Belgium’s Didier Theys never quite made it to Formula 1, but after a decent career in European Formula 3 and Formula 2, he headed off to the United States where he won the SuperVee and American Racing Series titles in the late 1980s, before spending nearly 10 years racing Indycars, while also creating a formidable record of success in sportscars, including two victories in the Daytona 24 Hours, a win at the Sebring 12 Hours, plus a GrandAm title, a third place at Le Mans and victory in the Spa 24 Hours in touring cars. Today Didier lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and spends his time running programmes that give car enthusiasts the chance to drive a variety of supercars at different venues. His latest project is an F1 Ride & Drive experience which will take place at the Thermal Club in California on November 23, featuring a rather bizarre F1 car called the F1x3, which is a 2003 Jordan (which Giancarlo Fisichella drove to victory at the Brazilian GP) which was later modified to have three seats, giving fans the chance to take a ride in an F1 car. Theys works in league with one-time F1 test driver Laurent Redon who has been running similar programmes in Europe since 2003 and has a fleet of old F1 cars at his base at Magny Cours. Redon provides cars for the Lotus iRace programme, which has links with the F1 team itself.
There is a similar business being run out of the Circuit du Luc in Provence, under the name of the old AGS F1 team. This was recently sold to beer baron Patrick d’Aubreby, the owner of the Croix en Ternois circuit, and is in the process of being revamped.
But if you scout around on the web you can find no end of F1 experiences, although one needs to be a little careful with all the “F1-style” cars that are advertised.
Having said that, you can get to drive real old F1 cars ranging from old Larrousses, Jordans, Arrows, Benettons and Prosts in various places from South Africa to Wigan, by way of Estonia. Probably the most bizarre is the Forti Corse F1 experience, which allows you to drive a 1996 Forti Corse F1 car around the Three Sisters racing circuit near Wigan in Lancashire.
There are also some F1 cars that never were F1 cars, built by the AGS operation simply for use in the Driving Experience programmes
At the same time, former Williams F1 engineer Nicolas Perrin, who set up his own business in 2010, is in the process of of designing a Formula 1 car that will be available as an online open-source platform, available to be downloaded so that the design can be built for use as test cars for young drivers, for engine development programmes, or for enterprising F1 experience entrepreneurs.