Time Out's Mark Dinning drives a GP Extreme racing car simulator in Dubai and discovers it couldn’t be further from the video games if it tried
Ifeel the need, the need for speed. And a cheese toastie. But that’s not important right now. The morning after England’s interminable late-night 0-0 with Slovakia, I find myself invited down to GP Extreme, to try out a Base Performance Simulator – one of only six in the world. A misspent youth of endless driving games on the PlayStation is surely going to make this a breeze. Until I see the kit, and panic.
GP Extreme is, in fact, a multi-faceted business that takes in pretty much every aspect of the motor racing world. On the one hand they’re a race team, which competes around the world in a number of high-profile events, including racing a range of period cars at events like this week’s Goodwood Festival Of Speed. Our teacher for today is Jordan Grogor, who races for the team, and who points out that in order to compete in those races, teams’ cars need to be “100 percent, period”. In other words, if you happen to prang one, any damaged parts – down to individual nuts and bolts – must be replaced by original ones. “It’s extremely expensive and sometimes actually impossible,” says Grogor.
“So there’s a lot of pressure when you’re racing one of those cars. You want to win, but you also want to protect the machine. I was on the starting grid the other day and the owner came up to me and said, ‘Don’t mess this up…
Win, obviously. But don’t mess this up!’ It’s a big responsibility.”
Secondly, GP Extreme also has one of the biggest collections of F1 memorabilia anywhere in the world, with more than 20 cars and a frankly jaw-dropping array of unique pieces, all of which are for sale (price on request, naturally) down here, at their headquarters just off Sheikh Zayed Road. There are signed helmets, worn by some of the sport’s absolute legends – the three helmets pictured on the previous page, for instance, were worn and signed by, left-to-right, Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna. The bronze sculpture above right is a piece created to pay tribute to Senna after his tragic death on San Marino’s Tamburello corner on that fateful May day in 1994. Whatever your level of interest, the artefacts here are worth popping in for alone. And profits are put into getting young drivers into the sport.
Third on the company’s agenda are the courses they offer for ten days a year – five in Europe, five in the Middle East – in which high rollers can be trained up over two days to drive a Formula 1 car at speeds of “well over 300kph”. And for a cool US$20,000 (Dhs73, 460).
For the yous and mes, though, it’s the final part of the company’s offering that appeals. Designed to “open up the sport, to bring the passion to the people”, this simulator gives us the chance to feel the power of a serious motor without actually, well, killing anyone.
From next month, they’ll be offering “Top Gear-style challenges”, where people can burn rubber against each other, live.
For now, though, it’s me. Kitted out in the full heat resistant gear, and with a headset on through which track information can be relayed to me from the control booth behind, I’m strapped into the chasis of a virtual Ferrari and let loose on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit (all the major racing tracks are available on the system). This is the real deal. Around me is a 270-degree panorama. In front, a tiny windscreen and a steering wheel that has so many buttons it could possibly pilot the Starship Enterprise. The road feels close, real and scary. The power of the car is immense. I start slow. I quickly get confident.
As I spin for the fourth time, I lose total control, at 236kph. The steering wheel, frankly, goes nuts, twisting so powerfully I can’t keep hold of it and go piling into the barrier with an almighty groan of metal. “I did say HARD right,” says the voice in my headset, helpfully.
By the end of my session, it’s fair to say that I won’t be challenging the circuit any time soon, but I have, thanks to Grogor, got considerably better. And I’m aching to go again. “We use this system for people who just want to have fun,” he says. “But also for professional drivers, to finesse them, to get them to learn the nuances of all the tracks. All of your race-data can be stored on the system, so we can track your progress.” He looks me up and down. “Or your non-progress. Whichever is most applicable.” Dhs500 (half-hour), Dhs1,000 (one hour), Dhs3,000 (four hours), Dhs7,000 (10 hours), GP Extreme, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.gpextreme.com (04 335 9958).
Four to try More essential driving experiences
Arrive & Drive karting You don’t even need to book to get out on the tracks at Dubai Autodrome. Overalls, helmet and gloves are all provided, just bring your guts and steely determination, then floor it. Watch out for those hairpin bends, though… From Dhs120 (15 minutes). Dubai Autodrome, Motor City (800 527 8464).
Dune Bashing with Arctic TruckS ME Once a month, Icelandic Arctic truck expert Hjalti Hjaltason leads a group of drivers on a trip across the dessert. As long as you have a 4x4 and nerves of steel, you’ll love it. Free (you need to take your own 4x4). firstname.lastname@example.org (04 885 5151). Mclaren sprint experience Tackle 625 horsepower with this V8 experience down at Dubai Autodrome. First you’ll train in an Audi TT 2.0 turbo (to learn the correct racing lines). Then you’ll be unleashed – alongside a professional – in the McLaren. Try not to prang it. Dhs1,950. Motor City (04 367 8700).
The Waldorf Astoria Driving Experience Drive a Ferrari 458 Italia, a McLaren MP4-12C, a Porsche GT3, a Lamborghini Huracán, and a Lamborghini Gallardo through the mountains of RAK with this stunning package laid on by the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Seriously flash. Dhs3,670. waldorfastoria3.hilton.com (07 203 5555).