In-the-field research: motor sport

Mark pretends to be a petrolhead – for research purposes

Mark pretends to be a petrolhead – for research purposes

Here at Te Ara we try to acquire as much background knowledge as possible of our subject matter, but there are times when we find ourselves working on an entry for which we can’t claim expertise.

I’ll admit, for instance, that I’m not much of a petrolhead. I’m a reluctant driver (I prefer my bike), I have no inclination to exceed the speed limit and I’m not even sure what make my car is (it says ‘Demio’ on the back). So I had to rely entirely on books to put the finishing touches to our very comprehensive commissioned entry on motor sport, which was written by Jim Webber.

But we’re always looking to upskill, so on a recent Sunday I found myself out at Manfeild car-racing circuit in Manawatū, where my brother-in-law Gerad was trying out his supercharged Lotus, a malevolent-looking, bright-orange vehicle that appeared to my inexpert eye as low-slung as a go-kart and not much bigger.

It could certainly move though. From my seat in the stands, the little car sizzled along the back straight at the rate of a terrified mouse across a kitchen floor. And that’s what I felt like when Gerad pulled in for a break and suggested I join him for a few laps.

He explained that this was not a race day, but an opportunity for his car club to carry out time trials. The cars were ushered onto the track in groups of 10, they then whipped around it three times, competing only against the clock. Gerad held first-equal position in his category of modified saloon cars.

I was only slightly reassured when he said that the Lotus was licensed for the open road, that he had driven it to the track from his home in Greytown, and that he would be conserving his brakes and tyres for the return trip. That also accounted for his car’s polite exhaust note, very different from the ear-shredding howl of those with full racing specification.

In a spirit of cheerful ignorance but mild panic, I acquired a stamp on my hand that absolved the authorities of any responsibility for my welfare, hauled on a pair of fireproof overalls and a full-face helmet, and inserted myself into the impossibly cramped passenger’s compartment.

The video above gives only the barest impression of how it feels to be in a car going at absurd speeds. I was too preoccupied to notice the gauges on the dashboard but I learned afterwards that we touched 180 kilometres per hour on the main straight. The real action, however, came on the twisty bits. First with brutal, last-instant braking, followed by staggering centrifugal forces taking us to the uttermost edge of the tarmac, and finally neck-snapping acceleration as the car straightened up to attack the next sequence of vicious corners.

We did two lots of three laps and Gerad retained his pole position, so my extra weight didn’t make much difference. I may, however, have dented his roll cage from gripping it too tightly.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Mel || July 16th, 2013

    you lucky lucky thing – i am so jealous!!

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