A Friday morning drive in a Replica Cobra racecar
The Cobra racecar waits for the drivers to get in (Brent Jamieson/CTVNews.ca)
Published Wednesday, June 12, 2013 8:49AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 13, 2013 10:00AM EDT
With a deep rumble coming across the quiet late spring morning, the beasts awoke from their slumber.
Emerging from their trailer, the Replica AC Cobra racecars are cars at their purest form.
Coming in at just 2100 lbs, these kit cars are designed to go fast and handle the corners quickly. This past weekend, I had the opportunity for half a day to drive one around a race track.
The instructors of the program that I was participating in, all experienced racing drivers, offered instructions at the start of the day: how to fasten the harness properly, start the car, and stop the car. They also fitted you with a helmet for your session.
And if you didn’t know how to drive a standard, the instructors were more than willing to take you out onto the track, when it was empty, and teach you the joys of driving a standard.
We were given an in-class lesson on how to take the corners at speed, and that, especially on a damp track, slower is always better. Which seemed a bit backwards when you think about racing. But upon seeing the cars, it made sense.
The Cobra came with no mirrors, no power-steering, no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, no windshield, not even a speedometer.
All it has is a 5-speed manual transmission and the same 5.0 litre V8 engine you’d find in a Ford 5.0 Mustang – giving the lightweight racecar the ability to go 0 – 100km/h in just over 4 seconds.
And they didn’t start the same way you would start a regular car. On the “dash” there was a red switch, like a missile button you see in fighter jets, and that was your ignition switch. It was also your kill switch, for when you were done driving. You flipped that, and the fan started. The next step was to engage the clutch as hard as you could and push the start button.
With a roar of the V8 engine, I was ready to go. Now the only thing to do was to make sure I stayed on the track.
And without traction control, or any driver assists, the car relied solely on your own expertise. Thankfully, our first lapping session was a slow one that gave you the opportunity to not only learn the track, but to also get familiar with the cars while following the Chevrolet Impala pace-car.
And there was a lot to get familiar with. Because there was no power-steering, you had to keep the speed, or at least the momentum, up so that the car would turn, if you went too slow, you’d end up really wrenching the wheel to get it to go around a simple corner.
And without any braking assists, it was like driving a classic 60’s car, you had to rely on not only yourself but also the ability for the engine to slow itself down. All the while, making sure you aimed for the correct cones set out on the track, without hitting them.
Add all that to a damp track, and you end up with some tail happy Cobras.
But with the short-wheelbase, and the powerful engine, a simple release of the gas, brought the Cobra back in line.
As the morning progressed, the track started to dry out as other participants had the chance to go out, and for our second lapping session the instructor in the pace-car brought the speed up, and we would rotate the leader, through a signal from the pace-car, moving from front to the back of the pack.
This way the instructor in the pace-car could keep an eye on each of the participants, making sure that they had both hands on the wheel, that they were shifting properly and that they were taking the corners properly.
And by this, they mean between the cones – not around the cones.
I was leading the pack when I accidently went around the cones, rather than through the cones. Though, as one instructor said to me afterwards, that’s the one best mistake you could make on course.
Our third and final session was much like the second session, but at a lot faster speed. Because each driver was different, some would be slower than others. And the leader always set the pace.
With a drier track, the pace-car took off and kept a higher speed. By the time I got around, several of the cones had been knocked over by other participants as they tried to keep up to the pace-car. I also had the sense that I was going to get lapped, even without mirrors. Thankfully, because this was not a race, it was strongly frowned upon if you tried to pass someone, or tried to race.
The great thing about this is that everyone is there to have fun, and learn a few skills that they can take onto the road with them – making them a better driver.
Getting back into my own car, was a different experience all together – after spending a few hours behind the wheel of the racecar – having to get used to both a much more responsive clutch and power steering. But that’s a small price to pay in exchange for a fun way to spend a Friday morning.