If you look up the word “fast” in a thesaurus, you’ll find Usain Bolt listed beneath it. No human on earth has ever run faster, but in Mexico City, the 100- and 200-meter world record holder finally met his match.
“It’s the first time in my life I’m comfortable saying something is faster than me,” Bolt conceded after a run in Formula E’s GENBETA car, a prototype based on the current GEN3 racing machine, with an increased battery power output of 400kW (up from 350kW in the GEN3) and softer Hankook tires.
Bolt sampled the machine ahead of the first free practice session at the season-opening Mexico City E-Prix, an opportunity that initially caught him by surprise.
“There’s no words to explain. For me, that was just the experience of a lifetime,” he said. “I never knew I was actually going to get to drive the car. I remember when they hit me up and said, ‘You need to get a suit made,’ I thought we were going to a dinner until I saw the measurements.”
A dinner table might have been a touch more comfortable, at least at first, with Bolt noting that he felt somewhat claustrophobic after he squeezed his 6 foot 5 inch frame into the compact single-seater.
“There’s no space; it was really close,” he said. “It was the first time I’ve ever been claustrophobic because it was so close, for me, the moment I got going, it was gone. I was just enjoying myself.”
Ahead of his run, Bolt received training from Formula E safety car driver Bruno Correia and 13-time grand prix winner David Coulthard, who was impressed by Bolt’s application.
“I was very impressed with Usain’s focus and desire to put in a strong performance,” the Scot said. “Put the world’s fastest man in this incredible race car and he was always going to push it to the limit. Once a champion, always a champion.”
Bolt, a noted gearhead, added, “I drive fast so I take notes of how people drive and I listen to commentators and stuff so I understand how to go into a corner, get out of a corner. It was a beautiful experience.”
While Bolt is no stranger to driving fast, a Formula E car isn’t a typical car – “It’s different,” as he appropriately put it.
“It’s like a rocket ship on wheels,” he said. “The power that I got, the surprise that I got, the launch and everything just gives a different feel and the adrenaline that you get from this is on another level, easily.
“I said this earlier to the camera and I said I wasn’t going to say it out loud again…I’ve never, ever said something is faster than me, but that car there was mind blowing.”
Aside from being merely a rare opportunity to drive a racing car on a track, Bolt pointed out the educational value of his run, explaining that it’ll give him a different appreciation for racing drivers from now on.
“For me now, I’ll look at racing a little bit differently,” he said. “I’ve always told people that you see people do sports and you go, as a regular person, ‘Ah, that’s easy.’ Only if you actually get in the position to actually experience it, you gain a lot more respect for the drivers and what they do.”
Expanding on the subject, he added, “You see on TV, on Twitter, on Instagram, when people play basketball, motorsport, every other sport, and you might mess up, they go, ‘Oh, I could’ve done that.’ You don’t know what they have to go through in that moment to get to that level, or the work they have to put in behind the scenes.
“I understand that because I’ve been there, but every time I experience a different sport, I still gain so much more respect because I know the work you have to put in. When you actually go in and feel the difference and feel what they have to go through and how tight the car is and how hard they have to brake, the speed they have to hold… The late braking is very impressive because you see the corner coming up and you think, ‘If I brake just a second earlier, the guy there is going to pass me.’ So for me, the respect and the love that I have for these motorsport people goes up high, trust me.”
When asked by RACER whether he could begin a second career as a professional racing driver, much like British cyclist Sir Chris Hoy (who competed at Le Mans in 2016 after two years in British GT and two years in the European Le Mans Series), Bolt didn’t rule it out.
“If they can fit me in a car, it is possible,” he said. “Listen, I’m very competitive, and the second lap I went around, I went faster. That’s why I wanted more laps — to get more confident so I could really push myself. You never know with me. I like to try doing things I enjoy and I really enjoyed this experience.”
Involvement in Formula E in a different capacity is also an option for Bolt, who, when asked if he’d be interested in investing in a team, said that, “After the experience that I had, anything is possible.
“It’s something I have to talk to my team about, but I’d love to be a part of it. I’d love to promote it because . I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Above all else, the Olympian just wants to get back behind the wheel of a Formula E car. After hitting 100kph in just 2.89s, despite a loss of traction — something he also experienced with a dramatic moment going into the first turn on his first lap – he’s certain he can do better if he gets given another run, or “three more tries,” as he put it.
“If they allowed me, I would drive all day,” he added. “I was that impressed and enjoyed it that much.”