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Let’s Race – The Virtual F1 Experience

Written by Sam Skelding

We climb into the cockpit of a Formula One simulator and tear up a virtual Silverstone.

Formula One racing used to be the reserve of the exceptionally talented…or rich. Well, not anymore. At the Let’s Race centre in Horley, Surrey, anyone can experience the thrill of the racetrack from the comfort of the UK’s most sophisticated F1 simulator.

Taking advantage of the same software used by the professionals to practice their laps, Let’s Race provides a realistic driving experience by simulating the handling of a real life Formula One car. As the only full motion simulator in the UK, they are able to offer an immersive experience like no other. So, what can you expect on the day?

Safety first

Unsurprisingly, the experience begins with a safety briefing. After all, you’re about to get behind the wheel of a very powerful machine – even if it is bolted to the ground.

The lights dim, the screech of F1 cars fills the room and the friendly face of former racing driver Martin Brundle appears on the screen ahead. As he takes you through the basics of operating the vehicle (which mirror the real thing exactly) it quickly dawns on you that this is far from a game.

There won’t be any typical videogame cues to help you out; no arrows, maps or checkpoints. While the graphics are admittedly simplistic and fall a long way short of the latest consoles, the emphasis here is not on a pretty picture, but a physical reproduction of the F1 driving experience.

Practice makes perfect

Next, you’re led through a door and plunged into darkness. A red siren light flashes and rows of Formula One cars appear out of the inky blackness. Once you’re helped into your replica car, lying in an authentic, near horizontal position, the steering wheel is fixed in and you’re ready to go.

 Things become pretty competitive once you’re behind the wheel!

This is just a practice round affording you a chance to get used to the course and its various bends. But more importantly, you’ll get the chance to familiarise yourself with the handling  and at speeds of up to 200mph, it will take some getting used to! Be prepared to crash on more than one occasion…

Telemetry tells all

Now that you’ve been around the track a few times and started to find your stride, a technician will take you through the stats of your best lap to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses.

By comparing your best time with a model lap, you can learn a few tips to help your performance come the big race.

The race is on!

Back in the simulator, the drivers take their places as they prepare to face off against one another. The race is projected onto the far wall so that any spectators in the grandstand can follow the action.

The engines rev, the lights hit green and they’re off! But this time is different – you’ve gotten to grips with the handling and the course feels familiar. You take the corners like a pro, you’re thrown side to side as you deftly fly through the chicanes and hit the acceleration as you open up on the straights.

Finally the chequered flag flies, the engines die down and it’s all over. All that remains is for the winners to climb the podium and receive their trophies. Make sure to hold on tight, as you might find your hands are still trembling from the intensity of the torque. For fans of motorsport or those simply in search of fun-filled few hours, this is a must-visit. 

The family

While the main simulators require a minimum height of 15 metres, there is also plenty for kids aged seven and upwards to do. For those not quite tall enough for the main event, the GT zone offers a chance to race on a more traditional, static console. Other attractions include digital Scalextric and a Batak machine, which is designed to test your reactions and will have you punching luminous buttons for hours. 

Sessions start from as little as £5 for children and £15 for adults, including a basic practice run and 15 minutes of racing time. Head to letsrace.co.uk for more info. 

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