The sudden scream of an engine startles us all as our group files into the pits of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit. We haven’t been here long and I’ve already shot my mouth off about being somewhat of a “Hamilton” on the racetrack. The fact I could even compare winning a backyard go-kart race and a celebratory victory “shoey” of flat VB from a Dunlop Volley to racing a Formula 3000 vehicle on an actual grand prix circuit probably says something about my over inflated confidence. But, as the great Formula One driver Stirling Moss once said, “There are two things no man will admit he cannot do well: Drive and make love.”
It has been a relatively seamless process to this point. We present our licenses, sign some insurance forms I don’t read, and sit through a 30 minute briefing and instructional session. The cars are tiptronic with gears on the steering wheel and just a pedal each for the brake and accelerator.
“It is all about maximising your speed,” our instructor explains. “Brake at the last minute into the corner then accelerate hard out.” His excitement is somewhat infectious.
We pull on our racing suits and walk onto the track. It’s sparkling clean and the luxurious and futuristic looking Yas Viceroy Hotel overlooks it like an alien spaceship lording over its speeding minions. We’re split into two groups, and each of us is partnered with a lead driver whose job is to ensure we stay a safe distance from the others.
I’ve never been much of a car guy and the mention of 3000cc V6 engines means very little to me. Formula One champs use these to learn their craft and as I slide my six foot six frame into the seat, it begins to make sense why professional drivers are so small. It’s claustrophobic and there’s just enough room to grip the steering wheel. My helmet is almost wedged in.
Our instructor signals to start the engines and a slight touch of the accelerator roars my engine to life. Suddenly, we’re off and speeding down the first straight.
The power of the car is extreme and my confidence is harnessed immediately as I over accelerate, causing my sunglasses to blow off my face. As the wind blows up my helmet, I quickly realise that being too tall for these cars causes more issues than just a tight fit.
If it looks like we are moving too fast, the slower drivers are called into the pits to allow the speed demons some real fun and within two turns my compatriot has been pitted to allow me to overtake him. I laugh.
My lead driver is in sight and I spend the next twenty minutes desperately trying to catch him. It’s never going to happen. It’s hard work and despite the car’s incredible responsiveness, it takes concentration to run the gears and strength to turn the wheels. The thrill is intense.
I push the car faster and harder on the straights, each time gaining more respect for the courage of the F1 drivers who reach speeds that are almost double what we’re pushing here today.
My final lap is signalled and I channel my inner Alan Jones, the great Australian F1 champion who’s briefcase I carried across Bahrain Airport when I was six years old (my dad made me do it). I go for top speed down the last straight, but I brake too early into the upcoming dogleg corner causing a spinout. For a split second, I fear for my life.
I’m sweating, laughing and charged with adrenaline. My lead driver pulls up beside me to check if I’m okay. I give him a thumbs up just as my compatriot passes with a raised digit of his own. I deserve it.
Wide-eyed and full of exhilaration, we celebrate our achievements with a drink on the beach. Of course, I declare myself the victor (what was it Sterling Moss said?) and raise a toast to all the others I lapped. The beer on Abu Dhabi’s beach is cold and tasty, and despite my day as an Aussie racing driver, this one isn’t going anywhere near my shoe! Sorry, Daniel Ricciardo.