Sport: Cooking in Provence
It is difficult to watch the Monaco Grand Prix or any other Formula One race without wondering how you might perform in an F/1 car. AGS Formule 1 offers the chance to find out. The company, whose facility is located in the gentle hills of Provence less than a two-hour drive from Monaco, will prep you and then later that same day put you in a genuine F/1 car, on an F/1-approved track.
At the track awaits a locker bearing your name and stocked with a Nomex racing suit, racing boots and gloves, balaclava, and helmet, all in your size. Once suited up, you proceed to the briefing room, where the instructor, former F/1 driver Patrick Gaillard, quickly humbles a class full of cocky would-be racers.
Gaillard’s initial presentation centers on the Opel Formula Vauxhall, a relatively tame vehicle that provides a gentle introduction to open-wheel racing. Similar to a Formula Three car, the Formula Vauxhall has a 180 hp, 2-liter engine. “You must forget everything you know about driving,” he stresses. “The engine is in the back, so there is no weight in front. To slow down, you have to slam on the brake to transfer the weight to the front. If you brake too gradually, you will lose traction and slide off the track. And if you slide off the track, for safety reasons, I cannot let you drive anymore.”
The first few laps on the 1.37-mile Circuit du Var feel disconcerting because of the powerful sideways g-forces; the unusual sensation of driving a low-slung, open-cockpit car; and the desperation to remember all the tips Gaillard just shared. But after five laps of braking practice, a short feedback session with an instructor, and 10 more laps at whatever speed the driver dares, most of the class members trade their trepidation for zeal.
It is advisable to eat a light lunch, so that your stomach is prepared when Gaillard reveals that the F/1 cars’ 3.5-liter Ford Cosworth V-8 engines produce 650 hp, but the cars weigh only about 100 pounds more than the Vauxhalls. The feel of the F/1 further intimidates: The cockpit is so tiny that a large driver can barely remove his hands from the steering wheel. The crew inserts an air-driven starter into the rear of the car (just as they do at Indy), and then you rev the engine to a screaming 8,000 rpm to coax the car onto the track, praying your clutch technique will deliver a smooth getaway that impresses your classmates.
Seconds later, you are negotiating the track at speeds you never imagined driving. The engine is wailing at its 10,000 rpm redline, the wind is buffeting your car, and the massive, slick tires are spinning furiously only a little more than an arm’s length away.
The Grand Prix package, priced at about $1,730, includes only three laps in an F/1 car, but more can be had at extra cost. Although the instructors encourage a noncompetitive atmosphere, ask a classmate to time your laps. You can compare your time to the track record and learn, rather than wonder, how you would stack up against the pros.
AGS Formule 1