issue which wasn't apparent until I got into the car. The cockpit was tight. Not tight like a pair of jeans - but tight like a vice around my hips and (oddly) knees! I couldn't quite sit flat in the car, I had to angle my hips up slightly at one side and even then the bare metal seat was digging into my hips. It was genuinely painful. That however wasn't the worst of it. The hole for my legs to go through the pedals was ridiculously tight and with my legs side by side they painfully rubbed against the metal. I ended up having to creatively time gearshifts and gas/brake to avoid too much leg beside each other movement.

I also, for I think the first time in my life, started to feel claustrophobic. Strapped in to a painful seat, legs almost immobilised, and by this stage with an instructor holding an umbrella over me because of the rain, I was close to pulled the pin and getting out. Fortunately the weather cleared and it was my turn - on a  wet track mind!



The moment the car started moving all the pain and concern vanished, and the sick feeling in my stomach disappeared as well... What was painful and cramped while sitting still was all of a sudden stabilising and comforting. The track was wet, so I didn't give it everything, but it was quick, quicker than the FF by quite a bit. There was one particular corner where it seemed to understeer chronically and I couldn't believe I was taking it too quickly - when I got out, I had a look at the front tyres and it would appear they were due for replacement. The F3 wasn't as much fun as the FF, but I think in the dry it would have been more fun than it was.



By this stage, the rain was settled, and people were starting to get into the F1. There was never any real question of stopping the day, unless it got to a situation of standing water on the track.

Throughout the day so far, the instructors (about 8 of them I think) had been grading drivers and had sorted the drivers into 3 basic groups... There were the slow drivers that realised their limitations and didn't push, then there were the quick drivers that were obviously trying, and they also had a couple they had reservations about letting into the F1 cars.

They have 2 F1 cars, a 1996 Forti-Corse and a 1994 Arrows. The 1996 is slightly bigger inside so that was the one I was scheduled into - but unfortunately I was scheduled to go pretty much last since I was the quickest driver up to that point. I gather they expect there's a greater chance the quicker you are the more likely you are to damage it.

The first 2-3 drivers were slow. Sure it was wet, but it wasn't that wet - and the cars had full wet tyres on. Embarassingly slow. I was a little concerned that the cars were actually knobbled like indoor go carts.

Then about the 4th driver was out there, and was a bit tentative, not too quick, and then... Ooooh, aaaah, spun off the track and into a tyre wall. Not a high speed crash at all, and he was fine. Very luckily because of the angle of the incident he only knocked the front wing off and maybe did a little damage to the front suspension. They were able to drive the car back to the service area to be sorted, but we were down to one car for a few hours.



I spent the next few hours watching drivers go out in slowly improving conditions and praying that no-one would stick the remaining F1 car into a fence. I took a bunch of photos during this time, but I should also give a big thanks to my sister who did a fantastic job taking pics of me when I was out there - depsite never having used my camera before - THANKS TINA!

Eventually the other car was fixed, and we were back to 2 cars.

Then it was my turn. The track was wet but it wasn't raining. This was what I had been waiting 6 months for (or all my life, depending on your viewpoint!) and it was really happening.

The first very pleasant surprise was how roomy the car was. I was in the 1996 car, and it was comfortable. Heaps of room for my shoulders and knees. I was sitting in the car, remembering the F1 specific briefing where the head instructor had given us the rules...

- Don't change gear, get into 4th or 5th and leave it there. These cars do WAY more miles than any F1 gearbox has any right to be expected to last, and it's the weak point of the car. He said to trust him, than a single gear would be enough to take the whole track and it would never bog down.
- If you spin, hit the clutch (which you don't need if you change gears) and kill the engine.
- They have a sign with "Take it Easy" on it. They will display this if they believe you are driving beyond your skills or beyond the conditions. They will show it to us no more than twice. Third time is a red flag and we come in to find out what we were doing wrong and we MIGHT be allowed out for the rest of the laps.

So I was sitting there in the car, strapped comfortably in, waiting for the quad bike to push start us (again, a clutch saving mechanism - plus it's hard to start an F1 car without a lot of practise) and one of the instructors comes over to me...

