On my way to Surrey with my dad for a Lets Race Formula 1 simulator driving experience it was safe to say I was a little nervous. Having never had a driving lesson the idea of stepping into an F1 car, albeit a simulator, was pretty daunting.
One of a Kind
Lets Race is the first and most advanced simulator centre in the UK with plenty to boast. Inside the centre, based 10 minutes from Gatwick Airport in Horley, not only are there 10 fully functioning Marussia simulators but there’s also a Scalextric set, a mobile simulator that can be taken around the country and even a Batak wall that tests reactions.
It is the perfect venue for any fan of motorsport, able to host stag dos, corporate events and children’s birthday parties, being equipped with a separate area for younger children who are unable to use the main simulators.
The centre works closely with Sky Sports as well as Marussia driver Max Chilton, his father being a co-owner, and so the cars are set up exactly like they would be in reality. As Max has said himself ‘Lets Race offers race fans the opportunity to experience what it feels like, to give a real insight into being a racing driver.’
Lets Race is part of Carlin Motorsport, the most successful motorsport group in the world outside of Formula 1, with drivers such as Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne to their name.
When at the centre you are able to choose any circuit you wish to be your simulation track and once inside the simulator it will react to the moves you make, an incredibly accurate reflection of driving reality. If you crash into a wall you will feel it, although these cars are set up at only 20% of what a real Formula 1 driver would face as any extra force would be too much for an ordinary person to handle.
On arrival we were introduced to PR Director Gemma Hook who showed us around the centre. We were then handed over to race instructor Matt Tiffin (pictured below) who took us through to the safety briefing area.
Photo: Holly Wade
Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle appeared to us via video, taking us through the health and safety advice, building up the suspense before we were led into the simulator room, a grandstand built into the back side of the wall, perfect for group events.
On the Grid
Now there was no time for backing out as we settled into the Formula 1 seat, incredibly uncomfortable on the coccyx, adjusted the pedals to suit our height and attached the steering wheel.
Being in this position you can see exactly what a motorsport driver would see. Three screens are placed directly in front of you, laying out the track ahead as well as giving updates on performance and a map to help you visualise each corner and straight before it appears.
Photo: Lets Race
And They’re Off
With everything ready Matt gave us the nod to begin. And I came to a halt. Within a second of beginning the experience and attempting to leave the pit lane I had managed to crash straight into the wall. I certainly felt the shunt.
After some much needed help from Matt I was finally on my way, rather tentatively as I got used to all of the controls. The circuit we’d chosen was the classic Belgian track of Spa which is difficult to manoeuvre to say the least.
Travelling down La Source and Eau Rouge at just over 120mph was pretty exhilarating, even if I did crash a few more times afterwards. I could almost feel the wind whipping through my hair.
Sadly for me I didn’t quite get the hang of the track in the allocated time slot and could definitely have done with another half an hour but I ended my session with a 4 minute lap time. It really isn’t as easy as it might look. And, as Matt assured me, it was a very good lap for someone who had never even driven a normal car before.
After the experience Matt was able to show us a telemetry print out of our statistics compared to that of a professional driver for the Spa circuit.
Overall the experience was incredible and so much fun, something that I would 100% recommend to any motorsport fan. From experiencing it myself it really does go to show that even if you haven’t driven before you can still do it, although not that well in my case.
There’s only one downside to the experience and that is the amount of time allocated for each slot. After half an hour I was left wanting more. But with prices starting from £15 there really is no reason to not go back again and again.
For more information on Lets Race visit their website at http://letsrace.co.uk/