I sit and take in my surroundings. There's a carbon fibre wheel and dash front of me that looks like someone's covered it with glue and chucked a bag of Skittles at. Bright buttons litter the dark cabin which cover everything from pit lane speed to engine, throttle, T/C map adjustment - none of which I'll be touching.
My helmet's full of my own breathing, partly the result of hauling myself across the sill, through the cage and into the deep Sparco bucket seat. Then there's the indignity of having a mechanic rummage around my nethers to locate seatbelts. They're adjusted for my gentlemanly frame and I'm belted in tightly. Real racing drivers make getting in these things look so damn easy.
I'm no racing driver. I've driven a lot of cars, a few racing ones and stood on a podium once. I'm not talking Daytona Milton Keynes, either. Yet here I am sitting in the Honda NSX GT3 car that was last used at Spa. Its manufacturer has been mad/brave enough to invite me to drive it, so I packed my Nomex, grabbed my helmet bag and jumped on a plane to Italy.
Why not Japan? Because Honda has JAS Motorsport build its race cars, the NSX being produced outside Milan alongside the Civic TCR. JAS has been doing it for years, the innocuous looking unit on the outskirts of town filled with some pretty special touring cars wearing the names of some equally impressive drivers. JAS is busy building the TCR Civics for the booming, cost-effective tin-top racing series, as well as the NSX GT3. The GT3 is built in smaller, though still significant numbers - enough to keep the team here working around the clock.
Engineering Director, Stefano Fini, talks me through a NSX GT3 in mid-build. To the naked aluminium structure JAS TIG weld in a 25CrMo roll cage, the jacking system and add a steel roof structure - with an extraction hatch. Unlike the road car there's no hybrid system; FIA rules don't allow it. The NSX GT3 makes do, then, with a revised version of the 3,501cc cast aluminium twin-turbo V6 engine driving the rear wheels only. That V6 delivers plenty of power, ultimately producing whatever the FIA's BOP (Balance Of Performance) permits it to - so anywhere from 500-600hp.
Not a huge number these days, but enough when there's 1,240kg, slick tyres and proper aero pushing it into the track. Not Spa today, thankfully, but Circuito Tazio Nuvolari. There's 2.8km of twisting tarmac here, with every type of corner to test the car over ten laps. There's a lengthy straight before a long left hander, which will check my bottle on the brakes. I was sensible enough to phone a friend a few days before, who genuinely does have racing driver on his CV, and his advice was simple: 'stand on the brakes, and let the aero do its work.'
Easy enough for him to say, his numerous podiums include one at Le Mans. I've his advice ringing around my head, and thankfully I'll not be alone in the GT3. Honda is brave, but not stupid, so one-time F1, Le Mans and Champ Car racer and current Honda WTCR driver, Tiago Monteiro is alongside me. As a professional, proper racing driver Monteiro might usually share a GT3 drive with a paying 'gentleman' (or woman) driver, but, unlike today, he wouldn't usually sit alongside them.
For someone who's just jumped into the wrong side of a GT3 car, with a driver he knows nothing about Monteiro seems ridiculously chipper and at ease. That and he makes getting in look it's the easiest thing in the world. He takes me through the controls (the ones I'll need, at least) and reminds me there's no clutch pedal, it being operated automatically when you pull away, after which the six-speed sequential 'box doesn't need it.
I'm glad of it, as previous experience with racing cars suggests one of the trickiest things is getting them moving without the initial, always embarrassing, stall. The NSX electronic clutch does its thing though, and sends us chuntering down the pitlane. It's noisy, not as noisy as the TCR Civic I had a few sighting laps in, and indeed Monteiro goes as far to say the GT3 is 'quiet and comfortable'. Given its remit, which spans anything from races of 2hrs, right through to 24hr races, that's understandable.
Comfortable is not a bad thing; Monteiro says it's 'easy', too. That's something Fini reiterated the day before, the NSX GT3 designed, like most of its GT3 rivals, to suit the deep-pocketed 'gentleman' amateur racers who buy them, pay for a team to run it and hire a quick, professional partner as a teammate to set the pace.
That's 'easy', in relative terms, mind - this is still a serious racing car, producing proper downforce, big performance and ridiculous stopping power. Even if you've got the circa €500,000 required for the car and spares package burning a hole in your offshore account, you might want to have done a bit of racing before you take the plunge. Not least because your similarly minted mates will have done so, and nobody wants to be at the back of the grid.
The track is tight, though after a morning driving it in everything from that TCR Civic to its Type R relative and a road NSX, it's relatively familiar. The GT3 shrinks it, the combination of performance, in-corner speed and braking making it feel like a kart track. There are a few first and second gear corners, and straights that felt long in the Civic are shortened by the speed of the NSX, but then lengthened again by its ability to brake later and deeper into the ensuing apex.
It's always the brakes that shock, of course, and it taking a few laps of tentatively pushing at the pedal before committing to a more authoritative stand, before a full on stamp. It's like doing an emergency stop every time your foot hits it, and is breathtaking in its powers of retardation. Each lap the main pit straight gets longer, as I brake later and harder approaching the long right hander following it, carrying more speed into the bend, through it and out of it.
If you're used to driving road cars, even supercars, this is where the serious re-calibration is required. The straight-line speed isn't so shocking, the acceleration being quick rather than brutal. The immediacy of its response is greater, as are all the controls, but not so much as to feel alien. The gearbox is more brutal, and there's the overall physicality of the car; you feel its stiffness and its more focussed remit, and endlessly hear it.
But it's in the bends and the braking zones, where ever the very best road cars would running out of ideas, that a GT3 car is just getting going. The turn-in is resolute, you can feel the masses of grip generated not just by splitters on the body helping push the tyres into the track surface.
The brakes just get better and better the more punishment you give them. It requires real commitment, and, despite Monteiro's assertion that it's easy, it requires a fair bit of physical effort, too. There's huge reward for that, and as the speed builds, it generates its own kind of rhythm - and with it, yes, a degree of comfort.
That's alone on the track, mind you; the idea of doing this with 20 or 30 other cars of equal performance trying to get by, or you trying to get by them is another story altogether. Throw in some dark over 24 hours and the intensity must be off the scale.
Not that I'll ever likely know, even if Monteiro enthusiastically says I did a good job on the ten or so laps I drove. On this occasion I know who's being the gentleman, given the amount of time it would take to really get up to speed. I'm not prone to envy, but to have pockets deep enough to do this in your spare time must be fantastic. And, who knows, after a few years of doing so you might be able to get in and out of it convincingly, if never as professionally as a proper racing driver. I can but dream.