Give F1 racers a run for their money at Dubai Autodrome
Get on the track and scratch an item off your bucket list
A hop, skip and a jump away in Bahrain, Formula One teams are currently testing this year’s cars ready for the first race of the 2021 season being held on the Gulf island next weekend. The mere sight of Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and co. stretching their vehicles’ legs is enough to get any racing fan’s juices flowing with the promise of more intense competition after last year’s exciting yet truncated league. Usually it’s around this time, just before the lights turn green on the F1 magic (and the Drive To Survive Netflix documentary drops), we find ourselves booking in at Dubai Autodrome’s adjacent Kartdrome for a go behind the wheel pretending we too could take on the world’s best pilots in the fastest series on Earth. A couple of weeks ago, though, we had the opportunity to crank delusions of grandeur up to 11. The annual go-kart trip had to wait. We were going to be taking a full-fledged McLaren hyper car around the racetrack proper and even managed to scrounge a Pirelli Podium Cap to mark the occasion (true story).
The day began well. Blue skies and a gentle morning heat had us reaching down to the ground, Maxiums Decimus Meridius style, and palming a handful of soft soil. “It’s a good day to race,” we whispered peering off into the distance looking effortlessly cool... Then on went the tragic aviators and so began a journey to Motor City. To give the adventure increased authenticity we were greeted by a parking lot adorned with Pirelli flags and, just inside the centre, PZERO tyre exhibits as far as the eye could see for it was the brand’s gig and they were treating customers to an exclusive track day; a perk of the Pirelli-McLaren-Autodrome relationship. The venue was awash with drivers both FIA- licenced and wannabes all raring to set off on what is officially called the McLaren Sprint Experience. First, however, a couple of laps in a Fiat 500 Abarth to judge the measure of the course and, more importantly, for your assigned pro who sits next to you throughout to get the measure of you. Normally a delight to drive, even standing 6ft 5, throw a crash helmet into the mix and the Fiat’s dimensions suddenly become a tad more snug. With the professional passenger stifling a giggle as we were wedged in, a few rounds were thankfully completed with no fuss.
It was then onto the main event. 625hp of pure McLaren GT V8 turbo power was beckoning cocooned in a more luxuriously proportioned cabin. The car, prepped by Dubai 24 Hour winning team Dragon Racing, is gorgeous. A fine motor sport yellow accented by the team’s graffiti flying lizard really does scream “you’re in the big leagues now.” Nerves? Yes, actually. Despite a driving career which has been fortunate to encompass a number of tracks and high-performance vehicles, we’d never been under the watchful eye of a person who does this for a living in such close proximity, nor filmed from inside the cockpit.
Out of the pit lane and onto the track, the four-litre block’s potential instantly makes its presence known. A top speed of 297kmh was never in danger of being met, the best we achieved on the straight was about 70kmh south of there, but doing 0-100kmh in three seconds was a rush we shall not forget in a hurry. Two circuits in, you grow in confidence. Despite the technicalities such as racing lines, shifting gears at exactly the right point and crucially not putting down too much power into the turns, we felt we had this. Could we make a midlife career change and join Lewis, Danny and the like? “Yes”, replied the onboard racer to the question we presumably inadvertently said out loud, “if you do everything eight times faster.” Crestfallen, but not to hurt considering the time we were having, we enjoyed the final periods to their fullest. And we managed to keep the podium hat, so who’s laughing last?
What: McLaren GT
Engine: Four-litre V8 Turbo
Top speed: 297kmh