Lewis Hamilton, a 31-year old from Stevenage, a sleepy town north of London, was number 15 on Forbes’ list of highest-paid athletes last year. He lives in Monaco now, when he’s not jetting to a different country each weekend to race for Mercedes’ Formula One team.
Hamilton recently signed a three-year, $140-million contract.
His rival, Fernando Alonso, is tied with Scarlett Johansson on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid celebrities. They both pull in $35.5 million per year.
Being a race car driver in 2016 is not like it was in 1965. Modern race cars are unrecognizable from their primitive ancestors. These are earth-bound fighter jets and can pull similar G-forces. The top drivers are celebrities with massive endorsement deals, crushing workout routines, and a playboy lifestyle unrivalled in professional sport.
If only someone had given us a chance to prove our natural talent, maybe we’d be in that penthouse overlooking Monaco’s harbour. Well, good news: it’s not too late.
The thing about racing, though, is that, possibly more than with any other sport, we all secretly think we might be good at it. We might play a mean game of golf on the weekends, but we drive every day, so the jump to professional driving shouldn’t be that hard, right? If only someone had given us a chance to prove our natural talent, maybe we’d be in that penthouse overlooking Monaco’s harbour. Well, good news: it’s not too late.
Racing schools offer the chance to feel like a Hamilton or Alonso for a day (or two, or a week). You get the thrill of a lifetime without having to worry about sponsorship deals or wrecking a $20-million race car. You get coddled in hospitality suites and tutelage from the top experts.
The Bridgestone Racing Academy at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park — a venue once home to the Canadian round of the F1 World Championship — is just such a place. After a recent big-budget revamp, the track, paddock, lounges, and surrounding facilities have been restored to their former glory, and beyond. Little wonder that for most sessions, the Academy is booked up playing host to big corporate events.
“At first it is frightening: so much to remember, so much to think of,” says Charles E. Atkinson, president of Hewlett-Packard Canada. He and his friends are making a tradition of racing each other every year at the Academy.
“Then you get your fireproof Nomex safety gear on — socks, suit, balaclava, gloves, shoes, and helmet — you slide into the seat, and it’s a holy fuck moment. They strap you into the safety harness. You’re now a part of this race car. Your pulse rockets.”
The cars the Academy uses are essentially downsized versions of Alonso’s: single-seat Formula One cars with sequential gearboxes and surfboard-sized wings. They generate serious downforce and pull real Gs.
“It is so physically demanding, yet emotionally satisfying,” says Atkinson. “There’s no room in your head for anything else other than what lies ahead.”
You get to feel the adrenalin that comes with braking at the last possible second, feeling the G-force suck your eyeballs forward, and the satisfying rush of acceleration after you’ve clipped the apex.
“It is a phenomenal way to build relationships at a different level with customers, partners, and friends; you see who they really are on-track and in the pits,” says Atkinson. “There are no suits and ties and pretension here. It’s survival of the fastest.”
The Bridgestone Racing Academy offers classes for absolute beginners, as well as speed demons looking to earn a racing license. And who knows, you might discover a hidden talent. Maybe you’ve got what it takes. You’ll never know unless you try.