Or: last exit Paul Ricard.
Le Castellet. Friday the 13.June. 7.45 clock in front of the entrance to the Paul Ricard racetrack.
I am with a group of Swiss, Austrian and French in front of the entrance of the HighTechTestTrack (HTTT) of the Federation Automobile International (FIA), vulgo also simply the race track of Paul Ricard. We all want to do the same thing, to top off our motoring life. Drive a Formula 1 yourself. None of us are superstitious, otherwise we wouldn't have the 13 on Friday. let as an appointment.
Formula 1 driving yourself, who organizes something like that?
Since 1993, the former French formula 1 racing team AGS has been offering this option to customers all over the world. Either on the team's own racetrack in Le Luc in the south of France, or as a highlight in Paul Ricard. The fleet consists of Formula 1 racers from the years 1999 to 2003, with V8 and V10 engines, with normal sequential gearshifting, or with Formula 1 current steering wheel gearshifting.
650 PS for the motors are the basis with scattering upwards.
If you want, you can also sniff Le Mans winning air in a Group C Peugeot 905 from 1993, the forerunner and opponent of the current LMP1 prototype racers from Peugeot.
The choice of vehicles determines your own wallet. We drive the program 20 laps, in each case 2 turns with the Opel Lotus similar to Formula 3 to get used to, and 4 laps Formula 1, all vehicles with steering wheel gearshift, so state of the art.
Training room race track Paul Ricard 9.00 clock
After dressing in a racing suit, helmet, gloves and racing driver's shoes, the colorful crowd gathers for a briefing and theory.
All of them go through the same procedure, regardless of whether they have a racing background or not. For example, we have a current FIA GT 3 Aston Martin works driver with us, others are in the racing car for the first time. However, AGS is about the experience. Times are not taken, and Formula 1 driving is canceled when it rains. Anyone who wants to be discovered is out of place here.
The chief instructor Patrick Gaillard, former Formula 1 pilot on Ensign, begins with the various curve techniques, explaining how braking in a formula vehicle influences driving behavior. The so-called degressive braking, i.e. high pedal pressure at the beginning, easing towards the apex, determines the driver of the formula racer, namely how well he gets around the corner, understeer or neutral. If you push into the curve understeering, you have to wait longer before you can accelerate again. The accelerator must also be progressively linear. If you let the heavy gas foot drop without a hint, take a quick look at the exit of the curve and then have the following straight line in the rearview mirror rather than in front of you.
In other words, he turned. Such misfortunes happen, but more on that later.
The complete absence of driver assistance systems should also be mentioned.
ABS, ESP, DSC and whatever they are called, none of them. Only a traction control regulates the too impetuous handling of the gas pedal.
So, now on the slopes. We tour the course with the team bus while the Opel-Lotus racers are warmed up by the mechanics. Our instructors have marked braking and licking points with pylons for orientation. Right from the start, the markings are designed for Formula 1, which requires a different line than the somewhat weak-chested Opel-Lotus Renner, with 650 versus 180 hp.
We also ride a 2,54 kilometer variant of Paul Ricard's course, including the ultra-long and legendary Mistral straight. In Formula 1 in 6th gear, up to a slight kink in the Courbes des Signes, which is taken in 5th gear. Incidentally, since the purchase and conversion by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula 1 godfather, Paul Ricard has been offering around 160 different track variants and extensive fall areas, and is therefore used intensively by Formula 1, the Le Mans racers and the car industry. The pit systems and other facilities of the race track, which is located on a high plateau, are also luxuriously equipped in a resort-like manner. For example, the Driving Center is also located here for Mercedes SLR owners who want to spur their automobile treasures here, appropriately and unobserved. The area is rounded off by an adjoining private airport for business jets and a golf course. We also had to go through extensive security checks to get inside.
But now they are driving. Part 1 Opel Lotus
The Opel Lotus are ready and 6 are released onto the slopes at the same time.
Only overtaking under the blue flag on the start and finish straight, so young shumans have to curb their aggression and divide up their session, otherwise they can look behind the rear light behind their colleagues who are not traveling so quickly.
Marcel, a Swiss freight forwarder and I am not there yet, look
our colleagues' goings-on, hear the shifting exercises, because the gearshift takes some getting used to, you shouldn't be hesitant.
You can shift up without taking your foot off the gas, i.e. without interrupting the tractive effort, and shift down by simply pulling the left rocker switch. The electronics then regulate the downshift by automatic double-declutching. The older ones will still remember the blissful tip-heel technique, but that's yesterday's news.
After each series we are corrected by the instructors and our mistakes are pointed out. For example, I am a little too brutal with the gas, says Patrick. But I also have a bit of getting used to with the Opel Lotus.
I've never really warmed up to things before. But that's also yesterday's snow. Marcel, my Swiss colleague, is from his first exit in a racing car, even though Porsche drivers, especially surprised by the immediacy and directness of the driving experience. No wonder, his Porsche weighs approx. 1 tonnes and doesn't stand a chance against the Opel Lotus.