"Neil, I know Neil (the head instructor) said to choose a gear and stick to it, but feel free to play from 3rd up. Please don't use 1st or 2nd - you won't need them and in the wet they will mean an instant spin"

I grinned. I had planned to play with the gears anyway, at least in the last few laps.



All of a sudden I was being pushed, car was in 3rd already, I was holding in the clutch. Get to the cones, release clutch... Engine fires and I touch the accelerator. Back end lights up... OK, back off the gas :-) I take the first few corners in third and when on the straight for the first time I hit the shift lever up to 4th. The sound is incredible and even though I am giving it maybe 50% throttle it's blisteringly fast. Made the F3 feel like  an indoor go cart. A bad one.

Lap one complete... Phew. Now I started using the gears, down to third for the slow corners, 4th for most of the track and 5th for the straight. At each corner I give it more gas as I exit. By about the 3rd lap, I am giving it 100% throttle and the back end isn't complaining. It's just getting up and going. fast. Corners head towards me almost faster than I can think. Brakes. The brakes are incredble. I start braking properly into the corners about now (instead of backing off the gas and cruising in) and the level of braking is unreal. I brake at the braking points and it pulls up so quickly with no drama that I have time to accelerate again into the corner. OK then, the brake boards are irrelevant for the F1.

There is one genuinely scary part of the track, and it's where the other guy threw the car off... At the end of the short straight, there's an uphill bend, but before the bend there are some pretty serious bumps you can't avoid. In the other cars, these weren't a big deal, but in the F1 they shake you so hard that your vision goes blurry for a second and (this is the bad bit) your right foot bounces up and down on the accelerator pedal. This is almost certainly what caused the other gent to spin off. I ended up working out that as I came into that curve I had to strongly brace my right foot against the monocoque to lock in in position. Once I worked that out it was simply a case of trusting the car not to actually break traction and spin :-)

About 4 laps in I get my first "Take it Easy" I honestly wasn't sure why so I kept going and speeding up, and braking later...

The next lap past the instructors I enter the first corner and hit the gas a little to hard on exit and the back end steps out faster than anything else I have driven. At this point I have a crystal clear memory of exactly what was happening.

The car was sideways and I looked to see where I would end up if I let it just go - bugger. There's a marshalling point there that's made of something solid - like concrete. Ok then, I can't let it spin. I had probably already applied a bunch of opposite lock by this stage but I now gave it full lock and feathered the gas slightly. Before I knew what happened the car was straight again and still on the track. Phew. The whole thing took maybe half a second...

Next time past the start finish line I got the "Take it Easy" board again. I think I know why I got it this time :-)

Now I had about 5 laps left and I was now working on the braking. Every corner of every lap I was braking later and later. I simply couldn't believe how late I was able to leave it and have the car pull up so easily every time. With 2 or 3 laps to go I started braking AFTER my brain told me I had to. Every corner I had to over-ride my instinct to brake for a split second  and I still pulled up every time and was hitting all the apexes.

This is amazing. I can't beleive I'm driving an F1 car!



Last lap. They waved a chequered flag at me. I have one more lap then I come in and get out.

This lap was manic.

There are 2 or 3 proper braking zones and for each of them my mind was screaming at me to hit the brakes, On one of them I honestly consciously thought I would not make the corner and disappear off the circuit (to be fair, that corner had a big grass runoff!) but despite holding back on the braking for waht seemed like a dangerous eternity, every corner I STILL pulled the car up early and had to drive into the apex.

When I pulled in, I was satisfied. I had driven an F1 car - and while I know I could have gone quicker with more laps to learn the insane braking, I was happy I had gone as quick as I could on the day. As I stopped, with one guy to go, it started to spit, then rain.

Within 10 minutes as he was about to get onto the track, it was heavy rain. And then, one lap in, it became torrential hail with thunder and lightning. The poor guy, who wasn't going to go that quick anyway, got pulled in after 2 laps and had to go back the next day.



Would I do it again? Maybe not - I've done it once and it wasn't cheap.

