Review of a driving experience of an Indy Car around the Las Vegas Speedway in the Nevada desert
Date: Saturday 17th May 2008
Time: 5pm – 9pm
Location: Las Vegas Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Vehicle: Indy Car (Single Seater)
I was lucky enough to be heading back over to Las Vegas again this year where I was having an action packed few days, including shooting guns, flying fighter planes and doing some Indy Car driving with the Mario Andretti race school, all this on top of Staying at the fabulous Luxor Hotel & Casino. I could spend all day telling you about the whole trip but this write up is specifically about the driving experience part, the Single Seater Indy Cars at the Las Vegas Speedway!
Here is the briefing that I received before heading out, just to give a taster of what we were set to be doing…
” Indy Car USA is a whole new world of driving enjoyment. With fast-paced action on the 200 plus mph Las Vegas Oval. This tour includes:
- Supply of all safety equipment and professional tuition
- Indy car ‘Racing Baptism’ Driving Course
- Transfers hotel to race circuit return
Our visit to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is guaranteed to be an experience you will never forget. The sheer scale of the place shocks and puts most European venues in the shade. It boasts not one but two road circuits, a dirt track, kart circuit and motocross facility as well as the main 1.5 mile oval speedway.
Today we focus on the oval as we take on the challenge of the Indy Car Experience. Oval racing is a unique discipline and not for the faint of heart. The speeds achieved are extraordinary (putting F1 to shame) and the racing takes place just inches from the perimeter wall. The purpose built 650 bhp Indy cars will quite easily achieve 200 mph. Crikey.
With the briefing over and safety kit on, we take to the track. After the obligatory recce laps in a road car you get strapped into the racer. Fire-up the engine and, even within this vast complex, the sound is simply fantastic! Master the correct line and you will quickly be able to build your speed. With massive downforce, super sticky slicks and 12 degree banking you can expect some fairly serious g in the corners.
With six laps included on-track you’ll have time to play yourself in and really savour the experience (you can also purchase additional laps on the day). At the end you can even take an optional scintillating ride in a 2-seater Indy car with a professional driver at the wheel. The perfect way to get the juices flowing for a night on the town in Las Vegas…”
So with that in mind we were picked up around 4pm to head to the Las Vegas Speedway. It is not that far outside of Las Vegas but obviously you want to give yourself enough time to get there. The Las Vegas Speedway looks huge from the outside and is quite literally out in the desert all on it’s own, it is quite amazing to be honest, I guess being out in no-mans-land lifts any noise restrictions so they can race longer and later perhaps without the fear of annoying any neighbours with the sounds of Indy Cars and Nascars racing round, and believe me, they DO make a loud sound!
We were driven into the Stadium through a small tunnel and it’s then that you get to marvel at the sheers scale of the place, it was huge!
We arrived just as the Nascar driving experiences that had been going on in the afternoon were coming to a close, this gave us the opportunity to have a quick peek into and around a couple of the Nascars that were parked up, amazing machines that look like they would be great fun to drive (originally our driving experience had been planned to be Nascar but it got changed to Indy cars).
Being as the time of year was the middle of May, you can imagine that the weather in the desert to be HOT and it was, it was around the 100 degrees sort of range which slightly pleased us that we would be doing our driving in the evening instead of the midday heat!
We were all asked to head over to the registration desk where we had to sign away our lives…basically give details of any medical conditions if we had any, give our age, weight, height and answer a load of yes/no questions, oh and hand in our driving licenses I think to prove we could drive and as ID.
With that completed we then were handed our race overalls, now lets not forget that the sun is still beating down and is still a couple of hours away from dropping behind the main stand so being in these suits wasn’t going to be easy. Fortunately you can just stick your legs in and let the suit hang so you are not fully zipped up in it if you want. We were lined up and sent to have our photos taken by and stood in one of the Indy cars, we then had a group photo of everyone in our party that we would receive at the end of the day as a memento.
With photos duly taken we were sent over to the briefing room, this is where we were given a set of instructions and told how the day would unfold. We watched a short video that was presented by Mario Andretti and were told the do’s and don’ts while out on track. It was actually relatively straight forward and being in that room was a welcome break from the heat outside.
