As a pastime, I frequently give 170-mph inventory automobile thrill rides at Daytona Worldwide Speedway to prospects of the NASCAR Racing Expertise. The oval observe is 2.5-miles round and banked at a frightening 31 levels. We get round it in lower than a minute per lap, pulling about 3 G’s, or thrice one’s physique weight, within the corners. What I most take pleasure in about giving the rides are the surprised appears to be like and smiles on the faces of the members on the conclusion of every three-lap run. They get to expertise at a reasonably consultant stage the forces that actual racers endure frequently in competitors.
However proper now, I’m not at Daytona, and I’m not on an oval and I’m not giving rides. Fairly, I’m about to turn into a passenger in a two-seat McLaren Racing System 1 automobile, the MP4/98T, the one one in all its type on the planet. My chauffeur will probably be none apart from Mika Hakkinen, the two-time F-1 World Driving Champion. The “Flying Finn,” as he’s known as, will take me for 3 scorching laps across the twisting Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, a highway course, close to Monterey, California, as a part of a weekend for historic auto fanatics known as the Velocity Invitational. Throughout my run, I will probably be whipsawed backwards and forwards, pulling greater than 6 G’s, twice what I pull at Daytona, by 11 distinct corners with sharp breaking and acceleration.
The experience is in an historical 1998 McLaren, with old-school expertise. McLaren isn’t any stranger to Hakkinen, and Hakkinen no stranger to McLaren Racing. In 1998 and 1999, he gained his two F-1 championships for the celebrated British automotive firm. Since 2017, he has been a star ambassador for the corporate.
I’m nervous, to say the least. The cramped backseat of the open-wheel machine is extremely claustrophobic. Each a part of the cockpit is utilized, and never simply to preserve weight. With the G’s we’re about to drag, an inch or two of give both approach will slam my head and torso into the interior sides of the automobile, bruising me, or worse, probably breaking a bone.
Earlier than I even sat within the automobile the day earlier than, once they measured me within the storage, I needed to signal my life away on a two-page waiver indemnifying McLaren ought to something distressing occur. It didn’t actually trouble me. As an excessive journey journalist, I frequently signal such issues. That mentioned, it all the time provides me pause after I ink the date and my John Hancock on the strong black traces on the finish of the onerous kinds.
Dawning a helmet, white fire-proof Nomex lengthy underwear and a fitted McLaren outer black swimsuit (trace: slimming), I’m belted in by the McLaren pit crew. Hakkinen, additionally clad in his black racing outfit, enters the storage and makes his approach towards the two-seater. He’s hounded by followers and autograph seekers, being the famous person that he’s. However he’s light with me, smiling with a handshake and fist bump to place me relaxed.
After Hakkinen is belted in, instantly in entrance of me, we slowly exit onto pit highway. Once more, hoards of individuals, together with photographers, ogle the automobile from behind the concrete pit wall. I do know they’re there to catch a glimpse of Hakkinen, not me, and doubtless surprise who the hell I’m to get such a coveted expertise. In any case, uncommon previous rides have gone to actors like Michael Douglas, and overseas dignitaries together with Juan Carlos, former King of Spain.
The mass of our bodies solely serves to intensify my apprehension as we wait to fireplace the 700-plus-horsepower engine and head onto the principle observe. I had been advised earlier that Mexican IndyCar racer Pato O’Ward was stunned by the violence of the experience when Hakkinen examined the automobile the day earlier than with him within the backseat. That man is used to very large G-forces and excessive speeds racing professionally. How was an beginner like me presupposed to cope?
Out of the blue, the crew eliminated the electrical tire heaters, and off we screamed out of pit lane. I assumed Hakkinen would take a lap to work on top of things, however evidently not. After we went into the fourth flip, we have been already cooking, the 15,000-rpm engine dentist’s drill vibrations reverberating by my decrease extremities.
As a rider, I had no management of the automobile, after all. Some folks can’t deal with that, however I used to be okay. I knew that my driver was as knowledgeable as they arrive. For as soon as, I wouldn’t have to fret about finessing a automobile across the observe. I might simply benefit from the surroundings because it flashed by.
However shortly I discovered that, given how tight I used to be crammed into the automobile, my head couldn’t transfer a lot. It was my eyes that darted left and proper as we meandered by the sharp turns. I might even really feel Hakkinen’s arms rubbing towards my legs as he steered the automobile. That’s how shut we have been. My largest worry grew to become nausea. As a driver, movement illness by no means actually bothers me. However it’s solely completely different as a rider. Maintain it collectively, Jim. It’s solely three laps. Don’t need to lose your lunch in entrance of all these curious spectators.
One space of the observe I used to be initially frightened about was the notorious cork-screw flip, 8A, the place the automobile shortly climbs up a couple of tales, solely to dart over a blind crest and drop precipitously. Each time one encounters it, there’s a pucker issue – and the hope that nobody has crashed beneath. Despite the fact that I knew we have been the one automobile on observe on the time, it nonetheless bought my consideration every lap.
After we lastly pulled again into pit lane after three exhilarating laps, the group was enthusiastic, some even clapping. I exited the automobile, tore off my helmet and fire-proof balaclava and vigorously shook Hakkinen’s hand. I used to be to interview him later, so we solely exchanged a couple of phrases, however they have been joyous. What a bucket-list expertise!
However given the violence – akin solely to my bobsled run with the Olympic staff a couple of years again at Lake Placid – would I strive it once more? If I have been fortunate sufficient to be requested, you wager. However subsequent time, perhaps I could possibly be driver, Hakkinen passenger. Um, positive, in my goals.
(Editor’s Be aware: Two extra Laguna Seca tales will observe this one: An unique interview with Mika Hakkinen, and a profile of the Velocity Invitational historic automobile race weekend. Keep tuned to the Forbes Life-style channel.)