RUN­NING SCARED SCARED

Fear is the driv­ing force when you’re try­ing to han­dle a V8 Su­per­car, writes JAMES STAN­FORD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive Dodge Journey -

ALL I can hear is my heart pump­ing. The earplugs and hel­met block all other noises, leav­ing the thump-thumpthump to fill my head.

I’m try­ing to breathe slowly and surely, but I’m ter­ri­fied. Here I am sit­ting, sweat­ing in a real V8 Su­per­car, which I’m about to drive on a real track — not a PlaySta­tion or Xbox.

Here you pay for your mis­takes with crunched metal, bro­ken bones and big bills.

Team BOC chief Kim Jones tells me be­fore I ar­rive at Win­ton: ‘‘You crash it, you own it.’’ And he’s not jok­ing. The BOC Com­modore is worth about $500,000 and it took thou­sands of man hours to build. Its custom Chevro­let V8 en­gine, sup­plied by Walkin­shaw Per­for­mance, costs more than $90,000 and could eas­ily be ru­ined by a bad gear change.

In a week Andy Jones will be hus­tling it over the top of Mount Panorama, brush­ing past con­crete bar­ri­ers be­fore nudg­ing 300km/h down Con­rod Straight in his bid for Bathurst glory.

I don’t know how they do it. I have enough trou­ble get­ting in the car. There is only a nar­row open­ing in the steel web of a roll-cage.

You have to squeeze through this and get your legs un­der the steer­ing wheel at the same time.

It re­quires poise and co-or­di­na­tion, and I don’t have much of ei­ther.

The grand en­try goes pear-shaped, es­pe­cially when I get stuck half­way.

‘‘Not the most el­e­gant en­try I’ve seen, but hey, you’re in,’’ says Jones, who eases — ner­vously — into the tem­po­rary passenger seat.

I don’t let on that I’ve never been around the longer Win­ton track used for V8 Su­per­car rounds.

As we sit in pit­lane, he points out what some of the knobs, di­als and switches that dom­i­nate the cen­tre con­sole are for.

Now it’s time to go. Deep breath. I flick the ig­ni­tion switch, make sure it is in neu­tral and hold the starter but­ton. It whirs and whirs and then, bang, the hand-built Chevro­let roars into life.

The whole car shakes and the vi­bra­tions are trans­ferred to your body through the seat, the steer­ing wheel and the ped­als.

The throt­tle is so sen­si­tive the small­est blip causes a fear­some erup­tion. The twin pipes, which of­ten belch flames when the driver backs off the throt­tle, ac­tu­ally point out from the passenger’s side of the car, but it still sounds so in­cred­i­bly loud and an­gry.

I take an­other deep breath and tell my­self this is no big deal.

Af­ter all, I’ve driven lots of fright­en­ing ma­chines; methanolpow­ered V8 sprint­cars, Cen­tu­rion tanks and even the odd Dae­woo.

I se­lect first, ap­ply some throt­tle, release the clutch and stall. Damn it.

Not the bold exit I’d been hop­ing for. I suc­ceed at the sec­ond at­tempt and soon we’re lum­ber­ing up pit­lane.

Five litres of custom-built V8 com­bus­tion mus­cle sits un­der the bon­net, wait­ing to be un­leashed.

It will have to wait longer. My first lap is a fum­bling mess of crunched gears and jerky throt­tle applications.

I’m screw­ing up the heel-and-toe tech­nique — where you brake with your heel and use your toes to blip the throt­tle as you op­er­ate the clutch with your left foot.

Ev­ery down-change is a dis­as­ter. I can’t get used to the rec­tan­gu­lar steer­ing wheel, which I am stupidly try­ing to shuf­fle through my hands.

Jones taps my leg and points to pit­lane. Trundling down to the garage, I’m so em­bar­rassed I just want to dis­ap­pear. I ex­pect them to or­der me out of the car and away from the track — I wouldn’t blame them — but no such thing hap­pens.

Jones calmly talks through what I’m do­ing wrong and em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of re­lax­ing and let­ting it all flow.

