Tom Cruise, producer and star of Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, which opens on December 21, took a break from post-production work to accept an invitation to test drive the 850 bhp Red Bull Racing Formula One car around Southern California’s 2.5-mile Willow Springs circuit.

David Coulthard, a 13-time Grand Prix winner and former Red Bull Racing driver, served as Cruise’s instructor for the day with support from a 12-person crew, who flew in from the team’s base in the UK.

Before the event Coulthard said, “We’ve come to America to help promote Grand Prix racing coming back and it will be in Austin, Texas next year. We had the chance to bring the car here and to do some laps with Tom Cruise. Anyone who follows the movies will know that he’s got a lot of track experience and it was an opportunity for him really to just find out what a Formula One car can do.”

Cruise was a good student and impressed DC with his eagerness to listen. Coulthard’s advice was simple, “The only thing that’s different from normal performance cars is having the clutch on the wheel but it literally is just like a motorbike. Release the clutch gently like you would on a motorbike.”

When Cruise asked how much throttle to give it, DC told him to just “..cover the throttle. The idle of the engine is about 6000 rpm, so you literally need to just add a millimetre of throttle to move forwards.” Sounds easy eh?

After just a few laps Cruise was able to bury the throttle and reached a top speed of 181 mph (291 km/h) around the 2.5 (4km) mile circuit – just 4 mph off the top speed of his instructor.

DC said, “For someone who is so skilled in his main career he is able to take in information very quickly and then go and replay that on the racetrack. He’s been to a lot of tracks and done a lot of laps so he’s got the visual, he understands about how you take a car around a racetrack.”

At the end of the session Coulthard was full of praise for his illustrious student, “For the amount of laps he actually did it was remarkable how quickly he got up to speed. Yeah I’ve got no doubt and I’m not being kind here, I have no doubt that if he wanted to put some serious time in to driving most types of cars, you know with a few days of proper running, he could be running some really good times.”

Tom Cruise drives a Red Bull F1 car

It wasn’t all plain sailing though, at one point Cruise pushed a little too hard and left the circuit but still had time to make a humourous quip, “It’s not as good off-road as it is on the track.” The adrenaline fuelled actor had this to say after getting out of the car, “It’s so smooth that thing is unreal. I was just really getting a feel for the braking a little bit, I was like alright. That was so much fun.”

After his impressive turn behind the wheel, Cruise jumped into the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter with ace pilot Chuck Aaron for a few more thrills, performing loops and rolls above the circuit.

The Red Bull F1 car has been appearing across the U.S. recently to mark the stateside return of Formula 1 racing in 2012 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Images: Red Bull