Basically what was covered was the instructions for getting in and out of the car, the gap we should leave behind the pace car (around 4-6 car lengths), the meanings of the flag colours (green flag – you should speed up and be closer to the pace car. Yellow flag – you are too close behind the pace car and should back off a bit).
Obviously everybody has different abilities and different comfort levels so the pace car will go to the pace you are comfortable with, if you receive a couple of green flags then the pace driver will be able to maintain the pace they are going at as it would appear you are going at a speed that you are comfortable with. For most though the pace car will slowly increase the speed as they go round on your 6 laps so you can get to the highest speed on your final laps.
Basically we were to shadow the pace car and go everywhere that it went, as they would be in contact with the other cars on the track so they need to be aware of any overtaking that will take place. As our cars didn’t have mirrors you are reliant on having to follow the pace car for your own safety as you can not see who or what may be behind you!
We were split into 2 groups, the first group jumped into the mini bus that was to take them on a couple of laps around the Oval circuit while the rest of us were to wander over to the start/finish straight where we would be given our recce laps in a bit. We stopped in the building for a few minutes longer out of the Las Vegas sun before heading over.
After we wandered over it was just about time for us to jump into the mini bus for our recce laps around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We were shown the position of the man with the flags, the route we would be taking (yes I know it’s an oval circuit so it’s not rocket science) such as where we would enter the pitlane, the position we would knock the car into neutral and let it coast to the pits.
I have to say, the instructor driving the mini bus probably gave us the hairiest driving of the whole day, I never knew a mini bus could do the speeds it did around the corners without actually tipping over. One thing I did notice on the laps round the circuit in the mini bus was on the middle and ends of the corners there was plenty of black lines going along the walls, obviously the points of impact in previous Indy car and Nascar races….nice!
So anyway, with recce laps over we jumped out of the mini bus and were ushered to one of the Indy Cars where we were shown the inside and had the various bits pointed out…Steering Wheel…Pedals…Gearstick…what more do you need to know other than that!
The geatstick (or shifter if we want to sound American) was just a case of pulling or pushing it back into neutral as it would be put into gear for us before we started, so really it wasn’t anything you had to worry much about.
For starting to get going we would have a “bump” start, a quad bike behind the car would push you along and when you reached the marker you would pull your foot off the clutch and start accelerating, now this was the bit I was apprehensive about, I didn’t want the shame of being one who didn’t get going and needed a second push!
With briefings over it was back over the pit wall and time to relax and wait for your turn. Luckily the registration desk had a fridge full of chilled bottled water and there was also a dispenser of Gatorade (which I have to say disappointingly wasn’t all that tasty). Luckily the water was plentiful and so were toilet breaks, all the water coupled with the pre-drive nerves had me going back and forth to the toilets.
We were not given a running order as to when our turn would be, I think the car we would be driving was based on our height and weight, as everyone who takes part in these drivign experiences is different shapes and sizes I imagine all 3 cars were set up slightly different so that there would be a car that would accommodate the biggest and smallest people in the group.
The lack of running order meant that we never knew when we would be getting the call to drive. I guess the reason for this was to stop those people who were last on the running list complaining and trying to get their drive moved forward, that said though, hours sat in those racing suits was not ideal for the middle of the Nevada desert!
I would estimate that there was around 30-40 people who were booked into this session, our party consisting of 10. Some of our party were complete none thrill seekers, others who are absolutely car crazy and love speed, speed and more speed! This just goes to show that these driving experiences are really open to absolutely everyone and not just racing fanatics!
Now with everyone having received their safety briefings it was time to roll, 3 names were read out to get themselves ready to take their drive and 3 more put ready on standby so there would be a slick turnaround between drivers.
Everytime the speaker crackled into life you’re heart rate upped a few beats in the nervous anticipation of your name being read out.
After a few had had their goes the sun started to go down behind the main Las Vegas Speedway stand.
