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Living the Formula One dream

By CNN's Justin Armsden
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(CNN) -- Formula One star David Coulthard is an elite driver whose reflexes seem faster than a Venus Flytrap.

The Scotsman earns his living by driving at breathtaking speeds of more than 300 kph and has 13 Grand Prix races.

But on the day he is charged with showing me how it is done at Silverstone, the home of British Grand Prix, he cannot find where to put the ignition key to start the Lotus racer.

The moment is an icebreaker for me, quietly nervous about how I'll fare.

"I'm telling you, I haven't driven a normal car in years. Formula One cars don't have keys," Coulthard jokes.

With a little assistance from the Silverstone mechanic, he twists the key, the Lotus comes to life and the excitement begins.

Coulthard takes me on a few hot laps to explain the driving lines, braking and acceleration points.

As the tires warm up, Coulthard begins to have fun, and I am in awe of his ability.

We pull into the pits and it's my turn to take control of the wheel. I am itching to give it a go and the adrenalin pumps hard.

This wasn't in the script -- an amateur shouldn't be driving a professional around a racetrack, but Coulthard wants to test me.

I notice the PR woman for team Red Bull, the F1 team Coulthard races for, scrambling to check the insurance papers.

We leave her behind and set off.

It's a smooth beginning. The tires warm up after three laps and Coulthard encourages me to be more aggressive: "Faster into the turning point, brake later and accelerate earlier."

A nice idea in theory, but my inexperience gets the better of me and I spin from asphalt to grass and back to asphalt.

The PR lady grabs the checkered flag, waving it excitedly like she's overdosed on Red Bull.

Back at the pit, it's now time for me to go it alone in the single-seater.

The same driving principles as the Lotus apply, but this time with less comfort. This is a pure race machine -- a steel cage covered with a lightweight metal shell that looks like tin.

The gear stick sits waist height to my right and requires some getting used to, as well as a bit of muscle to shift it. Meanwhile, I'm also busy trying to remember just what it was Coulthard taught me.

Embarrassingly, I spin one, twice and yes, a few more times, but I seem to have impressed Coulthard enough that he promotes me up a class into the seat of a Formula Ford, the car class Brazilian Formula One triple world champion Ayrton Senna started his career with.

I have no idea how fast I'm traveling -- these cars don't have speedometers but it feels like 200 km/h because I'm sitting so low to the ground.

I've got more power and the car starts to get more responsive. I feel as if I only have to look at the corner and the car dives straight at it.

Coulthard challenges me to do laps in less than 49 seconds. Things are looking promising when I come in at 47 seconds. Perhaps Coulthard's right that I could be the next Senna?

But as confidence takes over, it all goes downhill. Coulthard's assessment? I drove every lap like it was my last and didn't bother warming into the process.

We both agreed that my career as a race driver might come in another life. At the very least, I am happy to walk away having lived the dream -- even if it was only for one day.


story.justin.jpg

David Coulthard, left, tries to find the ignition for the key, while CNN reporter looks and learns.

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