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The Single Seater Experience

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I arrived at the Dubai Autodrome Race School on what felt like one of the hottest days of the year so far, anxious about the experience that lay waiting for me down on the track. The first thing your eyes are drawn to when you enter the Race School is the track-ready Formula 1 style single-seater waiting silently next to a racing spec Subaru Impreza. I realized then that my previous racing like experience at the Kartdrome had perhaps not prepared me as fully as I had originally predicted for the one hundred eighty horsepower available from the single seater.

The safety briefing helped to transform the fear and intimidation I’d once felt into an eagerness to get down to the track, but also created a new worry in the form of a manual gearbox. You have to understand, I haven’t driven a manual transmission car since I drove the 1.1L Ford Fiesta which I passed my driving test in, so the idea of taking on a sequential gearbox with a heavy clutch was coupled with nightmare premonitions of stalls, spins and large explosions, in that order.

My instructor, a short man with an impressive beard, assured me by explaining what I could expect from the car – in particular how best to treat the clutch. He explained every conceivable driving method to get the best out of the car, yet I couldn’t help thinking that the machine would get the best of me. Thankfully, I was to be paced by one of the Autodrome’s Audi TTS track cars which, driven by an instructor, would show me the ideal racing line for the circuit.

As soon as I got out of the shuttle bus at the Autodrome’s Oval Circuit, the heat hit me. The track temperature was soaring to 50°c which, when dressed in a full racing suit and crash helmet, is a little bit like entering an oven: on fire, but it’s amazing how little I cared about the heat as soon as I caught a glimpse of one of the single seaters sitting in the pit lane. Immaculately white and about an inch from the ground, this racing machine looks even more intimidating in its natural habitat than it ever did in the air conditioned Race School. Right then, the only thought running through my mind was, “Well mate, you’re in way over your head”.

If, at this point, you’re reading this and wondering why you would ever want to subject yourself to such emotional trauma, it would serve you well to pay attention to the next part.

Sliding into the cockpit of the single- seater centers your mind completely. I can think of few other times in my life where my attitude towards something has changed so suddenly and so absolutely. Standing outside the car, I was a worried young man – inside, I was Jenson Button. Firing up the engine, which is located just behind your head, sends a surge of adrenaline to your fingertips. It’s simply a chorus of raw racing power. For the first time since I’d arrived at the Autodrome, I felt ready to go for it; eager to floor it and keep going until I hit the limiter and then – with a little luck – shift up and repeat.

The single seaters are essentially four wheels, a plastic seat, a steering wheel and a large engine dressed in an aerodynamic coat. There is no power assisted steering or leather trim – but where it lacks in ride comfort, it more than compensates in sheer driving pleasure. I used to think I knew what the sensation of speed felt like after a few runs down SZR – yet I promise you, nothing can prepare the average road user for the rush of traveling from 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds with nothing but the sky above your head and the tarmac an inch from your seat.

The soundtrack of that 180 HP engine is deafening, yet you still find yourself wanting it to be louder. The acceleration is blistering, yet you still feel in complete control. The heat is stifling, yet you may as well be in the middle of a Siberian blizzard. When you’ve got your right foot planted firmly on the gas, nothing else matters in the world – you just enjoy the moment and try to stay behind the pace car.

As you tear around corners at 100 km/h, sharply pulling the reinforced metal shifter in your quest for greater speed, you feel like an integral part of the machine. You feel truly at one with the sensation that is driving. Car manufacturers offer drivers “an involved and responsive drive” with clever on-board computers and adaptive suspension but no normal car can deliver the same purity of the drive as is available from these earth to earth missiles.

So why not head down to the Autodrome this summer to cool off in a single-seater; as far as a driving experience goes, it’s the real deal. Next level will be on the bigger track, paced by another single seater, driven by an instructor. It is faster, you can use all the gears up to the fifth on the main straight and it sounds truly exciting. I will tell you the story when it happens."


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