What is it like to drive around a Formula 1 race track?

July 31, 2018, 6:41 PM · How often do you visit the attractions next to a theme park? Most major theme parks offer enough rides and shows to fill you day, but that doesn't keep visitors from looking to surrounding attractions as they look to fill every moment of their vacations.

On my trip to the Yas Island resort in Abu Dhabi last week, I took a few moments between my visits to the Ferrari World and Warner Bros. World theme parks to visit what might be the most famous attraction at the resort — the Yas Marina Circuit, home the season-ending Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and located next door to the parks.

For a little context here, following auto racing is my other thing, in addition to going to theme parks. Though I was born in Los Angeles, I grew up in Indianapolis, where my father once worked in timing and scoring at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and my uncle once crewed for Mario Andretti. I try to watch every IndyCar Series race on TV, and also follow Formula 1, especially since two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso made his crossover to the Indy 500 in 2017. Former F1 drivers have won three of the last four 500s: Japan's Takuma Sato, America's Alexander Rossi, and Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya.

So when Yas Island representative asked me if I wanted to drive a race car around an F1 track, I did not hesitate to answer "yes!"

The Yas Marina Circuit offers a variety of driving and passenger experiences on the track, so even those who don't want to get behind the wheel can experience what it's like to ride the same track as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. For my experience, I was invited to get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin GT4 for several laps around the middle section of the circuit.

Featuring a 420 horsepower V8 that can do 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds, the Aston Martin is a legit race car, not a street-legal vehicle. Before I was allowed behind the wheel, I had to watch a short orientation video and meet with a driving coach, to go over safety rules for the circuit and the car. All drivers have to wear a balaclava and helmet, and there's no air conditioning inside these closed-cockpit beasts.

Which... makes for an issue when it's 110 degrees outside. But I did not notice any heat until after I was out of the car. Why? Because I was driving a race car on an F1 track! And nothing could be cooler than that.

Even though I didn't notice the heat while inside the cockpit, watching the video now, I can see my performance suffering with each lap as I began to wilt in spite of my excitement. My top speed of 106 mph comes early in the run, though I (mostly) continue to hit my marks throughout my session. On track, you make your lap times by carrying speed in the turns rather than just blasting down the straights. It's all about technique, and that's what draws fans to want to try their hand on the tracks their heroes race.

If you had any doubts about the athleticism of racers, allow me to dispute them. Wrestling these cars around the track takes immense mental as well as physical effort. The brakes, steering, and throttle are much stiffer than your typical passenger car. The lap demands a non-stop process of finding your turn entry, downshifting, braking, hitting the apex, upshifting, and accelerating into the next turn-in point. There is no time or place to rest. I had to remind myself to breathe. That said, I am now officially in love with paddle shifters, which give you the performance of a manual without having to deal with the clutch.

The Aston Martin experience I enjoyed currently costs $375, on the Yas Marina Circuit website. (It goes up to $500 on Sept. 1, and includes the video.) You must be 18 and have had a driver's license for two years, according to the booking page.

Would I do this again? 10/10 yes. I know I can get that car moving even faster with another go. But then again, what racer doesn't always say that?

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