Va va voom: Muddy tries a revamped F1 racing experience
Let’s Race simulator experience just on the border at Horley has been around for a few years but it has just upgraded its facilities, meaning, among other things, it’s now a great bet for older kids’ parties, so I went along to have a look.
Here’s the science bit: It’s the UK’s only full-motion F1 simulation centre, while in golf booths, video analysis and pressure plate technology can help you analyse your swing with the help of on site golf pro Steve Furlonger. Having not played any golf that hasn’t involved windmills, I headed for the racing simulators, which are in a large room allowing lots of people to compete against each other.
The simulators bump about as you corner (particularly if you do it badly), and the three video screens in front of your steering wheel create a wrap-around effect. At the front of the room are big screens showing where everyone is on the track and ranking you with lap times.
It all feels a bit Mastermind when the lights dim and I got nervous when I heard some guys talking cornering tactics. It turned out this was the least of my worries. You sit so low down in the cars, just like the real thing, that it’s like trying to drive whilst lying in bed.
From my near horizontal position it took me quite a while to focus on where the track edges were – a case of ‘ahh I’m driving across something green, this must be the grass’. Once I’d spun off there was another problem – I couldn’t work out which way I’d been facing and it was only when I saw another virtual car hurtling towards me I sussed it out (and spotted the handy dashboard light saying ‘wrong way’). Smoke appears on screen as you skid, though I felt quite proud it didn’t get as far as virtual flames.
On subsequent laps I fared a bit better, albeit keeping at a ridiculously low speed to corner. The staff visit you every few minutes to check how you’re getting on and answer any questions or help you out of a pickle.
Just as I was getting the hang of it I hit a major snag. I get ridiculously travel sick (yes I know, I’m an adult, laugh it up), and I know simulators can be a problem but as I was actually driving myself it didn’t occur to me I’d start feeling all chucky-uppy, but I did.
The staff (who told me it’s not that uncommon – no, really) kindly turned off my car’s movement, then its side screens, but it was to no avail. I had to take my wobbly self out of the car and go and do some deep breathing sitting on the spectators’ grandstand, which at least allowed me to see how cool it looked with all the simulators on.
I lasted about five minutes in the car but the full experience can be up to an hour, by which time I reckon you’d be a regular Lewis Hamilton.
Up till now Let’s Race has been all about pretending you’re an F1 driver, but the Let’s Golf simulators with high definition versions of PGA courses are new. You actually whack a real ball into a soft screen that’s displaying a fairway and it turns into a virtual ball travelling off into the distance, which looks pretty cool – not something I’d ever thought I’d be thinking about golf.
The facility has also just added a posh burger bar, which is a bigger deal than it sounds because it means the site is now set up to handle parties. Blacks Burgers is run by a really friendly family, happy to adapt to your requirements, for instance working ice-cream sundae-making into party packages. It’s also worth knowing that if you’re local you can pick up a takeaway.
It’s a nice looking space too with a racing car and memorabilia and bright murals and MTV playing in the corner. The sweet potato fries with parmesan and various melty cheese nibbles got a big thumbs-up from me, though sadly I was too queasy to tuck into a post-race burger. Blacks Burgers has just had a vintage van delivered from the States and kitted out with a kitchen so you can also hire them for events off site.
I was impressed with how hi-tech the centre’s facilities are. They’re certainly a cut above your average simulator rides. It’s a good bet to give as a gift experience, including for golfers wanting to improve their game, and would earn you some serious parental brownie points for a teen party. The minimum height for the cars is 1.5 metres, which generally means over-11 or 12s but youngsters can have a go at the golf (they have short clubs and the simulator can be adapted so wild balls bounce back onto the fairway). If they’ve played on a Wii before they’ll probably thrash you.
Let’s Race & Let’s Golf, 59/61 Brighton Road, Horley RH6 7H. 01293 826800
Sessions start from £15. Party packages (with food and medal ceremony) for up to ten 11-15 year-olds cost £200.