And lived to tell about it. Seriously, after seeing umpteen photos of toasted Italian exotics on Jalopnik there was a small part of my psyche that thought I might have a front row seat to yet another crispified critter from Maranello or Sant'Agata. Well, glad to say it didn't happen and it was an incredible experience.
Random dude in the Ferrari.
As an early Father's Day gift, my amazing wife got me a voucher for a 5-lap High Performance Driving Experience from Circuit One (http://www.circuit-1.com) -a company that offers hot laps on road courses set up at race track/stadiums etc. Drivers currently have a choice of either a 360 Modena or AWD Lamborghini Gallardo coupe (in my case I paid extra to drive both) and can buy 2-7 laps around the course with a driving instructor in the right seat. Not being a huge fan of the Gallardo, I went with the Ferrari.
The extent of the driver briefing was one of the instructors' explaining turn apexes to the group and how you had to go slow to go fast. (this didn't make sense until I got out onto the track) He also explained what the racing line through a turn looked like and when to brake and accelerate. Now when it comes to high-performance driving I'm an admitted noob, and I don't think for one second that I'm the reincarnation of Ayrton Senna. The quick briefing ended when we were told to have a good time and that we could go as fast as we were comfortable with. I can see that statement coming back to bite them at some point.
Having second thoughts?
I climbed into the Ferrari, and had one of the track guys take the requisite photos of me in the car, and then belted in and started up. My instructor Ray was a great guy to ride with; very patient and relaxed. I wasn't sure what to expect and was a little concerned about overcooking one of the turns and pirouetting off the track, my squealing like a little girl being caught by the in-car camera. Both cars are paddle-shift autoboxes, and Ray said we'd use the automatic function to keep things simple. I wasn't going to argue with him, although the next time I go I wanna use the flappy shifter. Above all else Ray emphasized smoothness; in leaving the line, accelerating, and turning & braking.
Turbineguy in the 360.
The course was set up with a left dogleg after the start line with a chicane midway through the straight, until a 90 degree left hander meant getting on the brakes hard. Accelerating out of the turn there was a four-cone slalom set up before braking again for a 180 to reverse and run the slalom again. Next, a 90 degree right hander and back through the chicane and right dogleg which opened up to a high-speed straight allowing for serious velocity before braking hard for a sweeping right-hander back to the pit area. It took 2 or 3 laps to get comfortable with the course and remember where the turns are. As confidence grew so did the level of aggressiveness that I attacked the course with. By the 5th lap I was flying through the chicane and slalom, and matting the accelerator in the straight hitting 80mph before getting on the brakes hard for the right hand turn. (Course B)
Road courses at Thompson Speedway.
By the time I'd finished my 7 laps, I was thoroughly tweaked on adrenaline and needed another fix. I think this is probably common, so I suppose it was no surprise I walked back to the trailer to buy a few laps in the Lamborghini. I had to wait for maybe 20 minutes while the guys that were behind me got their turn, then I climbed into the Gallardo with the instructor and fired it up. The difference between the Ferrari and Lambo was like night and day. The Ferrari idled quietly with a nice burble, and didn't become intrusive until you got the engine up over 5000 rpms at which point it screamed like a banshee. In contrast the Gallardo's exhaust snarled and popped at idle, and full throttle sounded like hell breaking loose right behind you. Even with a power advantage over the 360, we were told the added weight of the Gallardo's AWD meant both cars were fairly evenly matched in performance. The Lamborghini accelerates brutally - there's no other way to describe it. Besides the sensation of being shoved back in the seat by 500hp, the V10's howling exhaust intensified the experience. (both windows were wide open) I got the distinct impression that this car wanted to kill me and wouldn't tolerate any stupidity.
Yours Truly in the Gallardo.
The car handled the turns similarly to the 360; it's not like I came anywhere near its potential but the most impressive part was its rolling acceleration. The car just lunged ahead and built up speed very quickly once the engine got into the fat part of its power curve. I have no idea where the engine was shifting at, being laser-focused on the course but I did bang off the limiter once or twice in the low gears so I'd guess it had to be near 8,000rpm.
All too soon the two laps were done, and we returned to the pit area and shut down. I just sat for a few moments taking it all in, listening to the exhaust pinging and hearing half of what Ray was saying about did I feel the back end get loose on the last straight or not? (I did) Bottom line, wringing out a supercar on a road course is probably the most fun you can have with your pants on. Thrashing somebody else's supercar on a road course just heightens the experience. Icing on the cake, as they say. I sure hope I don't have to wait until Father's Day next year to do this again.