It’s worth mentioning about the stand, it is absolutely huge and starts at the end of the back straight and spreads the full length of the main straight. It is brilliant to look at when it is empty as the top section has been designed with the seats to have a random set of colours which gives the impression that the stand is actually full of people. If you check out the picture to the right you can see that the top half of the stand looks like it is filled with people, when in fact it was empty!
142,000 spectators can actually watch racing at Las Vegas Speedway, I’m unsure if this is all from this one stand or if extra stands are erected on the very big events or not. Also, when it turns dark and the big floodlights come on it really is such an amazing sight, although if you look towards the back straight it can seem quite eerie as you look out and see mountain ranges out in the desert.
Despite it still being very hot once the sun went behind the stand it made things slightly more comfortable as there was no direct sun shining in your face, I guess it also made driving around the back corner slightly easier with no sun shining I your face on the drive, although the helmet visors would of blocked out any glare.
As the afternoon went on various members of our party were called up so at least we had someone we knew to watch most of the time we were there. Each one coming back with big grins on their faces and saying how they wish they could have perhaps pushed a bit harder and all of them allaying my “fears” about the bump start, saying that it wasn’t an issue!
It got to early evening and still the microphone cracked with names, each time thinking it must be me now…but still I had to sit there patiently waiting for my turn. Everyone else in the group who had had their group could now relax knowing that they had done their drive, I guess all of them wishing they were still sat there in their race suits so they could have another go though.
It had got to early evening and starting to get dark when I heard my name come over the speaker, the time was now…
I quickly gave my camera to someone in our party and then wandered round to the “pre-drive” area, to get my helmet. A quick double check my trainers were tight enough and then I had 5 minutes to wait before my Indy car pulled in (why is it that as soon as you put a helmet on that you suddenly feel like you need to itch your face or head, just when you are actually unable to get your hands in there to do so)!
Here it was, car number 14 rolled in and out jumped the driver so it was over the wall I went and got into the car I got with the help of one of the guys. He buckled me into place and checked that I could reach the pedals and everything comfortably. A quick reminder of what I had to do and I was left to sit and wait…A minute or 2 passed (despite it feeling like it was much more) and I got the nod to push the clutch down as the car was put into third gear for me, I was there waiting and then my pace car passed by to my right hand side and the quad bike started to push me forward, when we reached the set of lights around 20 metres further up the pit lane I was to let my foot off the clutch and start to accelerate, the car spluttered and started but had no drive to it, absolute nightmare. Everyone else in my party had no problems and here I was, the only one who the car didn’t start for!
I was pleased to be told however that it wasn’t actually my fault as the car had actually fired up but had no drive for some reason, there was something on the car that needed to be reset quickly and half a minute later I was being pushed again and bingo it fired up properly. Now the drive was for 6 laps with each one progressively getting faster and faster, so it should be a nice smooth drive keeping that 4-6 car lengths distance to make sure you reached the fastest speed possible.
Now I have to admit that I am a VERY competitive person and I wanted to go as fast as possible so I made sure I stuck to the distance we needed, I tried to edge on the closer part of the distance just to make sure I didn’t fall back and the pace car slow down, each lap was 1.5 miles (2.4km) and laps only took around 45 seconds to do (my fastest lap taking 41 seconds to do, so as you can imagine you don’t have too much time to think about things, you are busy making sure you stick to your racing line directly behind the pace car, checking the flag man and keeping up with the pace car. In my quest to try and be the fastest I did receive a Yellow flag meaning I should back off a bit, I had gotten a bit close to the pace car, I like to take that as a positive though that I was pushing and was wanting to go faster.
At all points throughout the drive I felt fully in control of the car and had no problems, the grip of the Indy Car is totally unbelievable and didn’t require you to slow down when going round the corners even when going at speeds well into the hundreds! The Indy Cars are actually set up with a slight bias to cornering left too as that is pretty much the direction they spend most of the time going in when driving on oval circuits.
The power you had under your foot was immense, speaking with the others they said even a slight dip of the accelerator shot you forward, however as I did keep a close distance behind the pace car I didn’t get to try doing that, I was too busy trying to be the fastest one there.
