Monday, July 2, 2007

The drive of my life - Ebren

Taking a corner at 100mph, drifting into a slipstream and then playing chicken with the driver alongside you into the next left-hander.

Feeling your helmet start to lift off your head along the back straight and moving from third to fourth with your foot flat on the floor as you aim for a chicane. Having the balls not to lift.

How does it feel to be an F1 driver?

Many years ago I was asked why I liked motor sport - the glib answer was always that with football, cricket, rugby and tennis I knew I would never make it. Others were already far better than I would ever be.

But driving?

This was something no one could take from me, I hadn't even taken my first lesson back then, but I had watched over 100 Grand Prix.

Then when the technology came out, I could sit in my room with an analogue joystick in my hand and pilot a 95-Williams round Monaco, Adalaide, and Suzuka.

But I had never driven a single-seater. Most of us haven't.

That ended recently when someone was stupid enough to put me in a Formula Audi car and let me loose on a track with little more than a tour of the circuit and a ten minute safety lecture behind me.

Rear wing? Check. Fat slick tyres? Check. Turbo-charged engine? Check. Engine telemetry to study afterwards? Check. Scared out of my tiny mind? Sorry, hand shaking too violently to tick that one.

Then, to make matters worse, someone came off the track ahead of me with a dirty great grin on his face and told me the car was amazing - you could just brake later, corner faster, and it would let you. It would handle it. You would back down before it reached its limits.

This man was clearly not someone who had turned "indestructible" mode on his green-and-blue 95 Benetton and used the other cars on the track to brake into the Hairpin at Hokenheim.

But I took it steady for the first lap. Very steady. Then, I started trusting the car.

Braking 50m from the corner on the back straight, not 100. Braking harder, accelerating sooner, allowing the car to run then drift out of a corner at speeds that are only legal on the Autobahn, feeling your head snap to the right and loving it.

But there was a better feeling than that, far better.

I smashed one.

Coming into a chicane I was changing into fourth, I looked down to find the right spot in the unfamiliar gearbox and by the time I realised what I was doing I was skidding over the grass towards a gravel trap.

The instructors told me afterwards they had never seen someone go that far off the track, but the car was still running.

I eased out the clutch and drove back across the grass, back to the track - I was going to nail that chicane the next time round.

And after two corners to get the gravel out of the air vents and the mud from the tyres I was racing again, flying in fact. I was not chastened by my off, I was exhilarated - Was That All the Track Had?

No, it turns out.

Running wide to take the inside line on a straight I swept past the car in ahead of me in front of the pits, getting back in line I hit the brakes later than ever and thought I might have locked up (some smoke in my left mirror) and then I saw the black flag.

Assuming it was my other-than-orthodox overtaking and driving that was being flagged I pulled up, then, shortly after stopping, the smoke caught up with me.

Fumbling with the five-point safety belt to get the hell out of the car before a) I was burned alive, and b) I was soaked in fire extinguisher fluid, I leapt from the car and got a lift back to the pits with the marshals.

What had happened - I learned later - was that while visiting the gravel trap I bent a bracket into my left-rear tyre. The damage was not enough to affect the handling (or not enough for me to notice anyway), but clouds of black tyre smoke had been pouring out the back of my car after I rejoined the track and I was probably two laps (if that) from a blowout.

Sweeping past the other car on the back straight looking like my engine was on fire was - reportedly - one of the more impressive sites for the spectators. No one filmed it.

And that was it, the best moment of the day, right there.

Walking back down the pit lane, red flame-retardant suit on, helmet in hand, helmet hair, and a sheepish grin - as your mates/colleagues applaud you in having just wiped out a racing car.

Nothing's going to come close to that for a long time.

(Me in the car - fortunately taken on the way out not the end)


Ebren said...

This was part-written for big blogger a few months ago, then I forgot about it, found it today, and finished it.

I drove quite a few cars that day - I might have confused crashes - but all the events and emotions mentioned did happen. If possibly not in the order suggested.

file said...

