Formula 3000

My dumb work-placement alter-ego gets to drive an open-wheeled car at silly speeds around a track, for Ralph magazine, in about 2003. Photography by Ian Barry.

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THE chances of me, a simple workie, ever driving a Formula One car are the same as me working out alphabetical filing.

Here are a few things Michael Schumacher has that I don’t: hardcore competitive instinct, 100 million bucks, a big chin, an excellent wife, a German accent and several world titles. All I have is the will to succeed and a single drive in a Formula 3000 race car.

Formula 3000 is one step down from F1. Mark Webber, Mark Skaife and other famous Aussie steerers have all sat in an F3000 cockpit. Now it’s my turn. I have 20 minutes to tackle the Wakefield Park track near Goulburn, NSW.

My ex-F3000 car has a carbon-fibre and aluminium chassis, a race-bred VB engine and a total weight of just 675kg. As I wedge into the tiny cockpit, John Calamos, the owner of what I may be about to turn into a fireball, tells me what’s what.

This is a basic racer. There are no fancy gear levers on the steering wheel. The tiny shifter is next to my right hand. I’m told to ignore first gear, which is used for racing starts or pulling a tank up the side of a house. Second will get me going, fourth is fine for most of the track, and fifth is for the back straight. I’m told not to get too ambitious or I’ll spin. It’s like being bolted to a missile,” John concludes.

She starts with an ear-buggering blare. I go three metres and stall. My crew run after me to help me start back up and try it again. This time I keep up the revs and change gear. Suddenly I’m up the other end of pit lane.

My first lap makes Driving Miss Daisy look like The Fast and the Furious. I inch into corners like my nanna going to the shops. Every thrust on the right pedal teleports me up the road. I pop it into fifth on the long straight and climb briefly to 250-plus kays, before braking about five seconds early for the bend. I feel like the God of Speed in thick glasses.

My confidence rises far faster than my expertise. I boldly hit the gas on the bend into the main straight and do a 360. It’s embarrassing. My tiny on-board battery only gives me three attempts at start-up before the crew has to run all the way over. Thank God it catches. I shove it in any gear and take off again.

This is the fastest thing I’ve ever been in charge of. Lose concentration and something bad will happen to me — or worse, the car. The top straight has an inconvenient series of bumps that twitch me left at 200 clicks while the wind tries to pull my head off, and a comer I can’t even see approaches fast.

 I see a chequered flag through the red mist. It doesn’t mean I’ve won; it means get your arse into the pits. When I climb out, I’m vibrating. The God of Speed is here.

My best lap time is one minute 32 seconds. The lap record for this class is 55 seconds. Over a normal 20-lap race here I would be about 13 laps behind the leader. Apparently I’m not the God of Speed. I’m an idiot.

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