One of the perks of winning big races is that cool opportunities usually fall into your lap along the way. I was recently asked to test a Formula Renault open wheel car in China, and I gladly accepted. I have never followed car racing nor had any interest in racing cars. I always thought that driving a race car would be anti-climactic after the thrill of riding Superbikes.
I never thought of cars as dangerous (okay, maybe rally cars), especially these days when they seem to be built with safety being the main focus. You see these drivers flip end-over-end and usually walk away. They even drive into each other on purpose in some cases to settle racing feuds!
I showed up in the morning of the test day and the team was ready and waiting for me, the car was set up and they just needed to show me all the instruments, fit everything for me, and go over the shift and braking points around the Zhuhai Circuit.
It was only as they helped me into the car and strapped me in that I started to feel like this wasn’t for me. I don’t do heights, and I am very claustrophobic. The fear of heights wasn’t a problem, but I was not a happy camper being wedged into this piece of rolling carbon fibre with who knows how many horsepower just inches behind me!
I spun the car three times in the first two laps. It took me five more laps to realize I was driving the car like a bike and braking way too early. I was also downshifting way to early and over-revving the motor (something that would come back and haunt me later).
I was now on the pace and doing respectable lap times. I started passing cars and the tires were up to temp. Just like I thought – cars are easy, safe, and kinda boring.
It was at that moment as I was downshifting into a corner that I heard a loud bang and the car instantly spun and shut off. Seconds later, I hear fire crackling away, smell fire, and then everything turns completely black with smoke. And I can’t breathe… AT ALL.
A moment of panic set in, followed by some clear and rational thinking. With no experience on quickly getting out of a racecar (it took two people just to get me into it!), I realized there was more to these cars then meets the eye. Getting unbuckled, steering wheel off, harness, getting out of the car all in pitch darkness, holding my breath, with a fire that is getting bigger by the second. I am writing to tell about it, so needless to say, you know how this story ends. But the moral of the story is that you should never be so quick to prejudge another sport without first trying it.
I now see car racing in a different light and with a newfound respect. I would rather get bucked off a motorbike any day of the week before being stuck in a burning race car in the middle of China!
The car ended up burning to the ground and I ended up walking away. I think i will stick to what I know best… Superbikes are safer.