CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

Visit Horley and tackle Lets Race, the UK’s only full-motion F1 simulation venue

13:27 26 October 2015

Ben Stephenson (commercial manager), Steph Barnes (reception manager), Jean Philippe (admin manager) and James Cossins (instructor) (Photo Pete Gardner)

Ben Stephenson (commercial manager), Steph Barnes (reception manager), Jean Philippe (admin manager) and James Cossins (instructor) (Photo Pete Gardner)

Pete Gardner

The UK’s only full-motion F1 simulation venue, Lets Race in Horley provides a hyper-realistic driving experience that is as close as you can get to doing the real thing. Surrey Life’s intrepid journalist Pete Gardner puts his pedal to the metal…

Pete finds his feet in the scale F1 car on display at the centre (Photo Pete Gardner)Pete finds his feet in the scale F1 car on display at the centre (Photo Pete Gardner)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2015

***

Most blokes like me (and, no doubt, many ladies) will probably have wanted to have a go at driving a Formula One racing car at some point. But unless your name is Lewis Hamilton, you’re unlikely to ever get behind the wheel. Until now that is…

Based in the unlikely setting of the small Surrey town of Horley, near Gatwick, Lets Race has found a solution by recreating as far as possible what it’s like to lower yourself into a racing car, sit on the grid and then blast your way around a race circuit. We’ve all had a go at a racing sim on the PC but by setting up a near perfect replica of a car and plonking three huge screens in front of it, they have achieved an incredibly realistic way of putting you right on the track.

It doesn’t stop there, either, because these cars actually move as well – this is serious stuff, very serious, even down to an on-screen safety briefing by the former F1 driver Martin Brundle. (He warns of the “racing red mist” and points out that “you will feel the force of the simulated crash”…). It’s all done by setting the cars onto special mounts that move as you turn the wheel, brake and accelerate. So, roaring into a corner too fast and slamming on the brakes really gives you that terrifying feeling of impending doom as the car bounces and thuds over the gravel into the crash barrier.

Authentic experience

Now I’m not a very flexible person myself, and it was a challenge right from the start, even just lowering myself into the cockpit. Then you have to find your way around the controls. The authentic steering wheel has two gear-shift paddles – one to change up and one for down – oh, and you have to remember to brake with your left foot as there are only two pedals and very little room for your feet. Then the lights dim and all of a sudden the whole thing becomes terribly real…

I forgot all about sitting in a huge auditorium in Horley – I was on the grid at the start of a race round Spain’s Catalunya circuit in Barcelona (you can choose from a variety of famous circuits) – and it really was scary. The three screens give an incredible perspective of all-round vision to the extent where, apparently, some people have to ask for the side screens to be turned off as it’s too much for them.

The race? It’s not easy. Really, it isn’t. The cars react just like the real thing and you have to treat them so, so delicately – one tiny wrong move or too much braking and you have lost it…

The first few laps are designed as ‘practice laps’ – you get to do your own thing just to get the hang of the car, and plunging into a crash barrier or trying to work out where to find reverse gear is just part of the fun. Coordination is the key, I was soon to discover. I’m not an Aston Martin owner and I have never used a paddle shift on the steering wheel to change gear, so this was the first steep learning curve (no pun intended…). Also, I don’t think I have ever in my life braked with my left foot. So, everything just as in ‘real life’ with a monster of a car raring to go and an excited Surrey Life journalist also raring to go – a deadly combination.

After the practice session, it was back to the debriefing room where we were shown hi-tech computer graphics of our efforts. This shows you exactly (and I mean exactly!) where you used the throttle, used the brake, the gears – everything. I’m only surprised that it didn’t show, in a thick red line, where my blood pressure was boiling over…

On the grid

So, equipped with the knowledge of how to emulate the great Lewis Hamilton, it was time to race. Sitting on the grid, I watched the trio of red lights – and we were off! Well, sort of… We had been told, helpfully, that we should use half-throttle when moving off from the grid but I wasn’t sure why… until I did exactly what I had been told not to do and immediately spun a beautiful, balletic pirouette into the crash barrier about 10 feet past the start line.

Did things improve? A little perhaps but the concentration you need is huge and all part of the fun. You lose all track of time, but eventually the chequered flag was waved and we all clambered out of the cockpits and back for another quick debrief.

I sometimes wonder if the lovely editor at Surrey Life deliberately wants to embarrass me, but I did manage to come third (and I’m not saying how many were in the race) so claimed a place on the podium. One other remarkable effect of all this is just how exhausting it is – 15 minutes of duelling with others on the track and you stagger out of the room – how can I put this politely – let’s say perspiring a little…

The right track

Overall, though, I loved it. And, what is more, it’s surprisingly inexpensive for a simple one-off experience, with sessions starting from just £15 (though there are also various packages for serious racers and corporate events).

