I’m 29 years old and, while I’m not over the hill by any stretch of the imagination, I am old enough to realise that my boyhood dreams of becoming an F1 driver are over. I have to concede this privilege to younger, more talented men, while I content myself with watching from the sidelines (the pub). I’d planned to do just this on November 14, when Abu Dhabi hosts the final race of the F1 season, but then figured it’d be more fun to get behind the wheel and have a race of my own than watch the likes of Webber, Alonso and Button enjoy the spoils of the sport (women, fame, adulation, etc).
But how? Well, despite not boasting a glowing spaceship of a race track like Abu Dhabi, Dubai does offer a well-equipped and accessible course of its own – the Dubai Autodrome. The Autodrome harbours abundant racing options for wannabes such as myself (see ‘Drive time’, right), though I was most interested in its karting facility (the Kartdrome). Not only is it a cheap way for me to act out my F1 fantasies (Dhs100 for 15 minutes), but karting happens to be the first step on the journey to F1 greatness – all F1 drivers started out karting. So, yes, maybe I still am clutching at pretensions of grandeur. But what makes the Dubai Kartdrome all the more enticing is its 15 new RX250 karts – faster, more powerful vehicles than the ones previously offered to budding racers.
The prospect of hurtling around the Kartdrome at greater speeds than ever is certainly exciting, but Autodrome communications manager Paul Velasco says I’m missing the point. ‘Top speed is not the be-all and end-all with karts, as it is with cars,’ he says. ‘The power-to-weight ratio is far more meaningful.’ Come again? ‘Well, you have about 25 horsepower in the kart, and you and the kart weigh a total of about 180kg. The average car has 150hp but weighs 1,200kg or more, so do the maths.’
I try, but the truth is I’ve never been that good at maths and Paul figures the best way to show me what the RX250 can do is to first let me spend 15 minutes driving the old, less powerful RX7 karts. I happily oblige, strap myself in and skid onto the track with all the finesse of a glue-sniffing joyrider. Still, I have a great time screeching around corners, and I even manage to overtake a few other drivers (a couple of teenage girls, but in my head they were Hamilton and Vettel).
By the time the chequered flag waves, I’ve clocked up what I think are a few decent laps, and I feel ready for the RX250. I’m not. It turns out that even though the Autodrome staff are happy to let me try it out, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be permitted to drive the more powerful machines. ‘Only someone who completes 10 sessions without incident – which is tough, even for the best drivers – or completes the course in one minute 14 can drive them,’ says lap attendant Viraj. ‘One 40?’ I exclaim. ‘I got one 41!’ ‘No, one 14 – under 75 seconds.’
I still have a long way to go before I get to Monaco, it seems. Nonetheless, I’m allowed to take the RX250 out on an empty track and immediately notice the difference. First, the engine growls rather than hums, and there’s no debate about the difference in power. What strikes me most, however, is the physical exertion it takes to control the kart. I’d long dismissed arguments that F1 drivers are the fittest sportsmen around (something to do with G-force, I’m told), but I begin to see the logic – keeping your balance and composure around each turn is exhausting and, despite the cool of the evening, I finish my 15 minutes of driving sweaty and exhausted, but thoroughly pleased that the RX250 was at hand to satisfy my boy-racer fantasies.
An arrive-and-drive session in the basic RX7 karts is Dhs100 for 15 minutes. The RX250 karts are reserved for experienced drivers and cost Dhs160 for 15 minutes. Dubai Autodrome, near Arabian Ranches, www.dubaiautodrome.com (04 367 8700)
More motoring options on offer at Dubai Autodrome
Audi Driving Experience The good people at Audi put you through your paces in an Audi S5, Audi TT or, most excitingly, an awesome Audi R8. The Audi advanced driving experience costs Dhs950, while the R8 sports car experience costs from Dhs2,450. www.audidriving.net
F1 Driving Experience Take your karting skills to the next level in these single-seater racing cars – probably the closet you’ll get to driving an F1 car. It costs Dhs875 for a two-hour course. www.dubaiautodrome.com
Fun Cup Middle East The Fun Cup follows the same model as 24-hour endurance karting (also held at the Kartdrome), but allows participants to race 1,900cc, 160bhp Volkswagens that look like mini Beetles. The cars are specially designed for amateur racing (read: they have an extra-strong chassis) and drivers are accompanied by an instructor at all times. A promotional race will take place on January 27-29. www.funcup.ae