Takeaway

Driving Bond’s car in Las Vegas

Pooja Bhula | Updated on March 27, 2020

Need for speed: The Aston Martin is a Bond car: Understated, elegant, sophisticated   -  Image Courtesy: Dream Racing

An international motor racing circuit and James Bond’s favourite car — this is a holiday combo for thrill seekers

“I’m scaaared,” I tell Mike Yenkowski, my instructor, in the middle of a nervous giggle and the incessant thumping of my heart.

You see, I’m about to ride a supercar on a real race track in Las Vegas. My Aston Martin DB11 is powered by a 5.2-litre bi-turbo engine that generates 600 hp of maximum power, 700 nm torque and goes from 0-97 km/hr in just 3.8 seconds! Top speed? Over 300 km/hr.

McLarens, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsche GTs... Dream Racing, the company that provides five-star driving experiences at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s (LVMS) inner circuit, gives you over 45 exotics to choose from.

After my licence is verified — Indian driving licences are accepted; they didn’t even fuss about my ancient one in paper form — Dream Racing expert Steve helps me choose my machine from the impressive variety on offer.

A Bombay girl who enjoys driving despite frustrating traffic, I want a car that’ll leave me enthralled.

I tell Steve, “I learnt on a car without power steering and still enjoy the stick-shift. I’m not fond of automatic transmission; you don’t feel a thing with it. Which of these beauties would you suggest?”

He zeroed in on the Aston Martin DB11 — the most powerful and efficient DB model in the brand’s history. Obviously, it’s automatic; all supercars are. But I’m thinking, good for James Bond is good enough for me. Steve explains that he likes matching “drivers’ personalities with the car’s”.

“A Bond car, the Aston Martin obviously comes with style, but it’s not in-your-face. It’s British. Understated, elegant, sophisticated and refined, combining great performance with comfort and luxury,” he concludes.

Before I can race the DB Bond-style, Nic Sacco, another instructor, gets me track-ready at the Dream Racing theatre with videos and slideshows. I learn that the “9 and 3 position” (for hands, as on the clock) is best for holding the steering wheel. It gives you good control and prevents injuries if the airbags blow up.

What catches me off-guard is the emphasis on braking. Braking hard, actually. That the one aspect of driving you associate with slowing down is imperative for speed is counter-intuitive. But braking right, we’re told, enables better weight distribution, giving the tyres grip, and the driver a greater control to turn without skidding, fishtailing and so on.

This crystallises further once I understand the racing line. At first it strikes as odd because, unlike the tight turns we take on civilian roads, racing lines have a wider radius — entering the road’s outer edge, touching the corner’s apex and exiting by returning outside.

The reason behind this is that straight lines allow for the most speed. That’s also why when racing, braking hard close to a turn is preferable to slowing down in advance and compromising overall speed.

Besides, in Steve’s words, “apart from your own speed, sabotaging others’ driving line” gives one an edge on the racing track.

He’d know. Most instructors here are racers themselves; Sacco has about 100,000 laps behind him.

Phew! Next, we practise on 60-inch HD screens with an exact scan of the track viewable in 3D; the kind of simulators only professional racers usually access.

What’s more, the cockpit, too, has real race-car seats, steering wheel, paddle shifts and so on. Personal instructors accompany on the simulator too, building your confidence for the real thing.

Finally, it’s time to hit the track.

I’m all warmed up and my Aston Martin looks delicious in cinnabar orange. Yes, my heart’s racing — from a recently developed fear of speed, apprehension about the left-hand drive and adrenaline surge. I’m going to ride this beast on a 1.2-mile, 9-turn racetrack known for hosting international events from NASCAR to Drag races. “Remember,” Yenkowski says, “the car will only go as fast as you make it” and I hit ignition.

Muscle memory immediately kicks in and my feet begin to miss the clutch I’m accustomed to back home. The first lap sees me obedient, following instructions to the T. The next couple of laps, and I am breathing again.

I notice how snaky a 9-turn track is, begin recognising the lap’s end point and anticipate the “brake” command. The tyres have amazing grip. I warm up to taking wider turns, à la racing line, and experience the smooth exits. Only by the fourth round do I reach 119 km/hr.

For amateurs, speeding with racing rules is no cakewalk. Yet, with each lap time averaging under 1.5 minutes you don’t even realise when five are up.

The wristband and certificate serve as mementos and you can relive your drive with the video of your laps. But, if I were to choose again, I’d go for the seven- or 10-lap package. Combo packages are available if you want to ride two or more supercars.

Ears still throbbing with the roar of hot wheels as I bid adieu to LVMS, it hits me that racing has nothing to do with rash driving.

Hit the road

  • Where: 7000 Las Vegas Blvd N, Las Vegas
  • Documents: Passports and valid driving licence
  • Price: $200–1,000 (inclusive of insurance) Reservations are not required but recommended. Free pick-up for all Dream Racing packages

Pooja Bhula is a Mumbai-based journalist

Published on March 27, 2020

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