I really like this piece Ebren, compelling account of what must have been a wonderful experience

'was that all the track had? no, it turns out'

when are they bringing back the big blogger? you should enter the finished version for sure, engaging, funny and enviable it will do well

if it had been me I'd have wrecked the car, another car, the barriers, a central support for the main stand, 6 telegraph poles and a small row of shops and I'd have still walked down the pit lane in the manner in which you describe, but it probably would have cost a bit more, I stay away from things like that due to past experience

Ebren said...

Cheers file - reading it back through I think it needs some tidying, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found my old big blogger ideas document and it was lurking there.

I was the only person all day to visit both gravel traps (albeit in different cars), and studying your telemetry then comparing it to ex F1 driver Justin Wilson's you realise just how much of a wimp you are (although they only gave me a print out for one/your fastest lap, and I was going quicker on the ones I spun/got flagged). Although when you match speeds/throttle/revs/whatever else the telemetry tells you per meter of the track it feels great looking at that print out.

No word on the return of big blogger.

file said...

yeah I bet the telemetry's dead interesting, again if I were you I'd have it framed on me wall next to that rubber check from Jeff Arch and the pic of me heckling a Gorge W lookalike in Prague

interested to know what else you wrecked (sorry, took around the track) and how they compared, was it just cars or bikes too?

mimi said...

Could have been there with you! Nice writing (but if there is a BB re-run, do remember breaks aren't brakes!). Once had a day at Silverstone doing the cradle-car - very disconcerting even though I'd been on the skid-pan a couple of times down at TRL, also raced little pugs - top speed about 110mph but felt much faster on the international circuit, and then did Caterhams - feels like 90 when you're doing 30. This brought all that back. Thanks.

Ebren said...

Cheers mimi - at least I was consistently wrong...

Full list:
Cateram 7s: 2. Learned to doughnut, twitchy rear end, horrible track cars (the rear just steps out, I could never understand it).

Adapted Renault Clio touring car: Great fun and quicker round the track than the next two.

Porsche 911 turbo, race equipped: Deadly dull. Boring. Felt like a road car. Felt safe.

New Jag XKR, race equipped, wing on back: Brilliant - felt like it just wanted to go, four-wheel drifted it round a corner, awesome (still slower round the track than the Clio, mind). Flappy-paddle gear-change on last two.

Land Rover: proper off-road circuit, 50-degree slopes, meter-deep water, uneven ground: felt like sitting on an elephant and asking it to go left and right, not really driving - it was taking you there.

Go Cart: felt like a go-cart. Raced them many times, visited the mud many times.

Single-seater Formula Audi (as above)

Le-Mans style Jag - fastest thing I drove, great fun, visited the gravel and many spins on this one. Shame. But if they will put an instructor next to me telling me to go faster. . .

file said...

oh great stuff, both the jags sound awesome, especially the Le Mans (once did Le Mans, it's a great few days fiesta especially if you're a guest of Moet) hard to believe the clio did so well

you don't say where you were (is that for legal reasons?) but cool you took the land rover off road trip too, sounds like a long and most excellent day, the words b'stard and lucky come into mind but not necessarily in that order

Emma said...

I enjoyed this too. Very interesting and highly evocative of exactly what it was like. Don't think I envy you, though, I still haven't started driving lessons out of fear and the most I've ever done is quadbiking, and that got my blood pressure high enough!

MotM said...

Great stuff.

Motorcycling is pretty much like that all the time though, especially on single lane wet roads even at legal speeds. Very fast on my brother's Triumph Sprint 900, it is just scary - but the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

I don't drive, so don't know what cars are like, but I have driven a kart, which was fine until I relaxed and just leant (as you would on a bike) without steering and ran straight on at a corner and up a grassy bank.

I walked away sheepishly.

Zeph said...

Ebren, this reads really well, even for somone like me who doesn't relate to internal combustion engines. Your excitement and enjoyment come through in every line.

Can you be more careful in future, please? - we wouldn't want a nasty accident to rob the world of a promising media mogul.

file said...


hmmm, single lane wet roads and slimy manhole covers

Ebren said...

