Need for speed

By Matthew Martel

The new Superman rollercoaster at Movie World goes from 0-100km/h in two seconds. That's slightly faster than an Indy race car, which takes an extra 0.3 of a second. These people are mad.

The Superman ride goes something like this: Having met Scooby Doo, Shrek and Princess Fiona, we are strapped into the machine. I am in front. Behind me is a large, slightly menacing photographer from Hong Kong who looks like a gangster and who will shortly be screaming.

The scenario is an earthquake hitting town just after our "train" has left the station. Superman rescues us - at speed. At the peak of the ride, you experience negative G force - genuine weightlessness. The terrifying part, though, is speeding towards a wall with a steam-covered entry. You can see the entry is passable and it's only steam but your body is saying AAAAARRRGGGGHHH.

It twists, it turns, it makes me glad I haven't had breakfast. We go up, slowly, and then we plummet back to earth, upside down. Then, it's over.

I want to go again. I have a particularly goofy look on my face in the photos they show you as you exit.

Sadly, there's no time for a repeat, because the reason I'm here is to get a taste of what the Gold Coast will be like during the Lexmark Indy 300, when ultra fast American champ cars power around a street circuit in Surfers Paradise at insane speeds.

It is quite difficult to experience Indy without the racing, carnival or general atmosphere, but our host from Gold Coast Tourism seems to be trying to channel Enzo Ferrari himself through her own driving.

So we visit go-kart tracks, the Holden Performance Driving School (but only to drive a Barina), we're helicoptered in to see a round of the V8 supercar races, and of course we get to experience high-speed terror, courtesy of Superman.

We also taste the off-course activities: the fantastic restaurant Absynthe, a 4WD safari into the hinterland, cowboy shows, the casino, hot-air ballooning, whip cracking and, my favourite, the world's daftest monorail.

The Lexmark Indy 300 is on its way to being Australia's biggest motorsport event. Last year, more than 300,000 people came to see these methanol-powered cars as they reached top speeds of 300km/h, and to experience what the Gold Coast calls its Indy Carnival. This year it runs from October 19-22.

In the two months leading up to the race, seven bridges are erected, 2515 concrete barriers put in place, 11,500 grandstand seats arranged, 10km of debris fence put up and 140 corporate suites erected. Last year, those corporate guests guzzled 98,000 cans of beer and 5000 bottles of wine. As it's Australia, they also ate 35,000 prawns.

And a local team has a chance. Team Australia, with Aussie driver Will Power and Canadian veteran Alex Tagliani (who married an Australian Miss Indy beauty), is backed by developer Craig Gore and is putting all its efforts into winning Gold Coast.

Weehaaa. Aussie, aussie, aussie, oi, oi oi! It can't help but be exciting.

Let me share the experience of what it will be like. Imagine a scantily clad woman. She's young, good looking and she is dancing with hula-hoops, 20 of them.

Or, if you prefer, imagine a man. Say Argentinian. There's a bottle. He's in it. This is Tempo Rouge, the stage show at the Conrad Jupiters casino. It's an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular, complete with the hula girl, contortionist, African acrobats, Latin minstrels and a Vegas juggler.

Or get a sample of the adrenalin rush provided by those 300km/h champ cars, try go-kart racing in 9.5hp machines that just seem, well, dangerous. They can get to 60km/h - and if you are on the same course as a certain woman from the Gold Coast tourism outfit, watch out.

We also went by helicopter to the Queensland round of the V8 supercar races. Another round of the event is part of the Indy carnival, and it features various New Zealanders, such as the Team Kiwi cars.

The crowd is huge, barely room to walk anywhere. Lots of pretty young girls in skimpy dress promoting numerous products and gormless men wanting to have photos taken with them. Other than racing, selling merchandise is the big activity - some of the teams take millions annually from just selling jackets.

The cars scream past so close they almost touch. I'm standing on the final corner watching the lengthy duel for second and third place between Garth Tander (Holden) and James Courtney (Ford) during races two or three.

I'm in the minority rooting for Team Kiwi's Paul Radisich, who seemed to be doing okay till I realise that all the other teams have had a pitstop already and his is coming up. He finishes 14th, but in such tight racing that still means he is only 14 seconds behind winner Mark Scaife.

We miss race three so the helicopter can get back to base and we can take a whirl along the coast looking towards land and the incredible sight of a city built on sand next to a surf beach. And, anyway, we have a dinner to go to. A rather special one.

Absynthe is situated at the base of Q1, the world's highest residential tower, from the viewing tower of which you can hear Gold Coasters saying "You can see our house from here, cobber" as they swill their Fosters and sweet white wine.

The owners of Absynthe, Meyjitte and Debbie Boughenout, were happily ensconced in their award-winning restaurant Franklin Manor in Tasmania when the developers of Q1 came calling. Fine food on the Gold Coast? No way. It would never work.

They say they took some hefty persuading, but it has worked. Classically trained French chef Meyjitte (two Michelin stars) is a proponent of molecular gastronomy, or cooking food in the best way possible. If the meat has to be cooked at 97.5C for 12min 25sec to bring out the flavour, that's what they do.

The style of cooking was made famous by a restaurant near London called the Fat Duck and by El Bulli near Barcelona. My entree is a prawn ravioli (but with no pasta) filled with green cabbage and St Agur blue cheese with a seaweed broth. It's divine. The other entree option for our set menu is a pumpkin soup with a parmesan foam. It's amazing, but chef's orders are they won't tell me how it's made.

Next up is the perfect steak - char-grilled Angus beef with a potato puree and onion marmalade. There's no option how it's cooked. You get what you're given and I've never had a better steak. The meat is packed full of flavour and it can be cut with a fork. Honest, I did it.

Dessert is a creme brulee with prunes and vanilla icecream. All made on the premises, of course. The owners have also opened a bakery nearby.

What can I say to top that? Well, I could tell you about the world's daftest monorail. It goes one stop from Jupiter's Casino to a shopping mall. It takes all of 30 seconds and costs $2.

Basically it's an expensive way to cross a relatively busy road. Even the tourism authority people think it's naff. And the masses of unfortunate tourists who crowd on to it every day are heard to say in unison, "Is that it?" That's it, mate.

Checklist

Getting there
Pacific Blue has regular flights to the Gold Coast. See website link below or ring 0800 67 0000

Activities
Jupiters Casino is on the web (see link below) or you can ring on 0061 7 5592 8100

Karting in Paradise is also on the web (see link below) or 0061 7 3382 6000

Holden Performance Racing Centre is contactable via the web link below or info@performancedriving.com.au or 0061 7 5546 1366

Details of the Indy 300 are at the indy website (see link below) or 0061 7 5588 6800

Southern Cross 4WD Tours is on the web (see link below).

Eating out
Absynthe is at on the web or 0061 7 5504 5466

Further information
Gold Coast Tourism's website (see link below).

* Matt Martel was a guest of Gold Coast Tourism and flew Pacific Blue.

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