Last month, I had the most incredible automotive journey you could ever imagine; I drove a modern day formula one car, a Porsche Cayman, plus I went for a hot lap around the Nuerburgring in a beefed up M3 CSL, as well as a high speed run on a banked oval in a V12 Ferrari at over 260 km/h. Nirvana would be a close enough description, but I remember passing that place as I called up fifth gear in the F1 car.
Yet as exciting as it all was, especially climbing into the cockpit of the most incredible racing instrument on earth, I worried about the vacuum it would leave behind once I stepped back into reality and took off my racing suit. I mean, if this is the summit, where do I go from here? Everything else should pale in comparison.
Well, a few days after, even before I had time to get back down to earth, I was strapped into a 1.5 liter Honda Jazz, which had about as much power as the cigarette lighter of the Porsche Cayman I just hopped out of, waiting for my first timed run of the Honda Media Challenge. Surely, dear God, you have forsaken me, I mumbled under my helmet. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, huh? Where are the paddle shifters? What about the dynamic sport settings? An impeachment case could move faster than this, I thought. God has a sense of humor after all.
But as soon as I kicked over the ignition and waited for the lights to go out, I felt a surge of adrenaline race through my body and I went for the first corner as if my very life hung in the balance. The rest of the lap was a bit sketchy, but I remember thinking to myself, just as I held my breath into the final chicane and only managing to exhale after the finish line, that everything is relative. Driving is all about getting the most out of what you've got, and more importantly, yourself. And a Honda Jazz can be as much fun as a Porsche, given the right conditions. Bear with me.
If you ask any Formula One driver if he has ever stitched together a perfect lap, you'll find that 93% of them will say no. The other 7% lie. Because driving is not an exact science; it takes feel, control, a little fear and the ability to adapt to the ever changing conditions and machinery. There's always somewhere where you could have done better, and it’s that little 'something' that you could have done that will keep you up at night. If you put that same F1 driver in a 1989 Toyota Liteace and put a checkered flag at the end, you will see the same level of commitment but with just a lot more fireworks. And maybe a hubcap flying off like a frisbee and taking out the guy in second place. The satisfaction comes from being the best, regardless of what's underneath you.
To prove my theory, I decided to ask Walter Rohl, the Porsche celebrity test driver who was voted the World's greatest rally driver by his own peers. Walter has been blessed with an amazing level of car control and a supernatural ability to anticipate a car’s behavior and make a correction even before the car has stepped out of line, which, in essence, is the secret to his speed. He is known throughout Europe and the rest of the car-crazed world, as the “Lord of the 'Ring” for his legendary and consistent lap times around the demanding, Nuerburgring Nordschlieffe. He has developed and driven the world's best super cars.
Considering that this is a guy with over 8.5 million performance kilometers under his belt, he still managed to tell me that each lap that he drives is always special. Whether in a Cayman, or a Boxster or a Carrera GT. His eyes glowed each time he talked about a race, a drive, or even the slightest hint of a trophy being involved. “A better car just makes it easier for you to achieve certain things, but if you're all in even machinery, racing for a common goal, it becomes all about the driver – and no two are created equal.” The tall, lanky German tells me over an organic lunch of steamed fish and vegetables.
So whether I'm behind the wheel of Honda Jazz, racing against a clock for the highly coveted 'Best Time of the Day' in the Honda Media Challenge, or hurling a stupidly powered sports car around some of the world's best driving roads or simply taking the family out for a Sunday drive through the roads less traveled, I will always relish the moment, the freedom and the feeling. And I will never get jaded, either. Because no matter what kind of pedals I have under my feet, a car is as much about my own private, inviolate space as it is about transportation. Sort of like the mechanical extension of myself. So, where do I go from here? It doesn't really matter, as long as it’s forward. And I'm driving.
***For the complete story of my first F1 drive, click here http://www.pbase.com/cmanaginged/my_first_f1_drive