Did all the racing here. (they have a breakdown of the cars and the tracks as well)

Highly expensive, but if uSwitch are going to launch a car insurance product and want to take me I'm not complaining.

Thankyou again for your kind comments. I'm much more sensible on the roads, although – aged 17 – a policewoman did once feel the need to pull me over and tell me that I was "not Damon Hill". Which was nice.

guitougoal said...

"nothing's going to come close to that for a long time."
Danny Sullivan an ex Indy car racer went to New York as a teen ager for a week end and stayed three years-He was a waiter, cabdriver and partygoer-The family dispatched a family friend to rescue him from his manhattan lifestyle before it became a way of life-
The friend promised the young Sullivan he would get him into auto racing if he would promise to return to college. He sent Danny not to Lexington, but to his native England to driving school to learn how to take Formula Ones into the corners.
Sullivan said about his first year of racing:"it was a year of banner for flying debris but once you become a race driver, you are a born driver, you stay a race driver."

bluedaddy said...

"although – aged 17 – a policewoman did once feel the need to pull me over and tell me that I was "not Damon Hill"."

By the sound of all that flying gravel and smoke it appears you still aren't, Eb.

Sounds like a top day out.

BTW, my comment above suddenly had me imagining Jenson Button, pulled over by the boys in blue on the M40, being told he 'wasn't Lewis Hamilton you know , sir', and winding up in the clink for assaulting a policeman.

mimi said...

bluedad: that's brilliant. Hope the Jense doesn't read Pseuds. He'd squirm!! Then hit you!!!

Ebren said...

God I wish I could find a link to back this up - but....

A young Damon Hill was stopped by police officer once on his bike and asked "who do you think you are? ??? ?????" [this is why I need to look it up].

Damon replied "no, but I race with him".

The officer let him off.

DoctorShoot said...

excellent writing.
really enjoyed the tone, the build up and the fulfillment.

simply put, balanced, top gear...

Pity that gawky bloke in the reefer jacket has stolen your show...

mimi said...

ebren: I've heard that Damon Hill story too!

offsideinantibes said...

Media mogul, we knew. Drinking excesses, well documented in the taproom files. First class jet-setting, we can imagine. Fast cars, we've just found out. Now we need to hear about the women, Lord Ebren.

marcela said...

... "Then when the technology came out, I could sit in my room with an analogue joystick in my hand " ...


DoctorShoot said...

you are amazing... a non driving vegetarian...
for me to reach that state would require two more licence infringements and being forced to cook my own meals...

with your incisive enquiry
this thread is starting to look like a Wanda Phipps poem...

Ebren said...

Marcela - lowering the tone is mimi's job.

Offy - the women? Last time I tried I got accused of setting Anglo-French relationships back to 1903.

file said...


well you did set a 10 metre wall around la belle France and fill it with water, not one of your classic romantic statements, you may want to rethink your strategies brother

mimi said...

Ebren/Marcela: as soon as I read that remark I did think of lowering the tone, but I've moved on - more civilised from time spent in the Salon. I pass the baton to you, Marcela - use it well!

Yrsa Roca Fannberg said...

I only like Mercedes, old style thanks to Derek and Fassbinder.
To scared of driving fast, don't find F1 sexy.
Not impressed with a guy driving fast - kind of Mournho syndrome, barking hard and loud like a smal dog.

The sound of F1 also makes me nervous, but nevertheless experiences are always worth reading.

offside said...

Ebren, sir, have you seen this?,,2117437,00.html

Now, what I want to know is why I never get that kind of writing assignment. hmmmmmm?

I'd threaten you to hand over my resignation if I wasn't painfully aware that I haven't written anything in over a month.

Zeph said...


"The writer is a feral child climbing the tree of possibilities ". It's a quote, I don't know who from, no doubt a Pseud will enlighten me.

Ebren said...

offy - if anyone can make cocktail drinking into some sort of sport I back you to do it.

Feel free to write - and that goes for everyone

marcela said...

hi yrsa!
nice to 'see' you here!!

i think i agree about fast driving and small dog barking... :)

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