I'm sure many of you have heard the news by now, - as I've slammed all forms of social media with info, images and video - my life-long dream of driving a Formula 1 car has come true!
But not just any Formula One... a FERRARI Formula 1! (A 2003 Rubens Barichello Ferrari F1, to be exact!)
My dear friend Bud Moeller gave me this incredible opportunity, a gesture so generous I could never repay him. I have dreamed my entire life of advancing my career to the point where I would one day drive and race in Formula 1, as does nearly any person who's ever been exposed to the sport in any way, shape or form.
After driving for more than 24 years since starting in go-karts, my professional racing career, and the path at which it's taken to bring me to professional sports car racing, it's fairly safe to say all opportunities to make it to Formula 1 have passed and probably wont ever surface in the future.
I'm sure if you're reading this you already know, Formula 1 is the absolute pinnacle of motorsport as known to man. To participate in F1 is to be among the elite, and a privilege offered only to those who have found that unique path, supported by unfathomable amounts of financial support, and found themselves in the exact right place at exactly the right time, demonstrating incredible skill doing everything right to finally get themselves there - oh, and it all had to be done by the time they were 18 years old.
Well, that's not my story. I wasn't that guy. I didn't make it to F1. But I did finally get to drive one!!!!
But there I was. In the right place. At the right time. Through a relationship with someone who happens to own one of these extremely rare, valuable and storied cars and who happens to drive it all the time, I was offered the opportunity to hop in for a few laps simply because he knew how much I'd appreciate the experience. And he most likely knew how badly I wanted it. Bud Moeller is the name of this incredible human being.
So back to why you're reading this - the EXPERIENCE!
The setting? Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Ferrari Racing Days event featuring the Ferrari Challenge, FXX & F1 Cliente programs. Cool cars, cool people, beautiful weather and an amazing race track. Definitely a great recipe for fun!
The night before my big day I sat in Bud's car to see if I'd fit. Just climbing into the car in the garage was cool, but as I had imagined - both Rubens Barichello and Bud are shorter than me, so it was a tight fit! My legs were extremely jammed in there with my knees mashed into the bulkhead and my feet stuffed up against the pedals. I could operate the gas just fine (wink, wink...) but my left foot was up against the brake pedal, putting pressure on it even while trying to keep my foot off of it. The only way to stop that was to lift out of the seat a bit, put some foam padding underneath and in front of my butt, and basically come 'out' of the car a bit to create more room to get my foot off the brake. Mind you there's no clutch pedal in this baby - the clutch is an electronic lever on the back of the steering wheel, just below the paddle shift levers. SWEET!
The steering wheel was extremely close, and although I could turn it from lock-to-lock, I was cramped and my hands touched my thighs when turning a bit. But still, I was IN the car and had no intention of not making it work! Safety first, however! For the car, I mean... :) I didn't care about comfort! Ferrari team test driver Marc Gene was on hand to help Bud with coaching and testing, and they both ran me through the controls of the car and gave me tips on what to expect. Marc was a very cool guy, very knowledgeable (as would be expected) and just a wonderful coach to Bud, with no airs about him at all. Super guy!
So we were set. The next morning at 9:00am was the time my life would change. The plan was Bud would start the session, which would be 20 minutes long and then we'd swap and I'd drive the 2nd half to the checkered flag. I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night, just wondering what the whole experience was going to be like.
After getting to the race track that morning and getting into my gear as soon as possible, I walked over to the garage and was greeted by a huge smile from Bud and asked "are you ready?" With butterflies in my stomach, I said "Yes I am, Bud!" They rolled this beauty out to pit lane, gleaming in the morning light with red-jacketed Italians, media personnel, fans and people surrounding the car in pit lane. There were actually quite a few more people there to watch than I had expected!
Bud slid into his iconic machine with his Ferrari F1 Cliente crew looking after every detail. They fired it up and he smoothly rolled out of the pit box and down pit lane. Next thing I know I can hear the car SCREAMING around the track, it gets quiet rolling into turn 11 and then Bud launches off the corner like he was shot out of a cannon! This guy was HAULING @SS! Let me tell you something - Bud knows how to drive that car!! He repeatedly posted lap times within just a few seconds of Marc's and never turned a wheel wrong - very impressive! I had asked him the day before about his experience and to sum it up, he's owned and driven various Formula 1 cars for the past TWENTY YEARS - WHO is cooler than this guy??? Bud is definitely my hero.
A few laps later Maurizio from Ferrari walks over and says "please get ready and put on your gear." Don't ask me twice! I'm on it! So I'm getting ready and just after I put on my helmet I turn around and my entire ESM Ferrari Challenge crew is standing on the pit cart, every-single one of them with cameras pointed on me. I gave a wave and realized EVERYONE is there to watch me do this. Although I had no intention of it, now I'm really thinking I'd better not screw up or I'd never live it down!
