It’s half past six in the morning, and we’re at Sydney Motorsport Park to take part in Anglo Racing Academy’s Formula Ford experience. The cold breeze brushes past your barely awoken body as you soak in the sunrise, partially concealed by thin wisps of cloud.
The excitement sets in as others keen to take part, just like us, arrive one by one. You can almost taste the anticipation in the air. Today is one of the few days a month Anglo Racing Academy hosts a Formula 1-style drive day in their Formula Ford open wheelers.
We’re parked outside the two South Circuit garages, where there’s a race-ready specimen of the type we’ll be driving, parked strategically next to a sign directing us to the registration office.
Nearby there’s a trailer emblazoned with the company’s logo. More excitement. Quick greetings and exchanges with other people will tell you there’s nothing but eagerness all round (and perhaps some nerves).
First, some administrative formalities; an online registration form and a run down of how the day will go, along with the obligatory wrist band so the crew knows exactly what components of the Anglo Racing Academy offerings we’ve signed up for.
In our case that was a 10-lap racer package (where you get to drive a Formula Ford full pelt around Sydney Motorsport Park), and some ride laps in the passenger seat of a 2-seater Formula Ford.
It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and a real taster for what driving an open wheeler is like. Sold as a combo for $599 – it can be had at Eastern Creek, or Wodonga TAFE Driver Training centre (aka Wodonga Race Track), which is just across the border in Victoria.
But back to the matter at hand, and a safety briefing, before things got a little more serious. It’s then you realise it’s quite hard to concentrate when you can see cars being prepped in the background, such is the anticipation for what we’re about to do.
After that we were ushered to the garages for race suits, boots and helmets. More excitement, and plenty of conversation between participants. It’s at this point you get your first taste of Sydney Motorsport Park’s South Circuit, in a two lap journey in a road car.
With a professional driver behind the wheel, this short session is all about track familiarisation, learning the undulations in the tarmac, and the nuances in the corners. Back in the pits, conversations continue.
The entire Anglo Racing Academy team were on-point and super friendly, encouraging everyone, and happy to answer literally any question we had. Soon enough, the air was filled with the sounds of the Formula Ford race cars.
It’s a spectacular noise, raspy but not overbearing, and almost like sound from an age past, but somehow quite familiar. The 1.6-litre (1600cc) 4-cylinder Kent engine designed in the late 1950s takes up the back half of the entire car.
This is an engine you’d normally find in cars such as the Ford Anglia or Cortina, which has been modernised and finely tuned for Formula Ford, outputting approximately 85kW of power to the rear wheels.
Because this advanced go-kart only weighs 410kg, it’s literally tipping the scales at about a quarter of your average road car. That makes it nimble and agile, excitable even, and probably closer to a rocket than your average four door sedan.
The cavity you sit in feels tiny. The space housing the pedals is miniscule, explaining the need for race boots. After some guidance from our race engineer, we’re buckled in with a four-point harness before the quick-release steering wheel is locked in.
A quick flick of the ignition switch before pressing the start button, and the Formula Ford roars to life. The helmet only stifles so much noise, but it’s the fact that you have your back up against the powerplant that invigorates you.
Keeping the Formula Ford on the track and away from walls was our primary objective, not making a fool of ourselves was secondary. Mental note; hitting a wall even at low speeds in an open-wheeler is the equivalent of a head on collision in a road car.
But by the time we hit the end of the pit exit and were on the track, the lack of confidence dissipated and adrenaline kicked in. Hitting about 140km/h, you remember you need to change gears.
It’s an all encompassing thing, where you’re too busy focusing on the apex of each corner and not losing the back end to pay too much attention to the speedo or tacho. We listened to the sound of the engine to judge shift times. There’s so much going on.
That said, it’s immense fun, and with the pedal to the metal, it is possible to thrust your way to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds and top out at 230km/h. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the mettle to test the latter for the sheer fear of an early grave.
The 10 laps that made up the first part of our Anglo Racing Academy event came to an end all too quickly, in an experience best described as surreal. There wasn’t much to say when we climbed out of the car, because we were speechless. Well, maybe just a few words:
“Holy cow! That was f$%king awesome.”
Before we were even done reeling from it all though, we remembered our morning wasn’t over as we were ushered into the passenger seat of a line-astern two seater for hot laps with multiple Formula Ford champ Lachlan Ward.
Strapped in, helmet visors down, and Lachlan fires up the beast. This purpose built ride vehicle is powered by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated Ford Duratec 4-cylinder engine making 208kW at the rear wheels and revving to 9,000rpm.
The engine right behind your spinal column isn’t what instils fear though. Lachlan himself will do that, with the car sideways before you’re even halfway through the first corner. He’ll maintain that pose until you’re halfway up the straight. In a nutshell, he’s crazy.
The entire experience is crazy good, even if you do wonder if your life is about to be over. Back in the pits, we stumble out of the car, trying to catch our breath, and yet grinning from ear to ear. You can’t not smile like a kid who just got away with eating all the lollies.
We stuck around to chat to the engineers some more and talk to the team from Anglo Racing Academy, who bring with them years of motorsport experience, and the blood, sweat and tears that goes along with that.
If you’re into Formula 1, or any type of open-wheel racing for that matter, then both the drive program and ride experience are not to be missed. Multiple reasonably-priced packages are available, starting from $219 (as a passenger).
Drive laps kick off at $299 and there’s opportunities for corporate events and gift packs. More advanced packages are available too, with a regular Academy event held at Wakefield Park in Goulburn.
It’s an unforgettable experience that’s affordable, as well as being unique enough that you could do it multiple times. Nothing should stop a car enthusiast from experiencing what Anglo Racing Academy has on offer. Check them out and thank us later.
To find out more, you can call them during business hours on 02 9677 9003 or 0466 260 542. Alternatively, you can visit angloracingacademy.com.au
Pictures courtesy of J_Hui Design / Photography.