Putting Pedal to the Metal at Mondello

I am not a petrol head by any stretch of the imagination, but when an offer to take part in the Mondello Porsche Supercar Experience came into the newsroom I was intrigued.

I am not a petrol head by any stretch of the imagination, but when an offer to take part in the Mondello Porsche Supercar Experience came into the newsroom I was intrigued.

To drive a Porsche was always on my bucket list. To drive one around Mondello seemed like the icing on the cake.

So one Friday recently, instead of taking the usual route to work, I found myself on the road to the Mondello racetrack, outside Naas, for the time of my life.

I decided I would keep the best - aka the Porsche - for last, which meant enrolling first thing with eight others in the Mondello Race Experience.

Here we met Roger, who kitted us out nicely with our fire proof jump suits, before delivering a detailed and sobering safety instruction on the merits of staying alive while on the track.

“When the flag drops, the bullsh*t stops,” was his message - although he was preaching to the converted, I found myself letting the eager beavers go first.

I hung back for the second group which consisted of two DJs, who seemed equally as nervous as me, and an agricultural machinery wholesaler who had raced before and loved it.

“Just call me Senna”, I joked, as I was paired up with my instructor Mark.

He bravely sat beside me as I drove my first ever race car, namely a “race prepared Mazda 3”. His job was to help me with my race lines, driving technique and conquering something called the Apex (getting around the innermost part of the corner).

Then he let me off on my own, strapped into a 160bhp Formula Sheane single seater race car for timed laps of the track.

This was where it got hairy. Mark was gone, and my gear box was on the wrong side of the car.

There was a red button to be used in the case of an emergency that would “drown both me and the car if there was a fire” and I was no longer watching Top Gear from the comfort of my sofa, but taking part in Top Gear instead.

And it was a whole different ball game. So I did what all self respecting first time racers do - I took off at high speed in a haze of beginner’s luck until it was time to go up a gear and I panicked, revved, stalled, revved again and stopped. Right in the middle of the race track. It was not my finest hour.

As a queue formed behind me, confused by my frantic arm movements to go around, I felt it was all over before it had even began.

A fellow racer kindly pulled up beside me and talked me round with a very quick pep talk so that I was off again for a few more laps until I saw a flag waving at me from the side line - my queue to pull in to the pit.

“Leave your helmet on, we have a surprise for you,” said Roger as I attempted to disembark the racemobile. The surprise involved a second go in the Mazda 3, only this time Mark was at the wheel.

Mark zoomed around the track at hair-raising speed until my stomach was no longer trustworthy and I called time out.

Then after some fresh air and a spot of lunch, I volunteered for the Mondello 4x4 Experience.

My instructor Jimmy, from London, put me behind the wheel of a specially modified Land Rover over rugged terrain.

There was water logged ground to cover, splashes, steep, steep drops, narrow bends, bridges and sideways turns and it was the best fun, even when Jimmy had to grab the wheel the odd time (ahem) to keep us on track.

“You should have seen your face - I wish I had my camera,” said Jimmy after we climbed a steep hill with a vertical drop.

“It gets them everytime,” he said laughing on the vertical descent. I am sure I screamed like a little girl. I may have even closed my eyes for a spilt second and braced myself for a sudden impact which never came.

“You’re a good driver,” said Jimmy. “You must be joking,” I replied, insisting that Jimmy had the dual control in full swing the whole time.

“There is no dual control on the Land Rover,” he said. A minor detail which I was glad I found out afterwards and not before I eagerly jumped in behind the wheel.

After this I felt I was now ready for the ‘The Porsche Supercar Experience’ around the Mondello Park National track.

The Experience, and I am not talking Jimmy Hendrix here - though he would be good to blast in the background - began behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5, to once more learn the lines and the circuit before taking the wheel of a Porsche 911 or Boxter S (in my case) for some high speed fun in a car with no speed limits.

Let’s just say, I came into my own finally at the end of the day with a speed of 92mph thanks to a lot of encouragement from my instructor to ‘floor it’.

And that is just what I did- I hit the pedal to the metal and it was pretty amazing.

- Paula Campbell