Have you ever watched formula racing and wondered what it would be like to be in one of those cars? Of course you have! It’s not something that most of us will ever get the chance to try, one of those bucket list experiences. Well Manfeild racing circuit want to fix that. They are the custodians of a Toyota FT40 “wings and slicks” open-wheel racecar which has been custom built to add an extra 600mm of body length, enabling them to squeeze in a passenger seat right behind the driver.
The FT40 was used in the one-make Toyota Racing Series from 2004 to 2014, until it was recently replaced by the FT50. It’s a full-on open-wheel carbon-fibre racecar, built in Italy and powered by a race-developed 1.8 litre inline-four Toyota engine making 215kW. The car only weighs about 625kg so as you can imagine, it really goes!
When DriveLife got the invitation to go up to the press day for the T2 we were pretty excited, as you can imagine. Because the car is so small and tight, there are some restrictions on who can ride – you must be under 1.82m and weigh less than 95kg. That ruled out John and Alan as they’re both 6’4” giants, leaving Fred and I to fight it out. I’m happy to say I won the battle, and with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, I counted down the days until my trip to Manfeild.
I arrived at Manfeild, along with a few other members of the press, and we were escorted down to one of the rooms overlooking the circuit. Gavin Halls, Manfeild’s resident race driver, gave us a short safety briefing and some information about the car, before we were all supplied with fireproof race suits, gloves, neck braces and helmets. We headed down to the pit lane to the car. I was set to go fourth, last in the group, so I headed out to the centre of the track to take some photos and watch the other laps. There’s something about just being at a racetrack that makes me happy, especially as we were treated to a gorgeous sunny day, great racing weather.
Watching the car flying around the track, and hearing its glorious sounds fuelled those feelings of both excitement and fear. Would it be terrifying? Would I see my breakfast again? (I skipped lunch just in case!!).
In what seemed like no time it was my turn. I tightened my gloves, race suit and helmet strap, and was fitted with my neck brace then showed where to step into the car to avoid damaging the carbon fibre skin. My heart was racing already. I sat down, low in the car on a hard carbon-fibre seat, with the sides of the car at my shoulder level. My feet were wedged in either side of the driver’s seat, legs bent, knees up. Someone leaned over and helped strap me tight into the four-point harness. It started to feel hot and a bit claustrophobic. What had I got myself into?
The T2 car has a solid handle in front of the passenger where a steering wheel would be, to hang onto and brace during braking. Just above that is a panic button, in case you really really want to get out, it flashes a light telling the driver to stop.
Behind me, the engine fired up with a roar, and I could feel the car vibrating as it idled. A couple of blips of the throttle really got the adrenalin flowing, then we were off. As soon as we were moving, I stopped noticing the heat or tight belts, there was just the wind rushing past, the view from the open car, the G-forces, and that awesome racecar sound.
The first lap was a warm up, and we cruised slowly down the pitlane and out onto the track. I was expecting a reasonably gentle ride at first, but as soon as we pulled out of the pits I was pushed back into my seat, a massive grin instantly appearing on my face. A split-second later it was hard on the brakes for the first corner, and I mean hard. I’ve never experienced anything like it! Then I was pushed to the side as we cornered, then back on the power, weaving from side to side to heat the tyres. After a few more corners, Gavin gave me the thumbs-up to say we were about to go full speed.
Wow, just wow. Flat out in the T2 really is a workout, and that’s just as a passenger! You’re constantly being pushed and pulled in different directions – power, power, up through the gears, then hard on the brakes, changing down, thrown right, then left as the car powers around the corner at an impressive rate, back on the throttle again, and repeat. The T2 can generate 3.5G of cornering and braking force and it really is incredible to experience. The car can hit 220kph on the back straight, and about 190 on the start/finish straight. And of course you achieve these speeds right at the end, and just as you’re starting to wonder if you’ll make it around the corner you’re hammered again by that braking G force. Awesome stuff.
After a full-speed lap we did a slower cooldown lap, then pulled into the pit garage. My face was hurting from grinning so much, my hands and legs were shaking from bracing myself against the G-forces. And I wanted to go again. It really is a rush!
Everyone went into the car looking really nervous, everyone got out grinning and loved the experience. This is a must-do for anyone who’s even slightly interested in cars.
Manfeild plan to run the T2 car at least one day a month, and it will run rain or shine. Apparently with wet tyres it can go just as hard in the rain!
If you want to have this experience, and trust me, you do, click the link below for details