Bud rolls into pit lane, shuts it off and climbs out of the car. He gave me a quick pat on the back and it was time for me to get in! I couldn't believe this was happening. Now I was nervous. I climbed into the car, slid down in it and it seemed like a hundred red jackets swarmed me to help strap me in, look over the car and get everything ready. A million thoughts run through my head - but the first was 'holy crap, I need to remember how to get it into 1st gear!'. All of a sudden the car is fired up and idling and they're still tightening up all my belts - and no one has said a word (in English) yet! Now I'm freaking out! Just the sound of the engine rumbling and the vibration through the car made me realize I had NO IDEA what to expect next, and I needed to figure it out IMMEDIATELY!
They drop the car off the stands and I remembered, pull the hand clutch, select 1st gear and slowly release the lever. IF it goes to stall it will default to anti-stall, at which point I'd have less than 8 seconds to hit the neutral button and start the process over before it just stalls. Lucky for me I'm a PIMP and rolled out of the pit box smooth as glass on my very first try. Oh my god, I'm in an F1 FERRARI. I was terrified!
I slowly accelerated down pit lane, shifted to third gear, hit the brakes lightly, down-shifted to 1st gear, very carefully turned through pit exit inside turn 2, and cracked the throttle very carefully. I was NOT going to spin this thing leaving pit exit! Cruising at 1/4 throttle I shifted to 2nd and then 3rd and turned in for turn 3. I waited until I was completely straight at the exit, went to 1/2 throttle and was shocked at the power already. I shifted to 4th gear and then hit full throttle and my head SNAPPED BACK so quickly I had to lift out and turn in for turn 4 - because it was there already! I exited turn 4, waited until I was completely straight again and mashed the throttle. HOLY CRAP the rate of acceleration was INCREDIBLE, I could hardly keep up with the sensation and pay attention to the shift lights! I got to turn 5 and got into the brakes with moderate pressure and MAN did it slow down quickly! Down to 3rd gear - Ok, pay attention, build throttle and when you track-out of turn 5, hit it! 3rd gear, 4th gear, 5th gear up the hill and WOAH, hit the brakes! This thing accelerates SO quickly it is out of control! I turned in for turn 6, hit the compression, tracked out and hammered it again. Going up the hill to the corkscrew had never been so effortless, but it really got my attention as the front end seemed really light like the front tires weren't on the ground - and thus I braked VERY early into the corkscrew! That, and I didn't want to wind up off the side of a mountain...
Downshift rapidly from 6th to 2nd gear, get it nice and slow as it's STILL just my first lap out, turn left, head downward through the famous 10-story drop and give it some throttle - good lord, I'm at turn 9 already! This car is INSANE. It weighs NOTHING. It has TONS of power! IT IS A FERRARI FORMULA 1 CAR!!!!! Now I'm starting to feel it and approach turn 10 with some confidence, get it slowed plenty for now, turn through, track-out and stretch 4th gear just before braking for turn 11. Main objective? Don't spin it on the exit of 11, which sounds easy despite the fact that this thing has about 1000hp and weighs 1200lbs or less.
I roll out of the corner, feed in the throttle in 2nd gear and hit it. I was shot out of a cannon! The rate of acceleration is SO amazing I'm grinning from ear to ear and trying to keep up with the shift lights and not hit the rev limiter. Before I know it I'm under the bridge, climbing up the hill at 160-something MPH, the car darts from the slightest pull on the steering wheel as I go over a bump and it scared the CRAP out of me - so I lifted out of the throttle, and I'm sure everyone in pit lane snickered and called me feminine names. :) I felt like I was strapped to a rocket-ship. This is unbelievable!
Since I lifted over the crest of the turn 1 hill, approaching turn 2 wasn't quite as eventful and I had plenty of time to slow the car and get to 2nd gear. So many sensations I'm trying to adapt to while having so many emotions and all the anticipation, anxiety and nerves, but now I'm feeling good and want to start using up more of this car! This might be the only chance in my entire life to do this, and I've only got a few laps to do it - "Get your crap together and DRIVE this thing, Cosmo!" (that was me talking to myself, in case you didn't know I refer to myself in the third-person from time to time...)
The steering feels so light, it's hard to actually get a good read on how much grip you've got at low speed, but I make my way through turn 2, track-out and hammer the throttle again. My head snaps back violently once more, I rifle through the gears and before I know it it's time to brake for turn 3 again, but now I'm ready! Rule number one of adapting to any car and going fast in it - use FULL throttle as soon as you can, and learn to brake at the car's capability as soon as you can. Yeah, corning speeds are important, but take real comfort in a car. Learn to use up all the car can do in a safe way (accelerating and braking) and you're over the hump quickly. Now I'm trying to arrive at the corners at speed, and experiment with these brakes. Through turn 3 and 4 applying good throttle and I'm building up to my brake pressure. The turn 5 brake zone at Laguna is a great one to experiment. Although I brake at the 3-marker in my ESM Ferrari 458 GT car and this thing should brake way later, I'm going to stick with the 3-marker because I'm probably showing up at least 20MPH faster. So I actually brake a bit earlier but I lay into the pedal harder and my head snaps forward and is sustained there until I release the brake, regain my composure, look up and realize it's time to turn in. It's like an air-brake - the thing just STOPS. Wow.
