A Day at the Races

Kate Orebi Gann's F1 Drive!

FASTER THAN KLAUS (Nesbach - 1995 Champion - Ed.) on the track and in a standard production model: what is it! Is it a bird! Is it a plane! Is it Superman! No! It's Kate Orebi Gann driving Gabriele Tarquini's 1990 Formula 1 AGS car at the 2.2 Km Var circuit in the South of France.

Three years ago AGS set up a unique operation. Their victims are actually volunteers who come from as far afield as Australia, the USA and Hong Kong. But then, there is nowhere else in the world that you can drive one of these cars, unless you have a F1 licence and a load of money (yours someone else's, either will do).

What is this car! Imagine it: half the weight of my Plus 8 (550 kilos) and three times the power (650 BHP). Same size engine: 3.5 litre. What's that like? The same effect as if they put a 1100 BHP engine in the Plus 8 - it reallv flies!

Just one problem: the cars cost £250,000 each. So they don't let you get in one straight away. Even if you have a racing licence (probably even more so). You spend the morning being taught to drive a Formula 3 car, as it's better to write off one of them than the real Formula 1 car. After all, the F3 is a cheap version of the Fl (about the same price as a Plus 4, fully equipped).

Thcre were six of us with the circuit to ourselves, on a bright, clear but very cold November day. Being in the South of France, they don't have to worry about rain more than a few days a year. The first three of us set of in the F3 after some training in how to work the gearbox. If you think the Moss box is tough, try this!

I went in the first trio; I (Kate stayed and watched as we agreed that both out at once would overload the life insurance. Lap 3, practising braking hard, I stamped on the brakes as they teach you. But they are used to dealing with people who drive power-assisted company cars, not the real Morgan driver, so most people don't understand what hard braking really means.This is, of course, an excuse for why I turned the car into a hard spin on the straight and crashed at high speed travelling backwards and sideways into the Armco. And thatwithout Graham Walker's help too!

They were very good about it, and didn't send me home. Kate, however, went out very nervously!

The morning was spent alternating practice and feedback - ticking off for the next set of mistakes. Then a good French lunch sensibly wine-less while terrifying us about how much harder the six gear Fl car would be.

Then to the track. For some strange reason I was selected as the first victim. The car is cramped, no radio, nil heater, no starter (they stick a compressed air drive into its rear - gets anything going!). Hard, hard clutch with full travel but operates only over 2 mm distance. Engine even noisier than Peter Garland's and that's just idling.

If I wasn't so scared, I would have enjoyed watching the tyre warmers in place before I set out and would have relished my first run on slicks. Rev up the engine, louder than Concorde now, and off! 17 laps trying to ensure no spin, and just stay on the track. Braking into a corner is essential to keep it on the track; accelerate hard in third or fourth and you will he in the Armco. But floor the accelerator in 5th or 6th and it is magic; at 180 mph you need to time the braking right.

We did all our laps, Kate and I. Two of our friends managed only four each; over-enthusiasm in 4th and they spun off on the straight, into the grass edging. There's no second chance: a spin in that car ends your outing.

A day to remember. A record for Kate, my Pit Crew, too: they told us that in their three years she was only the 10th woman to drive the circuit. So one of perhaps only a dozen ever to drive a Formula 1 car.

And so we left the South of France, but the dreams stay with us.

(c) Simon Orebi Gann 1966