The Yas Marina Racing School in Abu Dhabi allows beginners the opportunity of a lifetime – a drive around the F1 circuit
I like to consider myself a relatively ‘brave’ man. I don’t, for example, fear spiders, or snakes, or very big dogs. Nor do weird noises in the night concern me – it’s the fridge, it’s always the fridge. And strangers – that last bastion of unnecessary worry – have, to date, caused me little concern; of the hundreds I have met in my life, only three have taken the time to rob me (turns out it’s not always the fridge after all). But right now, here, strapped into a vehicle that comes with neither roof nor doors, I’m scared. Actually I’m more than scared. To be quite frank, I want my mum.
The reason for this trauma is threefold. 1) We are travelling at about 190kph in a two-seater SuperSport. I have my foot firmly on the accelerator and the sudden arrival of a red cone at the side of the road informs me that a corner is imminent, and it’s probably time to start braking. 2) The Italian racing instructor sitting next to me clearly doesn’t believe in ‘braking’ and, via a hand signal traditionally used to startle bulls, urges me to keep accelerating. This immediately leads to trauma number three. Understanding that I’m seconds from stamping hard on the brake, the nice Italian man does something rather unexpected – he puts his hand on my knee.
Now, the last time a man rested his hand on my knee was during a Sunday matinee at the Swiss Cottage Odeon in London and it did not, let me assure you, end well. This time, however, it’s a ruthless manoeuvre designed – successfully – to keep my foot firmly on the gas. The speedometer leaps from 190kph to 200kph, the rev counter thunders towards 10,000rpm, the dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree and I know but one thing: if I turn into this corner we are both going to die.
Now, let me take you out of the car and pop you in the 50,000-capacity grandstand – front-row seats, lucky you – about two hundred yards up the road. Imagine a warm summer night at the Yas Marina race circuit. In the distance you can hear the throaty rumblings of two Aston Martin GT4 racers, and the more vigorous whine of the two-seater, open-top SuperSport SSXs, part of the flagship fleet of the newly formed Yas Marina Racing School. Designed to allow novices (you) the chance to drive racing cars alongside hand-picked instructors – there are even a few names from the F1 Ferrari team in there – the school will soon have 15 three-litre, V6 single-seater racers to join the Astons, the two-seater, V10, 700bhp F1 race car and, of course, the open-topped SuperSports, one of which is rapidly approaching. Cutting through the peaceful night air like an enraged banshee, its piercing howl tells you it’s moving fast.
The driver must be good. He must have skill. Nobody could take the corner this fast unless he was really ‘clued-up’. And then they pass! A grim-faced Italian, holding the knee of a ruddy-faced buffoon who is begging for his mother to be made available for an emergency cuddle.
We didn’t die, and I may not have learnt to be the best driver in the world, but I have learnt one thing, if nothing else – fear. Ross Brown does not have his own racing team. Yas Racing School prices range from Dhs350 for a ride in a Yas SuperSport SSX, through to Dhs950 for tuition in an Aston Martin or SST and Dhs7,500 for an F1 two-seater experience. The one-day racing licence assessment costs Dhs1,500 and private racing tuition costs from Dhs1,500 per hour (800 927, www.yasmarinacircuit.ae)