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Last night I was lucky enough to tag along to the Vodafone VIP event at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, in order to cover the event for our Social Media channels (Facebook, Twitter and our Vodafone eForum!) Here's my lowdown on the event and some of the great things you can experience through Vodafone VIP.
After having entered the competition at just a click of a button, 300 winners were randomly selected and offered the chance to visit the McLaren Technology Centre along with a guest each. They'd get to tour the building, see some classic cars and even meet a special guest star!
At around 17:30 yesterday evening, we arrived at the MTC along with the hundreds of guests. Everyone was presented with a lanyard on entry with a map of the building so they knew where they could go. Every lanyard also had a little window which contained a piece of a race suit worn by Lewis or Jenson at a previous race, a great memento of the day.
Areas guests could visit were:
As we entered the building, it seemed strange that such a modern structure could have such a historical feel. The Boulevard which stretches across the front of the building was littered with winning vehicles, from Lewis' 2008 Driver's World Championship car and the late 90s vehicles driven by Mika Hakkinen, right back to the Prost and Senna era cars and even a bizarre looking Pan Am Series car driven by Denny Hulme before McLaren ventured into Formula One as a team.
My personal favourite had to be the Mclaren F1 LM, which was sat behind a protective glass screen not far from the entrance.
Pit Stop Challenge
Next on the tour was the Pit Stop Challenge. This gave the guests the opportunity to get together in a team of three and simulate the tyre change of an F1 pit stop. McLaren's experts were on hand to teach them how to use the air gun, and after a few practice runs, each team was timed, with the fastest having the opportunity to meet the guest star later on.
Formula One Workshop
The ultimate experience of the evening for the true F1 fanatics, the guests were actually allowed to enter the workshops where components are fabricated and cars assembled. I was really amazed that there were people working away at 7pm on a Friday night a week after the season had finished and months before the new one starts, but I guess that's testament to how much they'd like the championship back next year!
As the guests wandered freely around the shops, McLaren engineers were on hand to explain the technology behind the F1 cars in as much detail as anyone could ask for. Particularly interesting was a demonstration of how different the mid-1980s chassis is compared to a present day one.
As we were leaving the assembly workshop, we suddenly realised that we were stood right where one of our adverts was filmed just a few months ago with Jenson and Lewis. If you haven't seen it, go and take a look as it's hilarious (view here).
The next stop on the tour was the wind tunnel, the area where all of the aerodynamic properties of the cars are developed and tested. It's a real treat to be able to see something as top secret as an area like this, but the VIP winners could head straight in there! Unfortunately, given the top secret nature, we couldn't film in there and so we headed onto the rest of the tour to get more photos and footage to bring back to you. I'm definitely hoping to get in there on a future visit though.
Unlike other F1 teams, McLaren has a policy of keeping its drivers' winning trophies as well as the constructor trophies. This means they've amassed an amazing collection over the years, which could be seen in polished glory at the far end of the boulevard. What a great way to see what a successful team they've been over the years.
McLaren had laid on a fantastic spread for our VIP guests, so they wouldn't go hungry during the evening's events. Unfortunately, me and Gary were so busy photographing and filming that we didn't have a chance to sample anything on offer! Oh well...
Lewis' arrival on the Boulevard
Just after 19:00, the guests were guided back to the boulevard from the rest of the building, to witness the arrival of former World Champion Lewis Hamilton. He arrived in true style, driving the stunning Mercedes Benz SLR Stirling Moss around the lake which sits next to the MTC before driving right through the front doors to great applause from the crowd. Lewis went on to complete an interview with the event's MC, before selecting guests at random from the crowd to field questions. A raffle was then drawn to decide which lucky guests would get to head upstairs to the marketing suite to meet Lewis personally a little later on.
Other than the obligatory photo opps and autographs, the last job for Lewis in front of the crowd was announcing the winner of the Pit Stop Challenge. The winning team managed a staggering 3.26 seconds to change the wheel, when apparently the average for McLaren in a grands prix is 3.6 seconds! Unsurprisingly Lewis seemed rather interested in acquiring the services of the three winners for next season! The winners picked up a McLaren goodie bag for their efforts.
To summarise the whole event, we grabbed a couple of interviews with some of our lucky winners. Here's what they had to say about the VIP experience as well as some great snippets of action from throughout the evening: