This month we ran a competition called “Performance Reinvented”, in conjunction with Shell, giving three lucky winners the chance to do some performance driving with former F1 racer Gimmi Bruni, get into a proper F1 Simulator and to get a ride with Ferrari test driver Giancarlo Fisichella at the launch event of the new Shell V Power Nitro + fuel at London’s Battersea Power Station.
Over the next few days we will share with you their experiences in the form of guest blogs and images. Here’s the first, from long time JA on F1 reader Rich Gibbons.
Backmarker in my way.
Long brake pedal.
Unexpected groundhog in the road….
Those were some of the potential excuses running through my mind after I’d messed up my second, and final, timed run – in a brief moment of over-enthusiasm, only a couple of metres from the finish line – in the Shell V-Power Nitro+ driving challenge on Thursday afternoon.
As I shamefully reversed back into the garage in the wonderfully agile and nippy Abarth 595, I glanced across at the timing official to see him shaking his head at me like a disappointed teacher after a poor exam result. Only minutes before, after the successful completion of my first timed run, he’d been giving me the Vettel finger to indicate that I’d gone quickest.
And it was that piece of news that caused my heart to pound even faster, having already been driven around the circuit by my co-driver Gimmi Bruni at a speed that seemed to defy the laws of physics, followed by us swapping positions for me to do an untimed run to get the feel of the car, and then doing my first timed run.
Gimmi gave me another pep talk before my second run, pointing out some improvements I could make, but I think I nearly set off before he’d even finished speaking, such was the level of adrenalin coursing through my system. He managed to talk me back down to tolerable levels of excitement and instil some much-needed calm. In fairness I’d never been at the top of any timing chart before, so this was a new experience for me: I was never much of a swimmer, running hurts my knees and makes my man-boobs jiggle, and I’ve been known to be regularly beaten at Mario Kart Wii by a six year-old.
My patient co-driver continued to give me excellent instructions around that second lap, and by the time we reached the final and trickiest manoeuvre – a high-speed reverse from one garage into another, including a 90 degree turn – I felt like I’d gone slightly faster than before. If I’d have continued to pay proper attention to Gimmi who was saying “left! left! left!” instead of being deafened by adrenalin and doing whatever it was that I did as we careered backwards, then we might’ve made it safely back into the garage. Instead, the front-end started to misbehave and we started heading in the wrong direction, and I had to slam on the brakes. “That’s it,” said Gimmi. My racing career had come to an end already.
However, as it turned out my first timed run was the fastest time of the session. My dad, who I’d been able to invite along as my guest, came a dignified 10th. Not bad for a pensioner. What’s more, I’m fairly certain that no two generations of a family have ever finished in the top ten together in F1. Result!
This was the moment for which I’d been turning down tray after tray of delicious looking food that was being brought around by our hosts. I knew that because I’d finished in the top two in the driving challenge (congrats to fellow JAonF1 competition-winner hero_was_senna for coming second!), I’d won the chance to be driven around the circuit in a Ferrari 458 Spider by none other than Giancarlo Fisichella.
Before the ride, we all assembled around the Ferrari F1 car on display, and TV’s own Jake Humphrey read out the names of the two fastest drivers. I walked up to the front, with some pride I must admit, and shook Fisi’s hand and posed for some photographs with Fisi, Jake and hero_was_senna. Nobody asked me for an autograph, which is just as well as I haven’t been practising my signature lately.
So outside we went, to see the beautiful 458. Red, of course; roof down, exposing the delightful interior. It looked worth every penny of whatever it cost. Climbing into the car was not unlike my experience of getting in the F1 simulator, it certainly wasn’t the most elegant entry I’ve ever made. But I was sitting in an actual 458, next to an actual GP-winning F1 driver! Much of the passenger-side foot-well in the 458 was taken up by a fire extinguisher, albeit the most beautifully-upholstered fire extinguisher I’ve ever seen. I hoped we wouldn’t need it.
Fisi was almost apologetic before we set off. “We’re just gonna go round” he said, perhaps thinking that I was expecting a Grand Prix distance around Spa. I was perfectly happy just to be there.
I’ve never known acceleration like it. It was like a switch. One moment we were stationary, the next we were power-sliding around the circuit leaving black trails of rubber, the engine roaring behind us, Fisi treating the accelerator like an F1 brake pedal, casually applying opposite-lock to keep the Ferrari moving in the right direction. I loved every second of it, and it was all over far too quickly.
Before climbing into the Shell F1 simulator, I was advised to take off my shoes due to, in relative F1 terms, their clown-like proportions. Not having shoes on actually helped me to get into position in the car as I was able to slide down the seat, which might have been tricky otherwise. I felt pretty comfortable; not much elbow room but I was relieved not to be too chubby to fit, no Mansell modifications required to the chassis.
My right foot immediately found the accelerator, which felt nice and light, but I couldn’t find the brake pedal at all. There just seemed to a be a solid foot-rest. It turned out that this was the brake pedal. Absolutely no movement in it whatsoever. “Those are Alonso’s settings,” I was told.
After a brief tutorial on the controls and some useful information on the layout of the Fiorano circuit, which I was not at all familiar with, I tentatively pulled out of the virtual garage.
All tentativeness then immediately went out of the window as soon as I joined the track, as I put my foot to the floor and went up through the gears, making the most of my chance to experience the closest thing to F1 that I’m ever likely to have. And it’s easy to be brave when you don’t know where you’re going, if there’s no chance of being hurt!
But by the time the first corner came up, I was already feeling the effects of motion sickness, wishing I hadn’t just eaten that chocolate brownie. It’s an odd experience, with the screen wrapping 180 degrees around you so you feel properly immersed. Fortunately the queasiness passed after about 30 seconds once my brain had worked out what was going on.
I was talked around the circuit for the first couple of laps by one of the simulator staff, which was a great help as I had no idea how fast I should be going at each section of the track. Whilst I think I was making a pretty good job of getting the braking points vaguely correct, what I wasn’t doing was pressing the brake pedal anywhere near hard enough, and I sailed straight on at pretty much every slow corner to begin with, more rally-style across the grass than F1, even sliding sideways into the armco at one point, to be given a definite shove by the hydraulics system to let me know what I’d done.
The amount of pressure required to brake was insane, I was having to put everything behind the pedal. How on earth F1 drivers manage to have any feel for braking, when effectively they’ve got an immovable brick under their foot and whilst having to deal with the G-forces and a host of other distractions, is a mystery to me.
I was just starting to get the hang of it, and had managed to do a fairly clean lap, during which I think I mostly stayed on the track and might’ve even given an apex or two a scare, when it was game over; no more credits. My best lap time was a 1:05, which I was told was pretty good. But Ferrari management didn’t suddenly sweep in to put a contract under my nose, so I’m guessing it wasn’t that impressive a performance. Perhaps they saw the size of my feet…
The Thank Yous
First of all, many thanks to all at Shell who put on a fantastic event for the launch of the new Shell V-Power Nitro+ fuels. Me and my dad were made to feel really welcome, and it was all very informal and friendly, and even “ the science bit” by the clever Shell chemists was interactive and fun.
Thanks to Gimmi for his patience and tolerance of my inability to listen, and to Fisi for the most memorable driving experience I’m ever likely to have, he was “dab of oppo” personified.
And, of course, thanks to James for the amazing job he does with this website and for the opportunity to have a guest blog published on it.