WHAT'S the world's fastest coaster like?
Well, you may ask. And I'm the guy to answer, since I recently stopped over in Abu Dhabi and dashed off to Ferrari World.
This, as you might know, is advertised as the biggest indoor theme park in the world.
Mind you, the only other indoor theme park I can think of is Wizzy World, where my six-year-old recently attended a birthday party among padded slippery dips and rooms filled with coloured balls.
More important than its size - we're back to Ferrari not Wizzy World here - is the fact that it's the site of the Formula Rossa roller-coaster. This will accelerate from zero to 100km/h in an astonishing two seconds flat and keep accelerating to an all-time coaster record of 240km/h. By then just 4.9 seconds have elapsed.
The 2.1-kilometre track is inspired, it is said, by Monza.
If that's not enough, the nearby G-Force ride straps you into a Ferrari seat and blasts you 62 metres into the air with 3.8 times the force of gravity.
I was only in Abu Dhabi for a day but what did I need … a couple of minutes for each?
Now, anyone could just turn up and describe the experience, humorously itemising exactly what they threw up before, during and afterwards. But I wanted to take this seriously, to enter the arena of fire fully versed in the history, the ethos, the very fabric of roller-coaster culture. A scholar of the artform, no less.
I followed roller-coaster history right back to Russia in the 1400s. Gravity-powered capsules were apparently first used for fun and leisure on specially built ice tracks outside St Petersburg, though with sleds below, rather than wheels.
In 1884, at New York's Coney Island, a device known as the Switch Back Railway opened for business. Though straight and pretty slow, the 180-metres-long, undulating carriage ride probably counts as the first modern-style roller-coaster.
The designer, the extravagantly named LaMarcus Adna Thompson, went on to build about 50 more across the US.
Other roller-coasters appeared too, Stateside and in Europe. From 1912 the "upstop" wheel was introduced, clamping the coaster cars to the tracks and allowing extreme to become far more so (though not more dangerous, as the locking safety bar for passengers soon followed).
Roller-coasters competed against each other for the severity of their ups and downs, their twists and turns and the silliness of their names (The Thriller, The Wildcat and, wait for it, California Screamin').
The technology to bank turns at 90 degrees arrived in the early 1970s. The Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm in California introduced the barrel roll in 1975. Its stomach-emptying qualities were replicated at Sea World, Queensland, in the early 1980s.
The Revolution (at California's Magic Mountain) gave roller-coastees the first full loop-the-loop in 1976.
Pre-Formula Rossa, the highest-speed roller-coaster was the Kingda Ka in Jackson, New Jersey with a claimed 206km/h.
The Ring Racer, slated to open later this year at the Nurburgring circuit in Germany, is designed to hit 217km/h, the makers claim. For the first year or so, though, the top speed will be 160km/h.
Laurels for the fastest accelerating go to the Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland in Japan: a claimed 0-172km/h in a dazzling 1.8 seconds.
But enough of the background, it was time to sample the coaster with the moster, at least in terms of outright speed.
The taxi skirted the Yas Marina formula one circuit, took a right and we were there at Ferrari World with its enormous atrium, its 86,000-square-metre floor space, its rows of speakers playing the sounds of high-performance engines, its authentic Ferrari road and race cars and its prominent sign:
"Due to our maintenance requirements, the following rides are unavailable: Formula Rossa and G-Force."
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