I got my chance to pilot an actual F1 car at the Formula One Experience, a program offered by World Class Driving. It has a number of unusual programs such as the chance to break 200 mph on an airport runway in a Lamborghini ($5,000).
The car was the Arrows Yamaha A18 once driven by Brit Damon Hill, a former F1 World Champion, and, according to the company, worth about $250,000.
There’s nothing like piloting an F1. If the Formula 2000 is a strenuous hike, this is ascending Everest, equal parts skill, bravado and stupidity. Even experienced racers court disaster.
(Why pony up $6,995 and risk life and limb? Because it’s there, of course.)
We were at New York’s Monticello Motor Club, one of my favorite venues. I couldn’t wait to strap myself into that minuscule coffin.
Unfortunately, this was also the company’s first-ever F1 event and the team had to work out some kinks. A few customers turned up with little track experience. Trouble.
The initial hurdle was getting the car to move without stalling. In first gear, you have to apply the perfect amount of gas at exactly the right moment as you release the clutch or the car dies. With no battery to ignite the engine, it’s started externally by the pit crew, which is time consuming and physically taxing.
The very first customer stalled a half-dozen times. It’s something you notice, since the V-8 is absurdly, phenomenally loud, like the noise of 10,000 chainsaws being piped through a stack of Marshall speakers. Over and over, the car would start, surge forward and die. The poor guy was eventually pulled out before getting anywhere.
When it was my turn, I was sure I wouldn’t stall. I was wrong. Three times over, actually, until I was sweating and embarrassed, and then, finally, I pulled onto the track.
Two laps, that’s all I got. Just enough to feel the ludicrous speed and dart-like handling. Just enough to shift gears at 12,000 rpm and begin to fathom its potential, the closest you can get to an earthbound F-14 Tomcat jet fighter.
Then disaster, as the gas pedal snapped off under my right foot. It was there, and then suddenly it wasn’t. An interior cable had broken and the pedal fell to the floor, impotent. I coasted into the pits, not believing what had happened.
Would it be worth $7,000 and the risk? Well, I can’t say I’ve ascended Everest, but I can claim to have driven the gas pedal off a Formula 1.