Belfast Telegraph

Formula 1 ace Eddie Irvine races Telegraph reporter

By Adrian Rutherford

For someone more used to navigating the roads of rural Tyrone in a Ford Fiesta, lining up a Ferrari on the front row of one of Formula 1's most famous circuits was daunting.

And when you're up against one of the sport's top drivers, the challenge is even more intense.

Having raced against greats of the track such as Schumacher and Villeneuve, yesterday Eddie Irvine faced the slightly less intimidating prospect of myself.

The setting was the famous Spa Francorchamps circuit, venue for the Belgian Grand Prix – albeit the race was played out on a state-of-the-art simulator on a Bangor industrial estate.

Our duel was part of an event to launch Irvine's race school after his acquisition of the prestigious Race School Ireland. The school was the starting point for his successful racing career and the venture – Eddie Irvine's Race School Ireland – will offer professional coaching and mentoring to up and coming racing drivers seeking to break into motorsport.

Born in Newtownards, Irvine remains one of F1's most famous names, having competed in 148 races, winning four Grand Prix and 26 podium spots.

And while only a lucky few ever get the chance to experience the thrill of dashing around circuits at speeds of 200mph-plus, the centre offers the next best thing in the form of 20 racing simulators.

I was in the driving seat of a Ferrari at Spa – scene of numerous classic races such as Schumacher's epic 1995 battle with Damon Hill – while Irvine took control of a second Ferrari.

Within a moment it was lights out and our cars began hurtling to the first corner.

Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got for me.

A lack of control saw my car slide off the track, skid across the gravel trap and smash into the safety barrier. Once the dust had cleared, I caught a small flash of red in the distance as Irvine's Ferrari sped away.

That was (almost) the last I saw of him – apart from a few minutes later when the familiar bright red appeared in my rear view mirror, and then in front – as I was lapped.

The race was over as a contest long before the chequered flag put me out of my misery and Irvine out of his boredom.

Irvine – who revealed he no longer watches the sport, which he feels has become too driven by money – said he hoped a future F1 star would emerge from his racing school.

"A lot of guys start in karting, but if you don't start that way the school is the right way," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"A lot of guys start from four or five years of age, so they are very experienced by the time they get to 16, 17 or 18.

"To succeed you need to be good at it but also very confident, both inside and outside a car."

It won't be me, however, as yesterday proved.

Speeding around in a Ferrari is not for me.

Give me my Fiesta any day.

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