Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Driven - Formula Jaguar

The key to driving the Formula Jaguar is to forget everything you know about driving. Easing yourself into the cockpit, the carbon-fibre cabin shrinks around you like a wet sleeping bag, your knees and elbows pressed against the sides of the car. (Tomorrow's bruises will tell tales of just how committed you were through the corners.) Your legs are stretched out far in front of you, with your bum slightly forward of your body - you control the pedals not by pressing with your feet, but by adjusting the angles of your ankles. As you're strapped in by your crew - for this is a task you cannot perform yourself - and the steering wheel is fitted, you find that gripping the tiny alcantara Momo wheel makes your unorthodox sitting position feel cohesive and organic - normal, almost.

250bhp may not sound very much these days; after all, you'd get more than that in a fifteen year-old Supra. But if you take a 250bhp Jaguar V6 and effectively wear it as a backpack, you find that you're capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in 3.1 seconds. Couple this with sticky slicks, devastating brakes, an almost unbelievably fast-acting paddle-shift system and the sort of aerodynamic addenda you'd find on a Formula One car and you get a thoroughly astonishing vehicle.

I'll admit it right now: I was scared of driving this car. Having never driven a single-seater before, let alone one as rapid and advanced as the Formula Jaguar, I was a little concerned that I might spectacularly run out of talent and bend it... but once in the car, there just isn't time to worry about that. There's too much going on. Your foot's to the floor, the wail directly behind your head grows into a throaty roar, the shift-lights blink at you with increasing urgency, you flick the right-hand paddle to shift up, your helmet buffets in the rushing wind as you bang home gear after gear. A corner approaches with improbable swiftness, so you stand on the brake pedal with all the might that your limited mobility allows (the pedal itself hardly moves - there's a light on the dash to tell you when you're braking forcefully enough but, to be honest, the decreasing speed is a bit of a giveaway), flick the left paddle a couple of times, turn the nose in and plant the throttle as a world of downforce keeps you glued to your chosen line. Rational thought is redundant in the cockpit - the only thing of any importance is to go faster, faster, faster.

After my session on Bedford Autodrome's West Circuit I was presented with a printout of the cars telemetry, showing my laps against a professional driver. This, if nothing else, highlighted that I'm a long way off driving these for a living - I was at least 10mph slower than him at all times. Where he kept the throttle fully open through double apex corners, I wavered and hesitated. I braked a lot earlier than he did. Was I disappointed by my performance? Hell, no. I didn't spin, I didn't crash, I didn't break it. What I did do is experience something I'd always dreamed of, something that not a lot of people do: I drove a full-on racing car, as fast as I physically could. And it was amazing.

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