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Cool cart article

A good read.

Michael Cannon is the chief engineer for the championship-winning team, but recently in Las Vegas, he pulled on a race suit, helmet and gloves, and climbed aboard the Lola-Cosworth to see what it was like on the other side of the fence. Here, in his own words, is what it was like out there.

Invariably, when I'm in a social situation and someone's asked me what I do for a living, their next question is "Do you ever get a chance to drive the car?" Until now, the answer has always been "No".

For the past two years, Player's/Forsythe has done a 'Play-Day' for the Player's executives, wherein people like Imperial's CEO Bob Bexon, account executives Michael Bonelli, Mark Thorne, Neil Blanche, et al., come out and run about 30 laps each, at speed, in what are effectively their Champ Cars. This has taken place on the 1.10 mile infield circuit at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway which features mostly low speed, long radius turns and relatively short straight-aways-ideal for beginners.

Graciously, they've also left the balance of the second day's running open so that various team members have an opportunity to sample the cars as well. This year I was fortunate to be included on that list of candidates.

Now, racing cars are nothing new to me. I raced Formula Fords out of the SCCA Cen-Div in the mid-eighties and have been lucky enough to sample various other cars throughout the years including Mark Hotchkis' Lola Indy lights car back in 1996. Despite it having been seven years since I had driven a pukka racing car, I felt nothing in the way of trepidation on my way to the track. No racing car had ever intimidated me in the past, so what's the big deal right?

Remember that last sentence.

I chose to drive one of Paul's chassis as we are similar in both height and weight. The seat and pedals were almost ideal for my frame and the boys only had to adjust the seatbelts slightly. In less than 5 minutes, I was fitted to the championship winning Lola.

The starter motor whirs the 750 horsepower Ford-Cosworth to life. It's actually tough to tell when the starter has finished its work as the idle speed and the starter speed are very similar-nearly 2000 rpm. The engine rises and falls gently to my prompting. The motor feels like a smooth-running Gatling gun strapped to my backbone, the rigid carbon-fiber tub transmitting each cylinder's firing directly to my spine. I select first gear and gently release the clutch. The electronic injection system is so accurate and user-friendly that one can actually ease one of these cars away from a stop just you'd roll your daily driver away from an intersection.

I trundle out of pit lane in first and then select second. The gear lever effort is surprisingly light but is also quite precise at the same time. I can feel that the tires are cold. The ride feel through the steering wheel is hard, like the tires are made of solid rubber, and the car has a generally vague feel to it. I use the throttle sparingly and do my best to coast quickly around the turns in hopes of bringing the tires up closer to their intended operating temperature.

Within a lap and a half, I feel the car begin to track like a painted line thought the turns. The ride has become more plush as the tires have heated up and I know that I'm going to have start pushing harder if I'm going to get the tires closer yet to an effective temperature. I ease into the last turn and, in second gear, at about three quarters through the corner, apply full throttle.

The car, for lack of a better description, becomes enraged. Absolutely, positively enraged. The acceleration is ferocious, shoving me brusquely into the thinly padded seat. Startled, I can only grab for third gear. Then fourth and fifth. I have no idea of the revs – my mind is still in the final turn – I'm driving purely on reflex now. Despite the Cosworth motor howling its guts out behind me, I'm startled by the string of profanities I spew into the relative quiet of my helmet. I feel like a fastball coming out of a major-league pitcher's hand. Objects that were on the horizon two seconds ago now flash past in a blur, like they've come from an enormous sling shot directed at me. I don't travel to the next turn; I'm warped there like outtake from an episode of Star Trek. The jump to hyper-space in the original Star Wars has nothing on this thing.

From the top of fifth gear, about 150 mph, I hit the brakes. Now, we've all read about the stopping ability of these cars – it's legendary – but I am totally unprepared for what happens next. The car doesn't slow down as such, but rather sheds its speed in an instant. The effect is as if I'd had a head on collision with a 1959 Cadillac while riding a 10-speed at full tilt. The tenacious grip from the meaty tires combined with stopping power of the carbon-metallic pads is simply staggering. I later find out the data shows I've only mustered half the typical brake pedal pressure Pat or Paul would use over a stop...

Slightly dazed from the violence of the preceding blast down the straight and subsequent braking zone, I cautiously bend the car into turn 1, a 90 degree second gear left-hander. The grip level is already far above what I expect. The Bridgestones are gaining bite by the second and I squirt the car to turn 2 with a shot of full throttle, driving the car a bit harder in to the 180 degree turn 3. The G force instantly builds to tremendous level, forcing my head against the padded, horseshoe shaped headrest despite my best efforts to keep myself erect. Despite the impressive grip level, I notice the steering effort required is rather light, but then again the aero load on the car at 70 mph is somewhat minimal. Again, at the exit of the turn, I give the beast a full kick in the guts, grabbing third once the rev lights show me it's time. A quick jab at the brakes and back to second for a quick right-left chicane. The right-hander flashes past and I whip the steering to the left.

I am backwards in an instant, facing the direction from whence I came.

It happens that fast. I've spun 90 degrees in the blink of an eye.

These cars are so completely different to anything I've ever experienced that I've been caught completely flat-footed.. The point to point acceleration is so enormous that by simply getting on the power one car length earlier than the lap before means you're going markedly faster than your previous tour. An Indy Lights car felt like a fast FF2000 car, this thing is like the bloody Space Shuttle, only pissed. Really pissed.

The boys head out with 'Safety-One', a rental van equipped with a starter, tow rope and fire extinguishers. I mutter a sheepish apology and they kindly restart the car. I ease away again and restart the process of bringing the tires back up to temperature.

Ultimately, I finish my allocation of five laps with yet another spin – this time at turn 1. Keen to set a lap time before the tires are ready, I hustled into the corner too fast and the car simply shrugged me off again, as if to remind me who was boss. Like I had any doubts.

I cannot adequately describe the fury with which these cars accelerate, stop and turn as I never even began to scratch the surface of its full potential. I can say that even half-cocked these cars are wild animals. Not vicious but rather high strung, eager Mustangs with a seriously bad attitude.

I must say that my short run in the Player's Lola was a serious eye-opener. I've always respected Paul and Pat's ability at mastering these difficult cars but now I have genuine appreciation for their talents as well. I simply cannot imagine having to actually race one of these animals through the streets of Long Beach or Vancouver and yet they make it look so effortless. Truly impressive.

My eternal gratitude goes out to Gerry Forsythe and Player's for allowing me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just one thing: can we make this a once-a-year opportunity? I know where I can find a bunch of time in the last two turns...

220 Posts
I kept looking for the go-kart connection. At the end of the article, it finally dawned on me. It's not cart. It's CART. Duh!

Nice read.

insert clever title here
7,702 Posts
Cool! That was a nice perspective on the sport. It'll be a shame if 2003 turns out to be CART's last season.
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