V8 Supercars Experience is a taste to whet race appetites
TIGHTLY strapped in the race seat, first gear selected and clutch out, I rolled the growling 300kW replica V8 Supercar onto a deserted 2.1km race track.
Standing on the sidelines were the cream of current V8 Supercars pilots - Jamie Whincup, Will Davison, James Courtney and Mark Winterbottom included - each potentially eyeing my Hungry Jack's liveried race car to check my progress. No pressure then.
This is the V8 Supercars Official Driving Experience, freshly opened at Paul Morris's Performance Driving Centre at Norwell, 30 minutes south of Brisbane, and the only one of its kind in Australia.
Its aim? To offer racing and V8 Supercars enthusiasts like myself a small taste of what it's like to pilot one of these brutal race cars.
Training at the centre is conducted by experienced racer and team owner Paul Morris and his group of professional drivers, each keeping their respective eyes in before the start of this year's racing season.
It was their task to ensure we mere mortals understood how to control these specially-prepared race cars and stay safe, but also enjoy the high octane thrill of being let loose on a race track.
Speaking about his driving centre's official endorsement by V8 Supercars, Morris said it was ideal for the fan base of die-hard V8 Supercars fans.
"We wanted to take our experience to the next level and make it as authentic as it could be," he said.
"We design and build the race cars right here and use as many authentic components as we can; you can truly feel what it's like to drive a V8 Supercar in a controlled environment."
For the experience's official opening, the top drivers from Australia's elite touring car championship arrived to give members of the media expert tuition, insights, and the odd hot lap around the circuit.
After a few lessons in car control on a slalom course and skid pan (all part of the centre's driver education courses), it was time to try the real thing on a track 2010 V8 Supercar Champion and former F1-test driver James Courtney told me was "a good little teaser where you can get some speed up."
I was strapped into my race-prepared VE Commodore beside Kiwi racing prodigy Andre Heimgartner, and here the true experience began.
The cars aren't as ludicrously advanced as those currently racing in the V8 Supercars Championship (the expense would be monumental), but they feature the same brakes, wheels and tyres as the real thing.
Although replicas, the cars' stripped interiors, tuned engines and race-specific suspension setup give you a feeling as close to the real thing as you could imagine.
I slowly rolled the Commodore racer onto the track - the cabin temperature already sauna-like on a scorching Gold Coast afternoon - and Andre gave me the command to floor it.
The first lap gave a good idea of the track's layout as Andre showed the ideal line and braking points.
Already I was getting a feel for the race car's incredible engine response, acceleration and outrageous grip through the turns, so by laps two and three I had the confidence to start exploring its potential.
My expert instructor was always on-hand to fine-tune the correct turn-in points, and importantly when to add throttle gently and when to stomp it to the floor. All this over the delicious sound of a race-prepared V8 on full song.
The experience proved addictive.
I was hitting 150kmh in seemingly no time along the back straight, but as with most modern race cars, it was the grip level that stayed with me most. These V8s just stick limpet-like through the turns, and with a precise turn-in you start believing you're a reasonably talented driver. Until, of course, you hop into the passenger seat and the professionals show you exactly why they get to pilot these things for a living.
As I pulled into the pits - hot, sweating, exhilarated and pumping with adrenalin - Jamie Whincup unfortunately didn't run over and offer me a co-drive at Bathurst this year (his loss), but I was happy just to get a small taste of what these drivers get to do.
It's a brilliant experience and one you can re-live thanks to cameras inside and outside the cars recording your efforts on the track, all handily saved on a USB stick.
For V8 Supercars enthusiasts and for those wanting to sample life behind the wheel of a superb racing machine, this V8 Experience proved both unique and totally unforgettable.
What? V8 Supercars Official Driving Experience.
Where? Performance Driving Centre, Norwell, Gold Coast, Queensland.
Details? Race-prepared Holden and Ford V8 race cars you can drive yourself around a 2.1km race track.
How much? Hot laps (passenger experience): $149. Six lap test drive: $279. Eight lap test drive and two lap ride with a professional driver: $499. 12 lap V8 Super Pro: $549.
Contact: http://www.driveriderace.com.au, (07) 5546 1366.