I'd never realised I could hold my breath for so long. Thankfully, in a Porsche 911 race car it takes no time at all to complete a lap of a world-class racing circuit at 230km/h.
I’m no petrol head, but the anticipation alone as I climbed into the flame-retardant suit, boots and neck brace for my Fastlaps experience at Highlands Motorsports Park in Cromwell was enough to get my heart racing. My driver warned me that once our helmets were in place and the engine started he wouldn't be able to hear me – reassuring for someone who expected to scream like a child the whole way around!
I gave the kids an extra kiss before levering myself over the crossbar frame into the passenger seat of what appeared from the inside to be a shell of a vehicle…exposed chassis and grip bars.
Securely strapped in, we pulled gently away from Gasoline Alley to taxi to the start line, the six-cylinder 420 horsepower engine grunting wildly.
With a quick check from the control room and a thumbs-up to me, the driver floored it. Our Porsche sped from 0 to 100mph in 2.9 seconds and my heart just about leapt into my mouth. The grip bar proved its worth at the first bend and my knuckles must have turned white as we accelerated further at what felt like breakneck speed.
The paint on the walls at the bends left by those less experienced was reminder there were risks involved in this sport, but every time I snatched a glance at my super-calm driver, fighting the resistance from the steering wheel, he looked so in control he may as well have been out for a Sunday spin.
The Porsche swiftly negotiated the Bus Stop, modelled on the chicane at Spa-Francorchamps racetrack in Belgium, one of five features the facility’s owner, Tony Quinn, recreated from well-known circuits around the world.
Central Otago sped past in a blur. I’m not sure whether it was after we’d barrelled around the 220 degree bend or as we’d soared across the Suzuka-modelled over-bridge that I finally remembered to breathe.
Tempting though it was to close my eyes, I forced myself to keep them open, not wanting to miss a split second of this high-octane experience, with the heat, noise and squeal of tyres adding to the assault on the senses.
As we came to a halt and I loosened my grip on the bar, I was literally shaking with excitement. The uncontrollable beam on my face would have been the first thing noticeable to my family, who were waiting as I eased myself back out of the vehicle, wishing I could do it all over again.
Reported by Fiona Terry for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue