My friend Paolo Bowyer and I have been watching and discussing Formula One racing for years. When he informed me that there was a contest to meet our favorite driver and current world champion, Lewis Hamilton, we started brainstorming right away. He provided the original music and I edited some footage of me driving karts, my own car at the New Jersey Motorsports Park and a NASCAR race car at Charlotte.
Here is our submission to the 2015 Circuit of the Americas “Win a trip to the United States Grand Prix and a meet and greet with Lewis Hamilton” Contest.
My apologies for the lack of recent posts. I have been busy. Luckily, some of what has kept me busy will provide material for several of my next posts so I will try to make up for lost time in the coming weeks.
I had the opportunity to drive a race car the weekend before last at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Thanks to the NASCAR Racing Experience, I spent eight minutes in Jeff Gordon’s old #24. Those of you who know me or read my blog know that I am an avid fan of motorsport, especially Formula 1 and rally racing. Although oval track racing might not be my first choice, racing is racing and I could not pass up the opportunity to try it out. Driving the car on the track gave me insight into what the actual sport feels like and consequently I gained much respect for the professional drivers. I managed a top speed of 147.81 mph of which I am moderately proud. My wife also drove and delivered a very respectable 142.66 mph. She is an excellent driver, but perhaps not as gun-ho as I for the experience, so I was happy to see how much she overcame fear and took to it. In fact, all of those from our party that drove that day did well and really enjoyed the experience.
The session begins with a short class where instructors explain the car, the spotters and the rules. The cars are all four-speed manuals, so you must know how to drive a stick, but to my surprise, if you don’t, they will teach you. After a few repeated explanations you stand in line, suited up in a fire suit and helmet, ear buds taped to your ears. When it is your turn, you are escorted out to your car and buckled into a five-point harness. The first thing you notice is that the car does not have a speedometer, only a tachometer. At this point your spotter starts talking in your ear and off you go. You start out with a rev limit of 4000 rpm. If you prove capable, your limit is raised by 200 rpm each lap . Before you get too comfortable, however, the ride is over. Within minutes you are handed a printed statement of your top speed. If you drive again in the future, your limits continue to increase. I need to do that again soon.
As I have said in past posts, I love many games but my perennial favorite is Forza. Of all of the racing games, it has the best simulation of the actual driving experience in my opinion. Whenever I have a chance to drive a performance-oriented car, I like to drive the same or as similar as possible in the latest iteration of Forza and compare the experience. I have done this extensively with my own car, a 2011 Subaru STI and wanted to see if the NASCAR race car would feel as accurate.
In short, yes. The power, the handling and visibility are all dead on. If you crank up your sound system until you can feel the rumble, it will help to make it feel that much more real. The sensation of speed and the car sinking into the banked turns is completely believable.
Those of you with sharp eyes may notice the car I drove in the game is a Monte Carlo and the one I drove in reality is an Impala, but they are very close in most aspects and of the same vintage. The track in the game (Forza 4 in this case) is Sunset Peninsula, a fictitious location but close enough in scale and layout.
Here are a few selected minutes of the eight minute run. It doesn’t really seem like nearly 150 mph, does it? Now imagine going 185 or 200 mph with 42 other cars inches away from you for three or four hours straight – it is a true endurance test on many levels.
I definitely need to try the Mario Andretti Racing Experience next.