Eric Thompson: No hoons among boys who race

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Mitch Evans. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Mitch Evans. Photo / Paul Estcourt

I have just returned from a weekend in Manfeild, where among a great number of races I watched, the New Zealand Grand Prix was won by 16-year-old Mitch Evans. Now that boy, and every single one of the other race car drivers over the weekend, knew how to handle a car.

A great percentage of the drivers would have been under 30 and not one of them could be described as a hoon. Bob McMurray, who spent 33 years with the McLaren F1 team and more recently was the head of New Zealand's A1GP team as well as having a role in Toyota Racing Series category, said something over the weekend that resonated with me.

He said: "The young drivers who race may be boys, but they're certainly not boy racers. They are boys who race." A big difference especially when you witness what happens on the way to and from racetracks.

I fail to understand why all non-motor racing drivers think they're the bee's knees when it comes to driving commuter econo-boxes around town and occasionally on the open road. I can't even bring myself to use the words "appallingly bad driving skills" any more because it's an insult to the word skill.

Most pretend racers don't have any skills, let alone bad ones. I think I have a modicum of car control having spent a number of years racing motorcycles, as I have great respect for large vehicles travelling at high speed. After covering all sorts of motorsport for many years, I realised that to really understand the skills needed to race at speeds of up to 300km/h, I would have to get up close and personal with some of the drivers who do it for a living.

My first time out in any sort of anger was with the Australian V8 Supercar driver Shane Price. My over-riding memory was being thrown from side to side through the esses at Pukekohe, and as we exit the right-hander on to the back straight the rear end moving around like it was doing a tango.

As Price flattened it, my head was slammed back into the headrest. Down the straight at God knows what speed, Price is checking the read outs, adjusting the sway bars and stuff, then all of a sudden his feet are doing the bosa nova on the pedals as we brake from 250km/h to about 60km/h for the hairpin.

A few months later I get to see how it's done by open wheel racer Brendon Hartley. This time I'm sitting behind him in a Toyota Racing Series open-wheel two-seater with wings and slicks. It wasn't long before I realised why I had to be strapped in so tight it was difficult to breathe. The G-forces during braking, cornering and acceleration throw you around like a ball in a pinball machine.

As we whistle past the brake marker at the end of pit straight at Manfeild, I looked straight ahead and tried to pick which tyre in the barrier had my name on it.

Without the slightest idea of how it happened, we've washed off a bit of pace, turned right and are now accelerating in an entirely different direction. By the time my eyeballs catch up with the direction the car's going, we're already into the next series of corners.

Conventional wisdom would dictate you'd at least slow down a bit, or ghost through on a hunting throttle, but, oh no, Hartley is accelerating and changing up as we flow through the infield.

But to really understand car control, you have to sit next to a WRC driver and I had the experience of watching Chris Atkinson at work in his office.

It was absolute, controlled bloody bedlam and I'm proud to say I only got caught out twice looking one way when the car went the other way.

I gave up trying to watch out the window - too much going on. So I watched Atkinson's hands and feet. A tap dancer wouldn't hold a candle to some of the moves I saw. Couple that with one-handed opposite lock steering and changing gear with the other, it was poetry in motion.

So take my word for it people. You may think you can drive, but trust me when I tell you this - you don't have a bloody clue, so stop pretending and we all might get to live a bit longer.

- NZ Herald

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