ADRENALIN / Lapping it up: Pedal to the metal, inches above the tarmac, the engine screaming in your ear . . . Joseph Gallivan drives Formula Ford

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The Independent Culture
Formula Ford is the first step on the ladder that leads to the packed spectator banks, promotional jumpsuits and fireballs of Formula One, and anyone with the money can take a spin around the Mallory Park circuit with Everyman Racing.

The cars look and feel racy enough - fibreglass bodies over a steel chassis - but the 1600 cc engines, taken from Mark II Cortinas, are comprehensible to the average driver. First stop is the hospitality hut to learn more about the 'lines' of the track. This is easy - you're meant to corner as close to the inside kerb as possible, and move to the left lane for the straights.

The next step is a spin round the track with the instructor in a Golf GTi. With each lap he accelerates until the little box on wheels is leaning uncomfortably, but the real effect is to heighten the anticipation. You've paid good money to steam around in a hatchback? Come off it.

Step Three: swop seats and drive the Golf yourself. Constant readjustment of the steering is not good - the art is to corner in one steady movement - so you aim for cones marking the apex and the end of the Gerrards, the famous Mallory bend which is so long (a third of a mile) you can accelerate throughout. The boards reading BRAKE and CHANGE may seem a little patronising at 40 mph, but come into their own later.

This being a typical British day out, there's plenty of waiting around. It would certainly be a popular present for the boy or girl racer in your life - the pits were full of people nursing babies and camcorders, and some had even come with their personal paparazzi team in tow.

Watching the vehicles scream past is the final incitement. After a video demonstration, you are given a crash helmet and proceed to the Formula Ford cars themselves. 'Get the pedal to the metal as soon as you can,' was Dave's advice, a young man still grinning half an hour after the event. Lowering oneself into the machine is rather like getting into a coffin. You are prone, mere inches above the tarmac, and with a clearer view of the fat front tyres than anything else. My right wing mirror was hanging by a thread, but this didn't matter because at 6,000 revs they vibrate so much they're useless anyway. The gear lever is on the right, a metal stump just like in the arcade games with the rod leading back to the transmission clearly visible. As the engine roared into life, I realised this was the adult equivalent of racing round the supermarket carpark in a shopping trolley.

The experience - five laps (plus pounds 5 per extra lap, so don't pretend you didn't see your number come up) - flashes by. The width gives the car extraordinary roadholding, even in the rain. You need it because the steering wheel is only about eight inches across; the chicane made of cones on the back straight was easily negotiated with two flicks of the wrists. The thrill comes as you shoot round Gerrards as fast as you dare. The glimpses of blue sky, green trees and grey spray flashing across the visor reminded me of the helmet-mounted camerawork as seen on Grandstand, but the rattling, shaking and sudden lane changes are no video trickery. Tuned up and well balanced, the engine gives 105 brake horsepower (0-60mph in 6 seconds, like a Porsche 911), as opposed to the 75 bhp it gave in the Cortina. You get a further impression of high speed from the engine screaming right behind your ears, but even flat out you barely top 120 mph, and most people peak at a blissful 85 mph.

In driving, as in life, you're sure to be stuck behind a couple of pensioners at least some of the time, so make sure you get your fast laps in at the beginning.

Everyman Racing (0455 841670), session 3-4 hours, cost pounds 95

(Photograph omitted)

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