Here at House of Coco, we love bringing dreams come to life! For example, Formula One. Not many people may ever get the chance to race a real racing car BUT there are ways to make this dream come true. Our contributors Omo and Eulanda went off to Lets Race, Horley to find out how.
Fulfilling Formula One Dreams
As the 2016 Formula One season comes to a nail biting conclusion in Abu Dhabi, the world of motor sport expects either three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton or his Mercedes team-mate (and surely world-champion-in-waiting), Nico Rosberg to prevail in a tense ‘Battle of The Mathematical Odds’.
The season will end with typical fanfare while bidding farewell to two of the sport’s great servants, Jenson Button (temporary retirement) and Felipe Massa. However, as the lights go out at the Yas Marina Circuit and the celebrities fly off into the sunset on their private jets, Formula One fans will be left with a feeling of ‘emptiness’ once the last bits of celebratory ticker tape have been cleared up.
As we found out recently, there are better ways to fill the void until the engines roar at the Australian Grand Prix, signalling the start of a new season. One such way is to head to ‘Lets Race’, one of the UK’s leading simulation centres and the only full-motion Formula One simulation centre open to the public.
Located in Horley, only five minutes away from Gatwick Airport, we arrived early for our midday session. With ample parking space, we settled down to enjoy a quality meal at Blacks Burgers, a family run business attached to the centre. Their friendly staff catered to our food allergies and helped us select gluten free options.
Prior to our race session, we took a quick tour of the facilities. The Lets Race centre shares the facility with Lets Golf, a partner simulation centre which caters to the golfing community. The racing facility features a blacked-out room hosting ten full-sized networked simulators.
An adjoining spectator stand allows non-participants to sit in a mock grandstand to watch group races unfold. We imagined organising a large group outing and creating an atmosphere akin to race day. Winners can celebrate podium finishes with real or fake champagne bottles.
Neither of us were experts in the technicalities of Formula One racing nor had we ever been in an actual racing car. However, with some ‘fan knowledge’, when asked by our race administrator to choose a simulation circuit, we selected Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, home to the Canadian Grand Prix.
Those familiar with the Montreal circuit layout will appreciate the long straights between Turns 7 and 8 and Turns 10 through 13. As first time racers, we felt that this design would limit the number of twists and turns we would need to make as well as give us good opportunities to use Drag Reduction System (DRS) and practice overtaking.
It was time to begin our session. Our race administrator led us to a briefing room and explained basic health and safety procedures before providing an overview of the simulator. Some of the information seemed overwhelming at first. However with some reassurance from our experienced race administrator, we quickly grasped the basics of braking, reversing and accelerating. The steering wheel featured four simple controls including a DRS button.
The experience became real when we stepped into our real-sized cars and secured our steering controls. Before us was an array of three large screens which brought both the car and the circuit to life. The fantastic surround sound system immediately created an exhilarating atmosphere and brought back memories of our experience at the Monaco Grand Prix.
The full throated roar of the engines and an anticipation of reaching speeds of up to 200 mph provided an immediate adrenaline rush. The Lets Race simulator was probably the closest we would ever get to being in an actual Formula One car. It was time to feel like a legend.
Not keen to recreate a Hamilton vs Vettel rivalry, we decided not to race each other and simply aimed to see who could post the fastest lap times. The screens signaled the start of our 25 minute session. With a sharp left turn upon exit from the garage, we taxied out of the pit lane and hit the track.
Unfortunately, there was no map of the circuit projected on our screens. Our race administrator had advised us to first build our knowledge of the track before building speed around that knowledge. However, rather than easing ourselves in as advised, we gave into our lust for speed. With great delight we immediately began pushing the throttle as hard as the butterflies in our stomachs would allow.
The simulator recreated every sound and feel of the track including grass, tarmac and chicane. The steering was very responsive and we easily tackled Turns 1 through 9 despite taking on a bit of grass. However, it was at Turn 10, also known as The Hairpin (L’Epingle) that we both became unstuck. We both crashed into the barriers within minutes of each other.
..and then Lets Golf!
The simulation was real enough to recreate every single vibration that a real Formula One race car would experience in a similar situation (thankfully without the car bits flying off in different directions). Significantly shocked at the realness of it all, we both managed to right our cars and continue racing.
After a few more crashes and spins, including a hilarious moment when one of us spotted the other driving in the wrong direction, we both developed a new appreciation for the skill, concentration and endurance that goes into finishing (talk less of winning) a real race. With our racing ambitions tempered, we settled into experiencing G-force and working through the 8-gear system (one of us had chosen a manual car).
At the end of our timed session, we collected print outs of our lap times from our race administrator and were surprised to learn that Eulanda posted the fastest lap time. There would be no podium celebrations this time but our Formula One racing dreams had been fulfilled. We knew instinctively that we would be back.
As he set up our Lets Golf simulation session (we chose a simple HD driving range with swing analysis), our host explained that the race simulators can be reprogrammed to simulate different car models including 2016 and 2015 F1 models, IndyCar, Formula Renault 3.5 and Porsche Carrera Cup cars. Fans of Go-Karting will feel liberated to be able to step up to enjoy accessible Formula One racing without incurring any significant cost.
Although the Formula One season will soon end and teams will retreat to their winter factories to prepare for the next season, for fans, enthusiasts and aficionados, the fun is only just beginning. Lets Race!
To book a Lets Race or Lets Golf simulation experience, visit www.letsrace.co.uk.
As of October 2016, prices range from £14.95 – £44.95 depending on session length and time of booking. Lets Race Gift Cards are available from £15 – £100. The experience is suitable for anyone over 1.5m tall. A driving license is not required. Adaptive cars are available upon request for those with a disability.