THE THRILLS of driving at Goodwood are open to a whole new set of Stig wannabes, thanks to a unique Ferrari taking to the track, as Ellie Evans discovered.
The 355 F1 has been converted for use by disabled motorists, who can use their hands both to steer and control the acceleration of the flash red supercar around the circuit.
Mithril Racing, which has been based beside the famous track since 1983, is already the only company in the world to allow motoring enthusiasts to drive classic cars on a race circuit.
And now they’re offering a new first with their disabled-friendly Ferrari.
“As far as I am aware, this is a unique opportunity,” says director Chris Taylor, who favours a restored Chevy Corvette whenever he gets the chance.
The firm has offered corporate days out since it launched 20 years ago, before expanding its range and giving car-lovers a chance to drive their favourite vehicles on the circuit synonymous with Stirling Moss – and now disabled thrill-seekers can join them.
Chris said he got the idea after he was approached at the Festival of Speed by a man in a wheelchair who shared his love of fast cars and badly wanted to get behind the wheel of one.
“He said, ‘Just because I’m in one of these doesn’t mean I don’t want to drive one of those’,” he recalls. “He said there were lots of people ‘like him’, who may have been injured fighting in the forces or in a motorbike crash, but their love for speed ‘doesn’t just turn off’.”
Since then, several people have urged Chris to offer something for disabled drivers – so during the winter lull, the Mithril team got to work.
The Ferrari 355 F1 already had an automatic gear box fitted, and in the end it took just half an hour to install the push/pull speed control to the right of the steering wheel, and the turning handle on the wheel itself.
And Chris is delighted the conversion means a whole new branch for Mithril’s business, which already includes more than 20 cars ranging from classic motors to modern supercars, including a stunning blue Aston Martin DB4 which would make the least motor-loving heart beat a little faster.
“I think we’re the only company in the world to offer three kinds of car: classic cars, supercars and the racing cars, so we’ve got something to appeal to all sorts of people, from the Top Gear guys to the classic car enthusiast.
“The thing about Mithril is that people can do something which normally is just a fantasy,” he says of the firm’s ethos.
“Seeing one of those cars on the high street would be a stunning sight to so many people, not just petrolheads; it’s a glimpse of a lifestyle that only a few people are able to afford.
“Also it means you get to experience Goodwood from the other side of the barrier – many people have been here to watch Revival or the Festival of Speed, but with us they can get on the track.”
Mithril opened for 2013 last week and is now keen for disabled drivers to check out their new experience.
And having tried it for myself, I can confirm that three laps of the track was all it took to make a petrolhead out of me.
Fancy cars have never revved my engine but driving the Ferrari for myself changed all that – and will hopefully offer an incredible experience to all speed demons, able-bodied or otherwise.
GETTING BEHIND THE WHEEL
Having checked out the incredible cars owned by Mithril (and heard the price tags), my hands are clammy as I fumble to find the virtually-invisible handle.
These Ferraris are so streamlined! I briefly consider climbing in the window, Dukes of Hazzard-style, but manage to open it and fold myself in two to get behind the wheel.
We set off immediately, Mithril’s co-director Paul Mullen at my side reminding me to keep my feet on the floor, not hovering nervously near the brake pedal.
But it only takes moments to get used to the new way of driving, with my right hand pulling the paddle to go faster or pushing it to stop, while the left clutches a handle on the wheel which allows me to fully turn it.
It’s thrilling being so low to the ground and really feeling what this supercar’s capable of, though it takes me a lap to get my confidence.
Waiting at the start, our photographer Lou is impressed as I pull away rapidly for my second lap, though it’s not quite the burning of rubber I’d hoped for.
The 355 is described in Mithril’s brochure as ‘nimble and responsive, with a fabulous exhaust note’, which sounds more like an Antipodean red wine, but in reality seems to mean it’s a great choice for a first-time fast car driver: powerful, but without feeling out of control.
I find the automatic gear-changing a little unresponsive, so for my final lap, Paul lets me drive it as an F1 driver would, down to the paddle gears – and I’m off!
Having learned all about the apex of the bends, I’m hitting the sweet spots, accelerating out of the corners and through the chicane and, I realise, holding my breath until a light-headed moment reminds me to draw in some much-needed oxygen.
As a first-timer, this was a fantastic experience – and great to know it’s an experience which at last is open to everyone.
WHAT’S ON OFFER
While the Ferrari 355 offers a thrill for speed-loving wheelchair users, able-bodied drivers can get behind the wheel of a Ferrari 308 or a 360.
But if you’re hoping to be left shaken not stirred, there’s 007’s favourite (the car of choice for Die Another Day, as Bond fans will no doubt be aware) the Aston Martin Vanquish, the last of the hand-built Astons.
For those favouring some V-8 muscle, there is a Ford Mustang and a Dodge Viper, and classic car lovers can drive a Jaguar E-Type, or a Lotus Cortina.
Or you can strap in to a single-seater Formula Ford 2000 to check out the track from a unique perspective – and throw in a Mini adventure.
For more on Mithril, visit www.mithril.co.uk or call 01243 528815.