It is actually quite hard to describe the actual drive, due to the concentration and adrenaline running through your body you don’t get time to take huge mental notes about it all. The sound of the 650 bhp Indy car droning in your ears and the wind whipping in against your chin as you race along all have to be experienced to appreciate. Even down to the grip you have on the steering wheel has to be experienced to be appreciated. You are told to have a light grip on the steering wheel but when you are out there you know you are gripping slightly harder as although it’s not physically card to turn the wheel you do use a bit of effort to keep it locked in the correct position when taking the corners.
Then before long my laps were running down and I saw the checkered flag and we started to slow down as we pulled to the inside of the track around the back-straight, I followed the pace car to the line where we had to put the car back into neutral and let the car roll down the pit lane, slowing ourselves down, aiming to which ever person was waving their arms frantically around to pull in there.
“How was that then?” came the question as I pulled up in the car, “Absolutely brilliant mate, can I go again?!” was the reply (You could actually purchase extra laps on the day if you had wanted to do more, although time was getting on so I wasn’t going to).
I strolled off with a huge grin on my face, handed the helmet back and answered the questions about if I’d enjoyed it. I mentioned about how the car had a problem after my bump start, no one was buying it though with them all wanting to believe I just didn’t start it, although I know the truth and that’s what matters!
Finally I could take the race suit off, if only I had known I was going to be one of the last to get my drive I wouldn’t of worn it all afternoon, but no bad thing, it added to the whole driving experience as it’s not often you get to be kitted out like a real motor racing driver.
Everyone who had driven had been over and got their picture pack, timing sheet and certificate, so the questions of what my fastest speed was was on everyone’s lips as everyone wanted to know how they had faired. Lets be honest, everyone wants to be the fastest deep down!
My top speed had been 144.93 MPH which wasn’t the fastest (remember I said it would of been easy to drop back and then floor the accelerator to get the fastest speed, anyone can do that – Yes I’m bound to say that too since I didn’t have the fastest speed, ha ha), but the most important figure was the average MPH for each lap which would show who actually drove the fastest lap. I came in with 131.35 MPH which was the fastest out of the 8 of us who had driven, most were around the 115 MPH speed for the laps so I was actually very chuffed with what I did, the sticking to the correct distance had proved that I came out with the fastest lap time…well it did until the last person of the day came in and beat me and they actually also got the fastest speed too.
Oh well, a nice second spot for me and I had to lick my wounds (yes I had already sent a text message homebound saying how I’d done the fastest lap, feeling safe in the knowledge that the last driver who has only a license to drive an Automatic car wouldn’t be beating me, how wrong I was and how daft did I felt having to send another saying in fact I wasn’t actually fastest).
The printouts contained a printed breakdown of each lap, the maximum RPM (Revs Per Minute) for that lap, the Average MPH and also the Top MPH achieved.
We also received a nice Mario Andretti Racing School certificate that had our top speed printed on and is a nice keepsake from the day.
The photo set we received was a nicely presented in an open out frame that contained 3 pictures. One picture stood by the car, one picture stood in the car and one group picture of all those in our party stood around the car. It really is a great reminder of the day, as you are in your race suits and have hold of your helmet so you look the real deal!
Due to the number of people who had booked to take part our afternoon session had actually over run and had gone on longer than it was meant to and so by the time we were leaving it was dark out. Surprisingly there was actually another group booked to take part after us.
Obviously the experience went on for a few hours with your time behind the actual wheel being 6 laps of the famous Las Vegas Speedway circuit flying by. Despite all this I would do it again in an instant, how many people have got to buckle up in a real 650 bhp Indy Car that can reach speeds of over 200 MPH (yes I know we didn’t get quite that fast), what’s more you are getting to drive around one of the most famous race circuits in the world located just outside the biggest adult play ground that is Las Vegas.
This was the second single seater driving experience I have done, although this one was on another level to the last one that I did, due to the fact this was a real Indy Car (the American version of a Formula 1 car) at the Las Vegas Speedway and the last one I did over here in the UK was in a Formula Ford at Rockingham (that is taking nothing away from the Rockingham Single Seater experience as that was truely amazing too)!