Ever since Formula One started calling the Circuit of the Americas its new American home in 2012, it’s been difficult to avoid coverage of racing and the U.S. Grand Prix.
As some Texans learn more about F1, certainly some are starting to wonder what it’s like going to drive 200 mph. If you've ever dreamed of taking Turn One in your own race car on the sleek and stylish Circuit of the Americas track, get ready for your chance.
Marvel at the incredibly complicated steering wheel with its myriad of buttons and switches. This should be a good distraction until he slams on the accelerator and throws you back against your seat. There will be a lot of that on the drive.
On March 22, 2014, generous philanthropists (who also happen to love going really fast) will have a chance to ride, drive and give to the Center for Child Protection as part of their Ride Drive Give fundraiser. CCP has helped raised funds for child advocacy efforts with several unique and popular events in the past (such as Dancing with the Stars Austin) and now it’s possible for racing fans to help them out while also getting their adrenaline fix.
There will be plenty of chances on March 22 to get your blood pumping for charity, but the highlight will undoubtedly be the chance to ride along in a modified F1 car. CCP allowed for a special preview early on a Friday morning of what that experience will be like; if you want to feel like Sebastian Vettel for a day, it’s a can’t miss opportunity.
One thing that is cleared up from the get go is that these cars aren’t reproductions or copies. They are bonafide F1 cars with real racing experience. Engineers simply attach one passenger pod on each side of the driver, and that’s about it. They go just as fast as the real deal and they have the same feel. One of the cars just so happens to be the same Jordan F1 car that Giancarlo Fisichella used to win the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix.
It’s not just the cars that have an impressive racing pedigree. On hand to take visitors out for a spin were professional racers Didier Theys and Ryan Lewis. Theys is a now-retired Belgian sports car driver who had major success in endurance racing, winning events such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and earning a podium spot several times for Le Mans. Lewis is a British racer currently participating in the American Le Mans Series, with previous experience in Formula 3 and Champ Car.
And when it comes to preparing to strap in to one of the most exquisitely engineered vehicles on the planet, it’s fairly straightforward. You just zip up a rather comfy jumpsuit and some special shoes, put on a pair of gloves and a helmet that snugly fits your head and you’re all set.
It’s fine if you get a little nervous before you slide into the passenger pod, you just have to remember that you have a very experienced driver right next to you. In fact, marvel at the incredibly complicated steering wheel with its myriad of buttons and switches. This should be a good distraction until he slams on the accelerator and throws you back against your seat. There will be a lot of that on the drive.
The ride along is a fantastic way to truly appreciate how race car driving is a mix of science and art on the part of the driver. They must know the precise moments to accelerate, brake and steer. When you start calming down a bit, go back to watching the driver as he steers around the course. Some of his turns will almost seem counterintuitive, maybe steering into a turn and immediately turning the wheel the opposite way, all because they could feel the car shift and instantly adjust to it.
And you also gain an appreciation for the machine you’re in because it can stop, accelerate and turn on a dime. You’ll be jostled by the G-force from each of those movements, but all things considered it’s a smooth ride compared to riding over potholes on your neighborhood street.
Really the hardest part is getting out of the car, but everyone will look equally clumsy trying to squeeze back out so there’s no shame in taking a few minutes to do so. You’ll have too much adrenaline pumping through you to care about looking cool.
Everyone will look equally clumsy trying to squeeze back out so there’s no shame in taking a few minutes to do so. You’ll have too much adrenaline pumping through you to care about looking cool.
The charity driving experience features more opportunities for a devoted gearhead to burn some rubber on their own. Donors can enjoy several activities behind the wheel of a number of flashy vehicles. For starters, if you happen to have your own sporty car that you never get to fully enjoy in rush hour traffic, you’re welcome to take it for a spin on the 3.4-mile circuit track of COTA with some special coaching.
Even if all you have is the family minivan, then the experience will also provide a few exotic cars that you can drive or ride in yourself. Whether you prefer an Audi R8 or a more exotic Lamborghini LP560 — you will be able to get your speed fix.
Now the price tag for your day of joyriding won’t come cheap. Tickets clock in at $5,000 and there is a limited availability. But in case you wonder if such a price is worth it, remember the good work carried out by the Center for Child Protection in helping children who have lived through abuse. Knowing that you can help the CCP in their mission is more memorable than pretending to be a race car driver for a day.