Formula 1 racing experience in Abu Dhabi

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As part of our whirlwind trip to the UAE and beyond, Nick booked us into the Formula YAS 3000 driving experience in Abu Dhabi.  I’m not personally into racing, either as a viewer or a participant, so I wasn’t excited about this one.  I was actually a bit nervous.  My most recent experience with racecar driving was playing Mario Kart several years ago where I spent most of my time spinning out, flipping over, and crashing.  Would the same happen in real life?  Yikes!

Nick speeds along at a blistering-ish 127 KM/H

Freak-out briefing

At the racetrack, they started us with an educational briefing.  This ratcheted my nervousness up a few notches.  In addition to telling us how to start the car and shift gears, they told us what to do if we spun out; and showed us the button to press to shut off the car in an emergency, and the knob to turn to escape our harness, and the lever to pull in case of a fire.  Yikes!

Donning our racing suits

Nick and Greg (that’s me waving) don our racing suits

After the freak-out briefing, we changed into our padded full-body racing suits.  Now, keep in mind that we did this on September 9th.  That’s still summer in Abu Dhabi.  Even though it was about 10pm, it must have been about 100 degrees outside (Fahrenheit, but it felt like 100 degrees Celsius).  Now imagine stepping out into that heat wearing a padded full-body suit and gloves.  Then add a giant bobble-head helmet on top.  Yep, it was comfy.

Racing experience

After climbing into the race car, the instructor came to harness me in… very tightly.  That was good.  I knew I’d stay put in the seat if the car decided to spin or flip over.  She then reminded me of a few details from the briefing and told me to start the car.  I turned it on without an issue, but moving from zero to something more than zero was a bit tricky and I stalled out a couple of times before getting the hang of it.

The car has a clutch that is used only when starting in first gear.  After that, upshifting and downshifting is as easy as clicking the paddle shifters on each side of the steering wheel.  With each downshift, the car offers up a mighty bone-rattling thump (for lack of a better description).

We each had our own instructor-car to follow.  The driver of that car would somehow monitor what was happening behind them and adjust speed accordingly.  That was great because I never felt unsure about what I was doing once on the track.  The first time around the track was intentionally slow to get us used to driving the car at all.  After that, we were free to unleash the beast.

Once I felt relatively comfortable driving, I took off.  Or so I thought.  There were three of us driving the track at once, and one guy lapped me several times.  Nick lapped me once.  Still, I must have been going at least 50 or 60 miles per hour ;).

It took me a while to get used to going relatively fast around turns.  I really had no interest in spinning out, so the main issue was getting comfortable enough to keep the speed up above a crawl as I entered turns.  With each lap, I think I took the turns faster until I finally got to where my mom might not beat me in a formula 1 race.  Nick apparently also increased his speed around turns as he went along because he spun out on the second to last lap.  Fortunately, he was unhurt and was able to safely finish the drive.

Splash down

At the end of the drive we pulled off our helmets and driving suits.  Our clothes underneath were not just sweaty… they were literally dripping wet (and I’m using the literal meaning of “literally” here).  I was glad that they gave us driving shoes to wear because I imagine that our own shoes would otherwise have had puddles of sweat in them and we would have had to slosh our way back to the hotel.  Ick.

Great fun

Despite the heat, and despite my nervousness going in, I had a great time!  Once I was on the track with wind in my hair helmet, and with the realization that the instructor in the car in front somehow had my back, it was fun.  I highly recommend it!  But maybe consider visiting in the winter.  I’m just saying…

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