Rewriting rules of racing... at 94mph
PUBLISHED: 17:28 30 September 2009 | UPDATED: 17:13 25 August 2010
WE all have to die in some way, why not like this? These are the comforting words British Touring Car Championship numero uno Fabrizio Giovanardi utters to me as he closes his eyes while hurtling us around Brands Hatch racetrack. I can do this with m
WE all have to die in some way, why not like this?" These are the comforting words British Touring Car Championship numero uno Fabrizio Giovanardi utters to me as he closes his eyes while hurtling us around Brands Hatch racetrack.
"I can do this with my eyes shut," he chuckles as my sweaty hands grip the passenger seat and a whimpish squeal escapes from my g-force-pressed lungs as we top speeds of 100mph.
I protest that I love my mum and plead with him to keep his eyes on the road as he fiddles with the air con.
Brands Hatch has invited me down to take a master-class with the Italian who will clash with Northern Ireland's Colin Turkington this Sunday in the British Tour Car Championship (BTCC) finale.
For those who know virtually nothing about motor sport (like me) BTCC cars are slightly modified 2.0L saloons which compete in three races of between 16 and 25 laps.
As I wait nervously in the pit for my turn, the journalist booked in before me pulls in with Fabrizio in the passenger seat.
Gasps come from the pit as the Brands staff laugh in disbelief at the gravel spewing from the back of the Vauxhall Insignia VXR, soon to be my chariot.
Not knowing much about motor sport, I ask what happened. "He's come off the track quite badly and gone in to the gravel," they say. "Is that unusual?" I ask. "Yes," comes the reply. I'm learning already.
Overalled and helmeted up, I strap myself in for a passenger ride first as Fabrizio attempts to teach me the rules of racing.
As he zooms us at breakneck speed around the track, he's clearly delighting in frightening me but I can tell he's by no means stretching himself. This is a walk in the park compared with the motor marathon he'll be oiling himself up for on Sunday. I expect he'll be keeping his eyes wide open then.
I'm the first to admit I'm a bad passenger - my constant checking of his mirrors no doubt fuels my tutor's pleasure in putting the frighteners on me.
But after a few very quick laps which he makes look super easy, it's my turn to unnerve him.
On a corner following a straight where my speed peaked at 94mph, I decide to disregard braking, causing Fabrizio to yelp: "Slow a little, slow a little, slow it! Slow a bit, slow a little biiiiit, listen meee!" Ha, sweet revenge.
"Sorry, I didn't realise how fast I was going," I lie. He shakes his head but he's still smiling.
Moments later I screech around the hairpin and I know I've miffed him once more. Laughing, my instructor says: "Okay, you did all what is wrong." Oh dear. It is actually pretty hard.
Then, he gives me the first bit of praise. As I finally get the right 'line' he says: "Better, not perfect but better." Woop! He later tells me I have "rewritten the rules of racing".
After my jaunt I grab a few words with both the drivers. Team RAC's Colin Turkington will be driving a BMW 320si while Fabrizio will be in a Vauxhall Vectra.
The race is equally important to both - if Colin wins it will be the first time he has claimed the title but for Fabrizio, champion for the past two years running, it is his opportunity to clinch a hat-trick. Colin is 13 points ahead but, with 51 points on offer, it is anyone's title.
So who's going to win? "I have no idea," says Fabrizio. "I'm in following, Colin has an advantage. But he cannot be too confident, 13 points means a good position, not a win. If I won it would be like winning the lottery. I'm not scared to try. You just get on there and do your best."
Colin, equally passionate, says: "Everything I've done in the past has been working towards this. I'm in with a good chance of winning. It would be absolutely brilliant."
Brands Hatch will host the 2009 season finale of the HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship this Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets cost £12 on the gate on Saturday and £28 on Sunday for adults, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information, call 0870 950 9000 or visit www.brandshatch.co.uk.
To watch a video of some of my laps, see www.bromleytimes.co.uk.
Standing by the side of Brands Hatch track keen not to show any fear was quite difficult, writes Jenny McLarney.
After a couple of teas and complimentary cokes to soothe the nerves, I began to focus less on the drive I was about to participate in and more on the racetrack environment. From the buzz of background noise, I heard Colin Turkington's Irish lilt as he gently guided an elderly prize winner into his car. Fixated on holding onto his helmet, the prize winner gave a slight grimace before eagerly ducking into the tour car. I knew how he felt.
However, it was Fabrizio Giovanardi, the defending champion, who would be taking me for a spin and he does nothing to help ease the nerves.
In fact, when you first meet this exuberant Italian he seems especially keen to scare you. With his teasing comments on his bad driving mixed with the screech of brakes in the background you tend to wait a little tentatively in the pit stop, carefully climbing into your racing suit as though it is your last chosen garment.
Of course, I had nothing to worry about. As he sped round the track, sharply braking at every curve I felt quite at ease. Only once, on the Paddock Hill Bend, was my stomach shifted a little out of place and a small yelp found its way from my mouth. However, this was only answered by a swift "you ok?" and then a sudden jerked increase in speed as he threw me round the track another two times.
It wasn't so much the speed of these specially adapted cars that concerned me but more the close proximity of the vehicle to the edge of the track. There were definitely moments where I felt we were veering off into the gravel only to be smartly drawn back onto the circuit as the skilled Giovanardi had planned.
The only complaint that could be made was when he jarred the gears slightly as we were entering into the third lap. This minor confusion was followed by a smile and a secretive "shhh" as he once again quickened the speed. As we pulled back into the pit I thanked my driver for the safe return of all my body parts and wobbled my way out of the car.
Certainly, I was grateful for the solid ground but also eager for another chance to lap the world-famous circuit. The enticing nature of the speed and daring involved in tour car racing has a magnetism that is hard to resist.
Indeed, I found that the power of pace is definitely an easy addiction for those who dare.