In the Hot Seat
A couple of months ago I entered a Facebook competition run by Pirtek Australia offering ten people a chance to win a hot lap experience with Red Bull Racing Australia. I didn’t expect much to come of entering, let alone winning, so when I heard I’d been selected, I couldn’t believe it! But just a few weeks later, I flew up to Sydney to attend the ride day, with my housemate Will in tow to photograph the day’s proceedings.
With the sun shining brightly over the Sydney Motorsport Park circuit, the Red Bull cars were joined by Ford Performance Racing, Nissan Motorsport and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, making for a busy track and an even busier pit lane. While Will eagerly ducked about between garages and up onto the corporate balcony and its roof snapping over 1000 photos, I stayed down at the Red Bull garage, watching the comings and goings with interest along with my fellow winners, sponsors and T8M8 members all of us gathered waiting for our chance to pull on a race suit and slide (with some difficulty as you’ll find out) into the passenger’s seat.
Mid-morning, I checked in for my lap, and was assigned, to my delight, to go in car #1 with Jamie Whincup. Then we were treated to a BBQ lunch, before the time came to get ready.
First, the race suit – designed for men, the overalls do not at all cater to the female form. After much struggling the zip and belt was secured around my waist (the bottom half fit, it was the top half we couldn’t get on – ladies you’ll know what I mean!). Then I needed to get my shoes back on, and that was another task in itself – a mighty effort and a source of much amusement for Will as he took pictures of my sad attempts at suiting up. The helmets aren’t the most comfortable item either. I’m all for safety, and am really thankful I had it on (you’ll know why soon) but wandering around pit lane wearing it on your head for ages, is not recommended. [Editor: Anybody got this on video?!]
Finally it was time to get into the car.
Standing in the waiting area next to the pit lane, I really started to get nervous. My stomach filled with butterflies and I suddenly thought maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. But with the car parked before me and with the previous passenger out, it was time for me to step forward.
For those that have never seen a close up of it the gap to get in is very small. The door is normal size sure, but the internal roll cage, makes climbing in easier said than done (or even more entertaining if you’re the photographer!). Right foot goes in first, check… Then your backside, check, sort of… Then bend down and get your head in. This is where it goes pear shaped, (and I’m blaming the race suit, nothing at all to do with my clumsiness) as my head hits the roof at least twice while the poor guy trying to help me get in pushes me lower – must be why we wear helmets!…
At last I was in; the belts were fastened and the door shut. That’s when I had a “Holy crap, I’m in a car with Jamie Whincup!” moment.
Confirming I was ready to go, he fired the car into life and pulled out from the pit bay into the fast lane. The noise was astonishing from inside the cockpit, even with my ears squashed by the helmet. Then reaching the end of the lane, off goes the pit limiter and we’re away. Slow at first, to allow a car at speed past, ironically it was Mark Winterbottom, and we slotted in behind to tail him.
The speed and the sound of these things is incredible. Listening to the engine as it’s being fed gears to accelerate between corners and likewise as it’s being slowed to make the apex of a corner was fantastic! I sat with my eyes transfixed to the track ahead, watching the brake markers count down on the side as we approached each turn. It’s not a comfortable ride by any stretch of the imagination, as you get thrown around as the car runs over the curbs, (it felt like we’d hit them all!), and tossed backwards and forwards in the seat with the acceleration and braking forces. At one point, it felt like we were going to run up the rear of Winterbottom, who appeared to have braked earlier for a corner. Jamie was feeding it gears to slow it down, getting as close as I’d personally like to be to another car on a racetrack, but it gave me some idea what it must be like to be in a race as the rivals slug it out!
Onto the straight, and I’m not sure I can really describe the feeling as we blazed down it towards the first corner, except to say, I was absolutely convinced that the car wasn’t going to stop in time. Once more around the circuit, this time a clear track, and it was time to head back into pit lane. Coming around the final corner, we darted across the track to make the entry into pit lane, the car slowing to the mandatory 40km/h just front of the control line – wow! A thumbs up from Jamie as we rolled into the tarmac was eagerly returned as I struggled to catch my breath.
Stopped once again in the pit box, the engine was switched off and a photographer steps into grab a photo just as the door is opened. Picture snapped, the photographer leaves and after a couple more photos courtesy of Will, it’s time to get out. And getting out certainly isn’t any easier than getting in. I think the idea is to do everything the opposite to getting in. I did that, complete with another couple of smacks to the head.
The adrenaline rush is absolutely incredible and once out of the car I stand there shaking while my brain tries to comprehend what just happened. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be the last time that I get in a V8 Supercar. I’m hooked!
With Jamie out of the car a short time later I’m able to get my souvenir photo signed and another quick photo before heading out the back again to debrief with our group at the end of a long, but fantastic day.
Time to get the race suit off and undressing is just as difficult as dressing as they literally peel the suit from my top half!
As the sun started to sink below the horizon and the team finished loading the transporter for the trip back to Brisbane, we headed to the car park with terrible Sydney traffic and hours of airline delays ahead of us, but I’d do it all over again in a shot.
A couple of people I need to thank for this experience – Pirtek Australia for running the competition, allowing fans the chance to get into the passenger’s seat of a V8 Supercar, (and for picking me!) and everyone at Red Bull Racing Australia for providing such a truly memorable day.