Do I regret it? Not a bit! It was money well spent as far as I am concerned on a once in a lifetime experience.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, if you want to experience an F1 car, you can't beat this day long experience. The organisation was great, the instructors helpful and positive, and the actual F1 drive itself was electric. I'll never forget it.

At the end of the day we were presented with a photo and a momento (An F1 car plexiglass block - laser bubble thing) as well as a hat and certificate.

The place I did the experience was http://www.racing-school.co.uk/index.asp

Cheers - Neil G

ps. I know this is a huge post, but I have a bunch of friends what wanted me to write it up so I decided I might as well put it somewhere others can see as well.

I have more photos here : http://www.nzsnaps.com/Motorsport/Formula-1-Experience/12942997_xGrrV#948588364_pcQau


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  Reply # 371159 22-Aug-2010 18:59
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Brilliant.




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  Reply # 371162 22-Aug-2010 19:05
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Well done! Would love to do it myself if I had the budget. Maybe once the kids have moved out ;-)

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  Reply # 371168 22-Aug-2010 19:22
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@Talkiet: You mentioned you had driven a Formula Ford before. How many times? And where?

Have you had any racing experience prior to this event?




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  Reply # 371198 22-Aug-2010 20:37
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magu: @Talkiet: You mentioned you had driven a Formula Ford before. How many times? And where?

Have you had any racing experience prior to this event?


I've only driven a Formula Ford once before, but it was for many more laps than here... It was at Ruapuna in Chch at the racing school there (It's where I realised that I really did want to drive an F1 car and it wasn't just a fantasy!)...

Prior to that, I used to compete in motorsport about 15 years ago and raced in the odd circuit event and autocrosses. I also competed in motorkhanas to a national level and got I think 2 second places at the national champs... All this competition was in mini based cars...

The motorkhanas were in a crazy Mini Moke with a 1400cc cooper S engine. I believe it now lives in Ashburton or Timaru.

The other stuff was partly in a regular cooper S type mini, and a little bit was in my dad's 4wd mini. (Yes, 4wd. Two engines - one front, one back.)

That turned out to be a bad idea - it was fast, nearly lethally fast. My dad ended up in a big accident at a hillclimb and while he was ok, the car was destroyed and never got rebuilt.

After that I never got into racing myself (Too expensive really).

Cheers - N

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  Reply # 371223 22-Aug-2010 21:37
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On your massive Telecom salary I know this was merely spare change Wink

Thanks for the post, looks like an amazing experience.

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  Reply # 371231 22-Aug-2010 21:59
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This experience looks awesome! I am now more than likely travel to UK with an extra bit of cash to try this.

Great post. thank :)

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  Reply # 371290 22-Aug-2010 23:32
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My god I hate you! Haha nah this is awesome and one thing I really want to do one day. I've thought about doing the formula challenge thing. Maybe I save for this instead!

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  Reply # 371338 23-Aug-2010 08:44
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Nice, Im hoping to get out to FreemanX at some point in the next few months and do a few laps there in something Ill never own ;)




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  Reply # 371343 23-Aug-2010 09:18
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xpd: Nice, Im hoping to get out to FreemanX at some point in the next few months and do a few laps there in something Ill never own ;)


Planning on doing the same thing myself. Will not be till next year now but will be doing it!

Great post Talkit give those of us that are unlikely to have a chance to do it a bit of an insight into what it is like. 







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  Reply # 371364 23-Aug-2010 09:55
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that sounds so much fun. I'm so jealous right now.

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  Reply # 371387 23-Aug-2010 10:38
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Truly awesome.

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  Reply # 371397 23-Aug-2010 10:52
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Hey seriously thanks for this post, was a great read.
Congrats!

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  Reply # 371470 23-Aug-2010 12:45
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Excellent, thank you for posting, a great read.

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  Reply # 371486 23-Aug-2010 13:40
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That was a great read and also from what you have said a great experience. I so wanna do something like this ands had already recently looked at some places to rent out supercars for this sorta thing. However with seeing that you get to do a few other cars in hope of building you up to a decent driving level then this would probably be the way to go for those that way inclined.

Lucky Lucky you. Oh yeah love the pics too.....

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