It's a cold morning in London as I park my car a stone's throw from the scene of so much Team GB glory during the 2012 Olympics. The sun is yet to climb above the buildings around the redeveloped Olympic Park, and for now I'm regretting not bringing a coat.
The Race of Champions marketing team is busy setting up the lunch marquee and the special tent for a cutting-edge F1 simulator. It even has a proper F1-style cockpit for the driver. The reason for this is the trio of Formula 1 talent scheduled to make an appearance later.
Everyone's favourite Aussie Daniel Ricciardo, former McLaren and Red Bull driver David Coulthard and current Williams Development Driver Susie Wolff are all en route. BTCC pantomime villain Jason Plato is stopping by for a bit, too.
They're all due to put a few laps in on a skills driving course, which, conveniently for them, is a replica of the real one that's planned for the Race of Champions event on November 21-22. But let's let any competitive advantage slide, shall we? Coulthard himself tells me later that it's actually not much of a boost anyway. “Sure it isn't, Dave,” I reply (in my mind), as I tip him an (imaginary) sly wink.
In at the deep end
The best bit about today is that I get to have a go in an Ariel Atom. I've been watching stunt driving supremo Terry Grant attack the course for about an hour, and the car is barely going in a straight line for a heartbeat at a time. The state of the rear tyres is evidence enough of how brutal he's being with the go-pedal and the handbrake. I don't think they started out slick, but they're more or less that way now.
Once he's happy with the layout of the track and goes off to drive a Nissan Juke on two wheels for a bit - as you do - it's the media's turn. A hot lap with either Plato or Wolff, who turned up a short while ago, gets about a dozen worried-looking media up for the task. Fastest two times get another hot lap with either Ricciardo or Coulthard.
Sadly (for the spectacle, at least), we're denied cars with handbrakes. We have to take corners the boring and slow way – but at least we're less likely to do something the organisers will regret. I'm up first: the tyres are cold, but at least there's some tread on them.
Speed of sound
Strapped into the Atom's skeletal frame, my head is now lower than the bollards I've got to traverse. The track seems even less straightforward now, but the five red lights on my left are flicking on one by one, I hold the revs up and then drop the clutch as soon as the lights vanish.
The featherweight car howls off the line and around the first cone. The second is a horrible one – too tight without a handbrake to help. The following slalom is a bit of a mess as a result, but after that things go a lot smoother – if sideways counts as smooth.
Navigating the middle part of the course exactly as planned, with the engine raging behind my head, the inevitable happens: a big, irrepressible grin breaks out on my face. Just for a moment, though, because the required doughnut is next and again I'm rueing the lack of a handbrake.
I have to take a horrible, wi-i-i-i-ide line because I'm far too much of a chicken to try to kick the back end out with the clutch. Back on the power (I'm giving her all she's got, Captain!) and I'm back through the start/finish gate.
Sadly, my true finish time is lost in a haze of confusion over driver numbers and mixed-up lap orders. I still don't know my time. A 42-second belter wins it with a fine 44-second effort next. I hear rumours of a mystery 43-second lap that went unaccounted for, but it doesn't matter. Nothing is confirmed and I don't get the hot lap with the proper racers. Never mind.
What I do get is a sense of why these motorsport stars do this. It's massive, massive fun and you only get one shot at it. In Coulthard's words you either get it right or you get it wrong. Anything can happen. I reckon I'm not the only one who can't wait to see it.
The Race of Champions takes place at London's Olympic Park on November 21-22. Tickets start at £24 and can be sourced through ticketmaster.co.uk/roc