Let's keep working on the braking (meanwhile I'm still coming to grips with the speed), and now let's introduce some cornering speed and see if I can feel the car build up lateral load and grip. I slow less for turn 6, climb the hill, brake later for the corkscrew - although still painfully early, as I realize - and carry a touch more speed through the section, with my focus on accelerating hard to turn 9. Successful, and still amazingly fast. Bleed off some speed, roll down to the apex of 9, leave some room on the track-out and drive it up to turn 10. Trying to flow some speed in and feel the grip I didn't try to brake too late, but focused on rolling into the throttle sooner on exit and brake a touch later for turn 11. Now let's get a better launch from turn 11 and see how the front straight goes. Quite successful, so much that I arrived at the turn 1 crest a bit faster and... yes, lifted again - but I went further this time! This car is worth a few million dollars and more sentiment to Bud than anything - I will not risk putting it in harms way, and I have NO idea what it will do if I go over the hill flat-out. (this IS only my second time down the front straight, mind you...)
Now I'm feeling some 'mojo' and start driving it with conviction. It's so light, nimble and STABLE. I'm getting more comfortable with the blinding speed, the brutally efficient brakes and realizing I'm probably way slower than I need to be, mid-corner, and that's why I'm not feeling any lateral load or sensation of 'grip'. Let's go faster!
I'm loving this lap - I'm loving this car - I can't believe this is happening!!! Through the entire lap, out of turn 11 and I'M DOING IT FLAT. I will NOT lift over the hill! And...?
IT'S FLAT!!! And, it's 170+MPH into the brake zone for turn 2! THIS. IS. AWESOME! A little more of everything and it's all starting to sound and feel like the way it should be driven. I didn't watch F1 all these years and not pay attention! Getting the timing right for corner entry is the hardest part because it just stops SO well. I'm always too slow by turn-in, but just not ready for the leap of faith by braking later yet. I'm jammed into the car so much already with my legs stuffed in there, I just don't have the feel for the brake pedal as good as I normally would and can't risk anything going wrong. Besides, I don't think there's a Ferrari F1 contract waiting for me back in pit lane if I go faster, so I kept it in perspective here... :)
The rest of this lap is just magic. I am in the middle of the most pure, purpose-built racing machine human existence has ever known, with sensations like I've never experienced, and sounds like a perfectly-tuned symphony. I. Am. In. Heaven. It is so amazing, I could cry. With each inch of pavement and curbing around one of my absolute-favorite race tracks, I'm asking just a bit more and more from this thing and trying to savor it all along the way, yet still be respectful of the equipment and opportunity I was given.
One more time past start/finish and they wave the checkered flag for me. I have driven an F1 car. I can't believe this. I kept at pace for half of my in-lap before some of the wonderful SCRAMP corner workers stepped out from the corner stations to wave to me, so I thankfully gave a wave back and realized that I wasn't the only person having a euphoric moment as this thing sang it's song around the race track. Pinnacle of the sport is right, and it's not every day you'd see a Ferrari Formula 1 car at speed on a race track. I think everyone there enjoyed the experience as much as I did... or almost as much!
The feeling I had upon entering pit lane was indescribable. I was heavy with emotion, still trying to absorb the fact that I just experienced something I'd always dreamed of, and just assumed would never actually happen. At the same time I was so amp'd up from all the adrenaline I wanted to get out and jump around, but was also REALLY sad the experience was over. Man, just another lap or two and I feel I could have actually turned a competitive lap time (in comparison to Bud and Marc Gene), and really driven the car the way it should have. But either way, the biggest feeling running through me was of appreciation and thanks.
The generosity displayed by Bud - a man that I honestly don't know long enough to warrant the trust he placed in me with this opportunity - is a sign of good in the world that most people don't see any longer. This experience changed my life, and as happy as I was to have driven the car and be given the opportunity, Bud seemed every bit as happy to offer it to me and watch me truly enjoy something that I may never have otherwise. I will never forget this day. This was absolutely the single-greatest day of all my experiences in motorsports.
Bud - I don't know exactly what it was that led you to even think of offering me the opportunity of a life time - but I can't thank you enough! I can now die a happy man. (but I won't, because I'm about to get married to the most incredible woman on earth, will someday have kids that will eventually race in Formula 1... and I DEFINITELY need to drive an F1 car again before I die! :))
Thank you, Bud. You are a true gentleman, and absolutely my hero!
Icing on the cake? The next day Bud and Marc Gene broke the official track record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, now giving them TWO outright official track records, having set one at Infineon Raceway just weeks prior as well. Very cool!
Here's a link to a photo gallery from the day. Thanks to all the photographers and friends who captured these images and were gracious enough to share them with me. Have a look, there are some really great photos!
Below is the in-car footage, from start to finish. Thanks Jay Rosas & Vision Wells for the video. Great stuff, and will help me remember this moment for the rest of my life!
Thanks for reading ~ Guy