This time out feels a bit bet­ter. I’m still man­gling those down-changes and go­ing so slowly it’s shame­ful, but I’m more comfortable with the steer­ing.

Back in the garage, the team’s data ex­pert, An­drew Ed­wards, goes through my teleme­try.

It shows ev­ery mis­take in clin­i­cal de­tail on com­puter mon­i­tors. It’s a hi-tech wall of shame. The big Richter-like scale lines don’t lie, re­veal­ing just how slow I’m

go­ing and that I’m still hav­ing trou­ble with some of the gear changes.

The data also shows I’ve been us­ing only 50 per cent of the throt­tle.

This time Jones stays in the garage — race driv­ers take a lot of risks, but there is a limit.

I fire up the en­gine and rum­ble away from the garage without stalling.

It’s so much eas­ier without Jones watch­ing ev­ery move from the passenger seat. He’s very for­giv­ing, but hav­ing one of Aus­tralia’s fastest driv­ers watch­ing your ev­ery in­put can make you a bit anx­ious.

Things start to go a lot bet­ter. I start to get a bit more assertive with the heavy Hollinger gear­box.

It is un­like any trans­mis­sion in a road car. The gates are close to each other, but you have to bang the shifter in with con­fi­dence and just the right amount of revs.

At the same time, you’re try­ing to slow 1355kg of race car with the same foot. The brakes have a lot of force, so you need to ap­ply much more pres­sure than you would in your av­er­age road car, but not too much or you’ll flatspot a tyre. T’S start­ing to come nat­u­rally and soon the gear changes are al­most tak­ing care of them­selves. My big­gest con­cern is pick­ing the wrong gear and buzzing the en­gine, like grab­bing third when you are aim­ing for fifth.

I can imag­ine valves crash­ing into the top of the pis­tons and the bill for a new en­gine arriving in the mail.

It doesn’t hap­pen. I do fum­ble the odd change, but noth­ing too bad.

Now it’s time to let the Chevro­let V8 stretch its legs.

The power surge when you re­ally get stuck in is sim­ply in­cred­i­ble. I ease

Iout of the cor­ners try­ing not to spin the wheels and grad­u­ally feed on the power un­til the Holden is straight.

Then I press the right pedal down hard and it goes ba­nanas.

I mut­ter some­thing un­print­able un­der my hel­met. The huge ac­cel­er­a­tion as the en­gine surges to­wards the 7500-rev red­line is sim­ply stun­ning. It’s like a show ride on steroids, but comes with the adren­a­line-laden sound­track of a fu­ri­ous V8 and the el­e­ment of real dan­ger.

You could do this for days on end and never tire of it.

I use the clutch to change up through the gears.

The real driv­ers don’t. They can stay on the throt­tle the whole time.

Teleme­try later re­veals that I’m ex­it­ing the last cor­ner at the same speed as Jones, but the slow changes mean I’m 15km/h down by the end of the main straight.

For the record, Jones hits 212km/h. I pick up some speed as I gain con­fi­dence and re­ally start to en­joy it.

But there are some cor­ners I have no idea how to tackle, in­clud­ing the fast left-hand sweeper on turn five. This is not the time to ex­per­i­ment. I’m not about to risk spin­ning or fir­ing into the con­crete bar­rier, so I just ease through.

Jones takes me for a run at the end of the day and en­ters the same cor­ner 40km/h faster, on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent line.

It seems al­most im­pos­si­ble that he would be able to do this and stay on the track, but he does.

He dives deeper into all the other cor­ners and hangs the back end out on the rip­ple strips on the way out of the cor­ners. It’s a stag­ger­ing dis­play and at this pace he would need only about nine min­utes to lap me.

Kim Jones is wait­ing for us in the garage and is re­lieved his car has sur­vived the day in one piece. ‘‘Pretty amaz­ing, huh?’’ he says. I try to ex­plain how in­cred­i­ble, how over­whelm­ing it was.

He says: ‘‘Well, imag­ine do­ing that with 30 other guys who want the same piece of track as you.’’

That is a truly awe­some thought.

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