300 km/h on a Sunday afternoon

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There are very few road cars that will allow you to clock 300 km/h and even fewer roads that could accommodate you.  I’ve been there.  But I hasten to add this was not on a public road, it was the Calder Raceway in Victoria, Australia, and the car was a Lola T430 Formula 5000 racing car.

This particular one was an ex-VDS (Count Van Der Straten) team car and was one of only three special order cars and was raced in Australia when F5000 was Australia’s premier open wheeled category.  With a 5 liter Chevrolet V8 in the rear of the car, the weight balance was not optimal.  In fact, the owner of this particular Lola described driving it as attempting to throw a sledgehammer handle first!

In their day they were as fast as the Formula 1 cars of the time and they are still spectacularly fast.  Former owners have found that things happen very quickly and you have to be both mentally and physically ready for that.

The engine started easily and a dab on the accelerator produces a very deep growl from the engine behind your head.  You know you have 550 bhp behind you.

The Hewland gearbox on a car like this has no synchromesh, and the ‘dog’ gears select with a clunk and have a rattle at idle – this is not dangerous but it is disconcerting at first.

The clutches on these race cars are not the soft pressure progressive clutches of a manual road car, and do tend to be in or out, so getting away from rest is a little tricky.  I was pleased I did not stall it.

Once trundling down the track you can begin to take stock of your surroundings and tentatively start driving this heavy beast with a little more throttle and some precision.  However, it isn’t easy.  At low speeds, the engine with the full race camshafts, is very “lumpy” and corners seem to be taken in a series of lunges.  This was not the way to drive a Formula car.

The answer was to begin to use more loud pedal and drive the car deeper into the corners.  By making the front tyres bite as you turn in under brakes, you could then feed in the power to control the rears and avoid too much oversteer.  With all the horsepower at your disposal, cornering is done by the right pedal, and corrections are done by the steering wheel!

One adjustment you have to make is for the acceleration of race cars like this.  Zero to 100 km/h comes up in less than three seconds.  You are no sooner out of one corner than to find the next one rushing up and it’s back on the brakes, turn in, throttle out, and then the next!  By the time you are half way through one corner, you are preparing yourself mentally for the next, and looking down the track for the braking marker.

Further exploration in the braking/cornering/accelerating out meant that I was coming on to the Calder Raceway straight at higher and higher speeds, allowing me to reach the magic 300 km/h before the braking area at the bottom.  You also get a feeling of elation, as you feel yourself winning the man/machine contest, but the danger is complacency!  There is a condition amongst older race drivers called the “Lola limp” after being caught out and ending up using their feet as front bumpers.  Before you ask, I do not limp.  But I have done 300 km/h on quite a few occasions!