Surviving 3 Laps In A 2-Seat McLaren F-1 Car, Courtesy Of Mika Hakkinen

As a pastime, I repeatedly give 170-mph inventory automotive thrill rides at Daytona Worldwide Speedway to prospects of the NASCAR Racing Expertise. The oval observe is 2.5-miles round and banked at a frightening 31 levels. We get round it in lower than a minute per lap, pulling about 3 G’s, or 3 times one’s physique weight, within the corners. What I most take pleasure in about giving the rides are the shocked appears and smiles on the faces of the individuals on the conclusion of every three-lap run. They get to expertise at a reasonably consultant degree the forces that actual racers endure repeatedly in competitors.

However proper now, I’m not at Daytona, and I’m not on an oval and I’m not giving rides. Somewhat, I’m about to grow to be a passenger in a two-seat McLaren Racing Method 1 automotive, the MP4/98T, the one one among its variety on the planet. My chauffeur shall be none apart from Mika Hakkinen, the two-time F-1 World Driving Champion. The “Flying Finn,” as he’s referred to as, will take me for 3 scorching laps across the twisting Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, a street course, close to Monterey, California, as a part of a weekend for historic auto lovers referred to as the Velocity Invitational. Throughout my run, I shall be whipsawed backwards and forwards, pulling greater than 6 G’s, twice what I pull at Daytona, by way of 11 distinct corners with sharp breaking and acceleration. 

The experience is in an historic 1998 McLaren, with old-school expertise. McLaren is not any stranger to Hakkinen, and Hakkinen no stranger to McLaren Racing. In 1998 and 1999, he gained his two F-1 championships for the distinguished British automotive firm. Since 2017, he has been a celeb ambassador for the corporate.

I’m nervous, to say the least. The cramped backseat of the open-wheel machine is extremely claustrophobic. Each a part of the cockpit is utilized, and never simply to preserve weight. With the G’s we’re about to tug, an inch or two of give both approach will slam my head and torso into the internal sides of the automotive, bruising me, or worse, probably breaking a bone.

Earlier than I even sat within the automotive the day earlier than, once they measured me within the storage, I needed to signal my life away on a two-page waiver indemnifying McLaren ought to something distressing occur. It didn’t actually hassle me. As an excessive journey journalist, I repeatedly signal such issues. That stated, it all the time provides me pause after I ink the date and my John Hancock on the stable black strains on the finish of the onerous types.

Dawning a helmet, white fire-proof Nomex lengthy underwear and a fitted McLaren outer black go well with (trace: slimming), I’m belted in by the McLaren pit crew. Hakkinen, additionally clad in his black racing outfit, enters the storage and makes his approach towards the two-seater. He’s hounded by followers and autograph seekers, being the famous person that he’s. However he’s light with me, smiling with a handshake and fist bump to place me relaxed. 

After Hakkinen is belted in, instantly in entrance of me, we slowly exit onto pit street. Once more, hoards of individuals, together with photographers, ogle the automotive from behind the concrete pit wall. I do know they’re there to catch a glimpse of Hakkinen, not me, and possibly marvel who the hell I’m to get such a coveted expertise. In spite of everything, uncommon previous rides have gone to actors like Michael Douglas, and international dignitaries together with Juan Carlos, former King of Spain. 

The mass of our bodies solely serves to intensify my apprehension as we wait to fireplace the 700-plus-horsepower engine and head onto the primary observe. I had been advised earlier that Mexican IndyCar racer Pato O’Ward was shocked by the violence of the experience when Hakkinen examined the automotive the day earlier than with him within the backseat. That man is used to very large G-forces and excessive speeds racing professionally. How was an beginner like me purported to cope?

Out of the blue, the crew eliminated the electrical tire heaters, and off we screamed out of pit lane. I believed Hakkinen would take a lap to work up to the mark, however evidently not. After we went into the fourth flip, we had been already cooking, the 15,000-rpm engine dentist’s drill vibrations reverberating by way of my decrease extremities.

As a rider, I had no management of the automotive, after all. Some folks can’t deal with that, however I used to be okay. I knew that my driver was as skilled as they arrive. For as soon as, I wouldn’t have to fret about finessing a automotive across the observe. I might simply benefit from the surroundings because it flashed by. 

However shortly I discovered that, given how tight I used to be crammed into the automotive, my head couldn’t transfer a lot. It was my eyes that darted left and proper as we meandered by way of the sharp turns. I might even really feel Hakkinen’s arms rubbing in opposition to my legs as he steered the automotive. That’s how shut we had been. My largest concern grew to become nausea. As a driver, movement illness by no means actually bothers me. But it surely’s completely completely different as a rider. Maintain it collectively, Jim. It’s solely three laps. Don’t wish to lose your lunch in entrance of all these curious spectators.

One space of the observe I used to be initially nervous about was the notorious cork-screw flip, 8A, the place the automotive shortly climbs up a number of tales, solely to dart over a blind crest and drop precipitously. Each time one encounters it, there’s a pucker issue – and the hope that nobody has crashed beneath. Despite the fact that I knew we had been the one automotive on observe on the time, it nonetheless obtained my consideration every lap. 

After we lastly pulled again into pit lane after three exhilarating laps, the gang was enthusiastic, some even clapping. I exited the automotive, tore off my helmet and fire-proof balaclava and vigorously shook Hakkinen’s hand. I used to be to interview him later, so we solely exchanged a number of phrases, however they had been joyous. What a bucket-list expertise!

However given the violence – akin solely to my bobsled run with the Olympic workforce a number of years again at Lake Placid – would I strive it once more? If I had been fortunate sufficient to be requested, you wager. However subsequent time, possibly I might be driver, Hakkinen passenger. Um, positive, in my desires.

(Editor’s Be aware: Two extra Laguna Seca tales will observe this one: An unique interview with Mika Hakkinen, and a profile of the Velocity Invitational historic automotive race weekend. Keep tuned to the Forbes Way of life channel.)

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