Lunch break. We enjoy an excellent lunch in one of the lounges in the pit area. There is a little gossip, but nothing serious has happened yet. So you can still relax a little.
13.15 watch formula 1 briefing
Now it gets serious, we gather again in the briefing room. There Patrick explains the start procedure with the formula 1 and points out the safety regulations again. Red flashlights on the track mean, for example, -Immediately to the box-because the guys from AGS don't understand any fun.
Part 2 The real McCoy- Formula 1 driving
14.00 pm the engines are warming up. Marcel and I have to wait, it's not our turn yet and watch again. Our Aston Martin works driver apparently has his talent-free day today, and due to his asymmetrical driving style, he is brought in after 2 laps and is taken very intensely into prayer by Patrick. The words seem very haunting, because Patrick had sent everyone away beforehand, including the film team. In this case, Patrick seems to value intensive, intimate care. After completing his turn, our Aston driver trolls behind the pits, somewhat crumpled. I start to brood. It doesn't seem to be that easy to drive this Formula One.
Marcel is the first to drive. It is strapped into the AGS-02 and you start it
get used to the clutch by moving the formula 1 back and forth and let Marcel feel the pressure point. Then Marcel rustles, disappears from the pit lane, and is alone with the formula 1. When he comes back, he is speechless for now, but looks happy. He reports that he was more likely to roll in the baffles, but that he really tore through on the straights, and the acceleration is amazing.
Look me in the eye, big one.
Now it's my turn. The 99 Arrows from Pedro della Rosa, currently McLaren Mercedes test driver, rolls forward. It's funny, 15 years ago I drove a Formula 3 race against the boy in Nogaro / South of France and now I'm strapped into his Formula 1, but I'm 1 years late in Formula 10. Well, everything in life takes time, and so the circle closes.
But now it's getting serious for me too. Clutch roll exercise ended, the engine is started. As discussed in the briefing, I look at Patrick. He means to raise the speed and then shows me to let the clutch come.
Incidentally, this procedure is easier if you have trained the legs beforehand, because the preload of the clutch is brutal. But it doesn't matter, she reaches for a few meters of sanding path and I roll down the pit lane. Formula 1 Starting is actually very easy, and now I don't need the clutch anymore, I thought.
Ride with the wind and the Mistral whistles a song.
The first 2nd course chicane at the end of the straight. Of course I'm not yet fully out of the pit lane. Shift down, turn in, feels good - the beast. Then for the first time the Mistral straight, I zap through the corridors. Yes are you hammered ?. I try to keep my head straight - no chance. When I hit the start and finish straight for the first time, I just put my head against the headrest and zap through again.
Confidence in the beast increases, I start to really drive a racing car. It's amazing how easy everything works, especially the circuit. The Formula 1 can be positioned precisely and, despite its larger size compared to the Opel Lotus, can be moved much more precisely even in the slower corners.
This is just a real racing car and while we're already praising it:
It is the racing car par excellence. The summit. Another world.
I get warm with the thing. When braking to the chicane after the start and finish, the optics blur due to vibrations. The following curve combination works with a clean line. Then again a short acceleration phase until the curve combination in front of the Mistral straight line. Hm, I think I can attack the chicane before that even more. Now Mistral again. Zapp, Zapp, Zapp. Brake briefly, 5. Corridor, Courbes des Signes. It is phenomenal how this thing sucks itself into the street, especially now in the long curves after the Courbes des Signes. The faster you go with the thing, the better it is. It's really fun and I haven't seen it before. Theoretically, you can also drive along the ceiling with a modern Formula 1, that's how much contact pressure it develops.
OK. the last round. Maximum attack. I am in the rhythm. Braking after start and finish. 2nd gear. Third gear. By the combination of curves after the chicane. Accelerate to the next combination in front of the Mistral. Later braking point, very late braking point !!!!. Pfiiiiihhh, squeaky silence. The beast bit back I stand backwards. I haven't turned that fast either. I don't think I even had the chance to counter-steer, it happened that quickly.
I lost the car while braking because the contact pressure at this point is low due to the relatively low speed. Briefly overbraked, rear axle relieved - and the turn was perfect. That's not how you win races, the saying goes "To be the first to arrive, you have to arrive first."
The guys from AGS graciously let me drive the rest of the lap back to the pits and I come back to an additional starting exercise in Formula 1.
I watch the other Formula 1 pilots a little. Admire the Le Mans Peugeot from 1993 during its rounds and once again wonder what the French dare to do. The Peugeot is namely a difficult part and is started with the laptop. But it works. But at 17.00 it ends, there are diplomas and the first alcohol of the day. A sip of champagne, as is common in France. I get a ruffle from Patrick because of my shooter, but still a diploma, so that I can now call myself an ex-Formula 1 driver 😉
PS .: The author is not completely unaffected by the racing matter and has let off steam in various formula racing series and countries about Formula Ford, Formula 3 and Formula Atlantic, as well as as an instructor in racing driver schools. And he remains anonymous 😉 The poor author.