Aimed at families, too, there are loads of other things to entertain – a GT Zone for kids aged seven and above; a Batak wall, where you can test your reaction times; a large-scale Scalextric, a café and bar; and a seated grandstand in the main simulator room where your loved ones can sit and watch (free of charge) as you blunder round the track. You can even have a timed go at changing a wheel on a racing car.

In summary then, while I may not have claimed pole position, I really enjoyed the whole experience – and I can understand the sentiments of my fellow racegoer, Charlie from Crawley, who told me it was his fifth visit here. As a huge F1 fan, he says he just loves it every time.

Everyone is catered for though – there are disability pods available too. As Lets Race say themselves, the idea is to make motor sport accessible to everyone. Even back-seat drivers like me…

• Lets Race, 59/61 Brighton Road, Horley RH6 7HJ. Race experiences start from £15 and the GT Zone, for kids aged seven-plus, from £5. Tel: 01293 826800. Web: letsrace.co.uk

Stop press:

From this month, a new golf venture is also set to open at the Lets Race centre. Featuring the highest-spec golf simulators available, Lets Golf will offer enthusiasts the chance to play (virtually) on some of the best courses in the world, from St Andrews to the PGA National. The centre has even added golf pro Steve Furlonger to its team, who will be providing regular coaching. Sessions in the simulators will start from £15. For more information, see online at lets-golf.co.uk.

 

A county of car-lovers

Surrey has a plethora of links to the world of motor racing; here we bring you just a few of them…

Brooklands Museum in Weybridge is known as ‘the birthplace of British motor sport and aviation’ and for good reason. Built in 1907, the 2.75-mile racing circuit was the scene of many motoring feats back in the day, and parts of the banked track still remain.

• The son of motor racing legend Graham Hill, Surrey resident Damon Hill OBE has had his own success on the track, too, with a championship win in 1996 and 22 wins in Formula One. As president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, he is still deeply involved in the racing scene today.

• HWM (Hersham and Walton Motors) is a long- established Aston Martin business in Walton-on-Thames but also steeped in motor racing history. Once a racing car constructor, they were involved in Formula One from 1954.

• Dunsfold Park, near Cranleigh, has long been the filming location of the famous TV series Top Gear. Parts of the old aerodrome, which was built in the early war years, were used as the ‘Stig Track’ where celebrities were put through their paces in the ‘Reasonably Priced Car’.

• Based in Woking, McLaren Automotive has a long association with motor racing dating back to the early ‘60s when Bruce McLaren founded the McLaren racing team. Now producers of road- going supercars as well, the name is synonymous with the sport.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Surrey visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Surrey staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Surrey account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Following the scarp of the North Downs, the ancient Pilgrims’ Way runs from Winchester in Hampshire, right the way through Surrey, ending up at Canterbury in Kent. With the route full of scenic and historic interest, here Doug Kennedy, the author of a new book on the North Downs, picks out a few of the local highlights

Read more
Tue, 09:48

Surrey is a county full of festive delights. Think cosy pubs, frosty views and long winter walks. We pick 23 wonderful reasons to spend Christmas in Surrey.

Read more
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Capturing the spirit of five outstanding views across the Surrey Hills, each in the form of a seated sculpture, was the challenge set to five leading artists by Surrey Hills Arts. With the results of the Inspiring Views project now in place, here we pay a visit to each site to find out what’s in store

Read more
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Christmas Issue: everything you need for the perfect festive season in Surrey

Read more
Monday, November 21, 2016

Take a wander around the wonderful Wonersh village and discover stunning views and a spectacular folly in the surrounding countryside

Read more
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A spectacular herd of colourful cows is set to hothoof its way to Hampton Court Palace for the final gala auction of CowParade Surrey.

Read more
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

As celebrations get under way to commemorate the opening of the first fully-navigable section of the newly-restored Wey and Arun Canal, not to mention the 200th anniversary of this historic waterway, Harriet Danhash brings us its story

Read more
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Head to the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for this easy walk of one-and-a-half hours around the pretty village of Gomshall, taking in some quintessential English countryside along the way

Read more
Friday, November 11, 2016

Just the thing to get you feeling festive, Oxted will be holding a spectacular Christmas Festival on Saturday 26 November. Here we meet a few of the businesses around the town – and find out what they have in store for us over the festive season

Read more

Surrounded by beautiful countryside, Leatherhead is also home to a surprising number of hidden gems

Read more
Monday, November 7, 2016

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, Natasha Healy picks out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Monday, November 7, 2016

From hairy books to medieval rats and doodles of dragons, The National Archives at Kew, near Richmond, is certainly full of surprises. Claire Saul gets a peek behind the scenes

Read more
Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wrap up in your favourite coat and scarf, grab your sparklers and a warming drink, and enjoy one of these fantastic firework displays taking place in Surrey for bonfire night

Read more
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

With the CowParade Surrey journey beginning at Sandown Park Racecourse this time last year, the Esher venue proved fitting for the first of the imagination capturing art campaign’s two charity auctions.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:


Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad
Surrey Life Application Link

Local Business Directory

Surrey's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search