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The fire that destroyed Weston-Super-Mare’s Grand Pier in July 2008 could have been the nail in the coffin for the southwest English seaside town. A historic landmark on the Bristol Channel since 1904, the pier had already survived a devastating fire in 1930 and was just starting to benefit from a £1 million refurbishment from new owners Kerry and Michelle Michael.
Now, exactly two years on, Weston-born Kerry Michael is poised to turn distress into success with the launch that many said would be impossible. This could be the story of a sympathetic restoration of an iconic building; a return to the traditional, comforting seaside attractions of a Victorian heyday. But Michael, a self-confessed ‘petrol head’ at heart and a former historic touring car racing driver is honouring the pier’s heritage while bringing the venue bang up-to-date with some of the most advanced interactive race car technology in the world.
Complementing more traditional rides such as a 12.5 metre-high Helter Skelter, a Ghost train, dodgems and 500 ‘fun and entertainment’ machines are an electric kart Go Kart track – the biggest of its type in the world at 300 metres – and one of the main attractions, a pair of Cruden Hexatech 3CTR interactive race car simulators. Netherlands-based Cruden is the world’s leading designer and manufacturer of interactive motion-based simulators. The company develops its simulators for the professional motorsport market where they are used by racing drivers and engineers at the highest levels for driver training, race car development and component testing. The Grand Pier is the company’s first attraction in the UK and follows a number of entertainment projects in theme parks, simulator centres and karting venues globally over the past few years. Significantly, it is also the first installation of its new Hexatech 3CTR (meaning it has three seats) since it debuted at the IAAPA Attractions Expo in November 2009.
“I defy any man not to get excited when they see the Cruden simulator in action. When I saw them I had to have them, ” says Michael, recounting the moment he first set eyes on the Hexatech in action. “Because they are so unique, we are confident the simulators will make a visit to Weston-Super-Mare Grand Pier a ‘must’ among those throughout the UK who want to get as close as possible to the experiences of their racing heroes.”
Three makes a crowd
The three-seater (3CTR) simulator is part of Cruden’s strategy to target the global attractions market into which it has already supplied a number of distinctive simulators globally. Offering full motion or six ‘degrees of freedom’, highly accurate force feedback and realistic g-force simulation, each simulator has three seats which allows for an interactive drive for the ‘lead’ guest and two passenger rides – all in one exhilarating experience. This concept, thought to be a first for the entertainment market, supports higher throughput and increased revenue and makes what can be quite a niche experience accessible to many more guests. “Drivers have the benefit of screaming back seat drivers and passengers will have the best view in the house, ” remarks Michael. “Plus, racing simulators make a great spectator sport. Not only are they fun to watch, but bystanders can observe the race via the large wraparound screens and really get involved. The crowd it draws is also great news for our nearby attractions.”
Pleasing everyone all of the time
So, Kerry Michael believes the Grand Pier’s new, racier offering will please the full mix of speed-seekers, young families and Weston’s older residents and holiday-makers who remember the place as it used to be. Anyone that can reach the pedals can have a go for around ten Grand Pier dollars (roughly £10 depending on fluctuations of Weston-Super-Mare Grand Pier’s exchange rate!). “The simulators are one of the Grand Pier’s major attractions and we expect them to be popular among the ‘arrive and drive’ tourist market as well as frequent visitor driving enthusiasts for whom we will be providing good off-peak price packages, ” explains Michael. (Pictured left: AGM Holdings chairman Kerry Michael (left) and Cruden commercial director Frank Kalff sit behind the wheel of one of two new Cruden Hexatech 3CTR racing simulators.)
Significantly, it will help the pier generate income from the lucrative corporate hospitality market, for which it is catering with conference and banqueting facilities such as function rooms for between 20 and 400 people. “Business people will appreciate the serious, professional credentials of the simulators. They can have their meeting and then hold team-building endurance races in sports cars or hold a Formula One competition for the fastest lap time. With three seats, they can even invite professional racing drivers to drive them or teach them how to do it properly. Followed by a traditional Victorian cream tea! To provide the most high tech equipment on the market gives us a competitive advantage.”
The simulators will offer guests races in Formula One, rally cross and sports cars on a variety of tracks, and even though the Grand Pier is completely under cover, drivers can even choose to race to race in the rain. Wannabe Lewis Hamiltons and Jenson Buttons can race against each other when the two systems are linked together.
Frank Kalff of Cruden insists that simulating reality can be far more appealing than a fantasy offering in the amusement setting, especially when you put the guest fully in charge. “Providing a genuine opportunity to step into the shoes of Michael Schumacher or Dario Franchitti as they do their day job carries a huge ‘wow factor’. The excitement is as much about getting access to industrial equipment normally kept behind closed doors as the reaction to the full motion and accurate force feedback felt during acceleration, braking and cornering.”
Cruden is able to modify its simulators for the attractions market to exact specifications, supplying open or closed cockpits, fitting car bodywork or mounting actual vehicles into a motion platform. Its software offers a broad 'pick and mix' range of options which include vehicle models, tracks and race cars, and various other upgrades, available throughout the long life of the simulator. In addition to realistic noises, smell and lighting can be added to create the desired ambience.
When the pier opens within the coming weeks, to the sound of revving engines and screeching tyres, the British public will give its verdict on the seaside holiday in the fast lane. It could be Weston-Super-Mare’s best opportunity yet to take pole position on the south coast.
By Claire Dumbreck, Director, Propel Technology Ltd.