As a fans of motorsport we all love to be at the races – we love to watch every angle on the TV and we love to play the simulations 24/7. But how close to the action are we really getting? Nowhere near it!
As a kid I was pretty fortunate to get close to the action. I went to Primary School with the son of one of the most prominent touring car privateers – Trevor Ashby – and got to visit the team at Bathurst and local Sydney rounds. I even remember a practice session at Oran Park in the week or so before Bathurst one year where I had the chance to jump in for a ride – but didn’t.
20 years later and today, I took the chance. It was a fantastic sunny day at Homebush. I took my almost 5-year-old son Jackson to the races for the first time accompanied by my Father-in-Law. Importantly, V8’s are far too loud for youngsters – even an hour is too long for a 5-year-old to be at an event like this without protection around the ears.
Fortunately, the Telstra Sydney 500 is an exceptionally well planned event where there are great activities for the kids – including a suite of activities around the Disney/Pixar Cars movies. So, as the afternoon went on, my meeting time of 3.50pm for my lap drew near. We moved our way closer to the Bigpond Media Truck (our designated meeting spot) by looking through the classic car exhibit in the Dome and then into the Paddock Garages in what is normally homewares and showbags for those Easter Show fans among us.
3.45pm arrived and a few V8s had headed back to their garages while the rest – I assumed – had stayed in the pit lane ready for guest hot laps. I was right. A circle of lucky soon-to-be passengers gathered by the B-Double truck to be told who they would be paired with for their hot-lap. The V8 Supercar representative turned to me and said “you’re with Greg Murphy – is that ok? You can choose someone else.” I responded (probably before they finished talking), “hell no, that’s outstanding!”
Greg Murphy is a four time winner of The Great Race, this was going to be the best afternoon of my life (yes, marriage and birth of children aside). Most of the passengers were escorted to the team transporters to be fitted and prepped for the lap. After a short wait I was instead taken to the team pit bay on pit lane – I was told “Every team does it differently”. After signing my life away on a single piece of paper I walked down into the pit garage. The Kelly Racing team were amazing, allowing my son and Father-in-law into the garage too so they could see the action unfold.
One of the team members eyed me up and down and reached for a race suit. Clearly he chose one of the biggest ones there, not only because I was right on (or maybe slightly over) the prescribed 100kg passenger limit. On went the race suit, and it felt comfortable, perhaps too much so as I looked across to a larger bloke struggling into his suit – so, I was asked to swap. The new suit wasn’t quite so comfy. Sure I was able to zip it up but bending down to get my shoes on was a hassle.
Hair net on, and helmet nice and snug, I was escorted two garages up to the #11 Pepsi Max car. It was up on blocks with no wheels on while the team fitted the seat I was about to occupy. Minutes later, the wheels were on and it was dropped off the blocks. Greg Murphy walked in, put on his helmet and climbed into the drivers seat.
Holy Crap – this was about to happen. Amazingly my hands were steady – I wasn’t nervous at all – just apprehensive. The car was dropped off the jacks and the door opened for me. I looked in and could see a stainless steel plate in the foot-well and was instructed to put my right foot in and the rest would follow. It did.
It felt anything but comfortable. I wanted to tilt my head back further, and once the straps were pulled tight – and I mean really tight – I was ready to go. Breathing was difficult, being so tightly strapped and I was so anxious I couldn’t take deep breaths. But I overcame that by the end of the pit-lane with gentle regular breathing.
Murphy had my signed paperwork poking out the air intake of the drivers window as we approached the end of the pit lane behind a stream of cars doing the exact same thing. An official took the paperwork, another signaled we could go – and it was on.
I was warned about a few things by others who had done this before – acceleration, braking, corners – all intense. That was an understatement. The acceleration I must say felt natural and acceptable – not that I had done it before, but I certainly know what it’s like to get from go-to-whoa in a quick pace.
Braking though, no one can properly explain that to allow you to understand. Importantly when you are trying to set a time around a circuit, every 100th of a second counts so you don’t just squeeze the brake pedal, you smash it to the floor. I doubt many people reading this would ever have really done that in any vehicle.
Braking into the second corner was so intense my entire body lunged forward, except that I was strapped in so tight it was in fact just my internal organs lunging forward within my body. Do that enough times a lap and you feel very weird.
The walls on both sides of the track are very close, the track looks so narrow you can’t see how a single car gets around. It’s simply amazing the trust these guys put into the track marshals. At Homebush as you go around the train station section of the track you can’t see anything around the corner until you are well into the turn.
Then there are those ripple strips – could there be more of them?! On TV they look like a gentle round-about edge, from inside the car they look like square gutters, and they feel like it too. At the end of the first lap we went flying down the straight for another dose of the same. Braking into the first corner almost rid me of my lungs.
Part of me was relieved that we were in fact coming into the pits after the second lap. My reaction exiting the car still sits with me – violent and amazing! Here’s a video snapped on an iPhone and sent to me by PXT (So excuse the quality)
(Feature Image © V8Supercars)
Trevor Long attended the Sydney 500 as a guest of Telstra