x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The real deal

Testing experiences almost as thrilling as the F1 challenge.


It's hard to imagine what Formula One drivers experience behind the wheel.

Watching the race on TV, or swinging our heads in unison as the machines zoom by at the racetrack, we feel that rush as competitors close in on the chequered flag. But that's nothing compared with the adrenalin pumping through your veins at the F1-Style Single Experience at the Dubai Autodrome (www.dubaiautodrome.com).

As the old saying goes - seeing is believing.

"It's about as close as anyone is going to get to Formula One," says Paul Velasco, the communications manager at the Dubai Autodrome.

"You are taking people from the street and putting them into race cars. It's pretty daunting when you think about it and there aren't too many places you do can this in the world."

A similar experience can be enjoyed at Yas Marina Circuit, and prospective racers should shop around to get the best available package (www.yasmarinacircuit.com).

Strapped into a F1-style single-seater car, drivers can reach 100km/h in just four seconds as they twist, spin and fly down the racetrack. The racing at Dubai Autodrome is divided into three distinct stages for beginners, intermediates and expert racers, with graduation to the next phase based on the driver's performance.

For those itching for speed, Jeffrey Todd reviews three racing options.

Getting started

The qualifying To participate in any of the stages, you must have a valid UAE or international driver's licence and be able to use a manual transmission. You must also be 158cm to 190cm in height and weigh a maximum of 114kg. If you fulfil these requirements, it's time to race. But not before you receive a 20-minute briefing session on the car's controls and rules of the road.

The start After putting on your driving suit, gloves and helmet, racers at the Autodrome head to the track and get strapped in. At this stage, you must follow the pace car in front of you. Drivers can race at a maximum of 170km/h on an oval track measuring 1.12km. Racing time lasts 20 minutes, and you receive an additional 20-minute debriefing at the finish line.

The flag If you're looking for a taste of the true racing experience, this first stage is safe and exhilarating. But don't expect an easy ride. "People who have never done it before are pretty exhausted afterwards," Mr Velasco says. "You don't get this feeling after you leave the gym. You only get this kind of feeling after racing cars."


Paced lapping

The qualifying If you want to take your racing to the next level, instructors must first approve of your handling of the machine. Racers receive detailed feedback and a certificate after each level. Instructors at the Dubai Autodrome are certified professionals, including Kareem al Azhari, the UAE GT Champion for 2010.

The start Instead of a forgiving oval track, stage two ups the ante in terms of twists and turns. At 2.4km, the track is also more than double the distance and racers can reach a maximum speed of 200km/h. However, there is still a pace car in front of you controlling your speed. Drivers are out there for a full 45 minutes and, unlike the beginner stage, half-way through the session you are given one-on-one instruction on how best to improve your technique.

The flag For the more seasoned racer, stage two allows you to get a better feel for the vehicle. Most people can achieve this level of proficiency and, despite the higher price tag, taking advantage of higher speeds and complex turns could be worth it.


Free lapping

The qualifying This stage is reserved for the best racers and candidates must first satisfy the expectations of their watchful instructors. The criteria for reaching this level includes excellent handling of the vehicle and safe driving techniques. "There aren't too many people we want to invite to the next level," Mr Velasco says. "Not everyone is allowed into this phase."

The start Similar to stage two, drivers have access to the challenging 2.4km racetrack at a maximum speed of 200km/h. But this time, there is no pace car dictating your movement and speed. The session lasts one hour and racers benefit from tips and instruction halfway through the race. Using the "optimal line" for efficiency and turning corners "at the apex" are just two of the techniques you'll learn.

The flag The experience is expensive. If you love racing, this stage is definitely as good as it gets for the everyday driver - but be prepared to invest quite a bit of time and money to reach this level. All drivers reserve their spot ahead of time using the virtual calendar on Dubai Autodrome's website.