Last weekend I attended an Imagine Lifestyles Supercar Experience event at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. I drove two Ferraris and this is what it was all about...

First, some background- Last Christmas my wife, who is awesome, came across a special via Living Social for to drive a Supercar on a racetrack with Imagine Lifestyles. That event was held at NJ Motorsports Park. I piloted a F430 Spyder, the downside was when I arrived, the track was wet from a recent rainstorm. I was told that the Ferrari spins easily and to “avoid the puddles.” I took this advice seriously. Not wanting to become another “Ferrari Flambe” statistic, I went pretty easy in the turns. Although, I did manage to get a little squirly in turn 6, but remembered to gently ease off the throttle, make a small steering correction and everything was fine. On the front-straight I was told to floor it and got the car to about 120.

I was so addicted I had to do this again.

I told my wife this year all I want for Christmas is another crack at the Ferrari. This time, however, Imagine Lifestyles was not holding the event at NJMP but rather setting up an autocross course at the Wells Fargo Center. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t going to be on a “real” racetrack. I had some theories as to why they chose to switch the venue -1). I imagine it is much cheaper for them to rent out an unused parking lot for the day and 2). Last year, apparently some dude switched the Ferrari into manual mode mid course, shifted the car mid-turn, upset the balance and spun the Ferrari. My guess is they did not want to take this chance again with their very expensive supercars, so a more controlled environment was in order.

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I purchased 3 laps for $198 and through my car-buying consulting business managed to land some referrals via friends and clients which got me a credit for 3 more laps (normally $99).

My appointment was for 11 and I arrived about 10:30, at check in I had to buy the mandatory “track insurance.” I purchased the minimum at $49, which covers me for about 5 grand in damages. There are other insurance packages but I didn't really pay attention to the price. I was pretty determined not to crash the car so I didn't worry about it.

I was told that one of the Ferraris was down so I may have to wait a little longer, they offered me to switch to a Lamborghini. I decided to wait (nothing against the Gallardo, it’s just not my thing). When it was my time to go, a sliver F430 Scuderia pulled up, I was really excited to drive the Scuderia. Then they told me that the car was going in for fuel, and I would be driving the 430 Spyder. I asked what kind of mileage they were getting today...the guy held 3 fingers up. That’s right 3mpg.

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I’m going to get a few things out of the way, that disappoint some folks. First, you are not in the car alone. There is an instructor with you that guides you through the track, the reasons for this are obvious. Second, you cannot shift, keep in mind these events are for all kinds of people not just hard-core gearheads. I was shocked at the amount of folks at the NJMP event last year who didn’t have a clue about cars. I overheard conversations like “Oh yeah, the R8 is faster than the Lambo because Iron Man drove it.” and “The SLS AMG has like 800 horsepower!” I got over the non-shifting thing because you are in the car for such a short period of time and are so focused on making the most of the track, it would be one more thing to think about and would most likely slow you down.

The F430 Spyder- The instructor says “We are going to take it easy in the turns and really open it up on the straights.” He was a young guy, very excited. He would call out turns left and right, tell me when to brake and tell me when to step on it. Everytime, I let it loose he would yell, “Yeah Ferrari!” Which, I thought was kind of strange but maybe this was his way of making the experience more memorable for those non gearheads I spoke about. On the second lap, I started to get the hang of it and was able to exit the turns a bit faster, I punched it on the front straight looked quickly at the speedo, I was going about 85. Then it was on the brakes and around again.

If you purchase more laps they are not consecutive, so you have to get back in line. The good news is you can drive two different cars if you want. They asked if I wanted to try the Gallardo, I told them I really wanted to get into the Scuderia.

F430 Scuderia- The first thing you notice is how massive the brakes are. On the Spyder the front rotors have about 5-6 inches of clearance to the top of the rim. The Scuderia’s brakes fill up the whole wheel. Getting in, the next thing you notice is the lack of anything resembling a “fine crafted” interior, the seats are manually adjusted, all the dials are plasticy, and you can see the welds were they connected pieces of the car. And all of this is amazing! Also very apparent is the lack of sound-deadening material because that V8 sitting behind your shoulders is growling like a circus tiger who hasn't had a meal in some time.

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My instructor in the Scuderia was an older-gentleman that I got to chat with a before getting into the car. He has been racing for some time and is very active in LeMons and ChumpCar. He says to me “I saw your last two laps in the Spyder, it seems like you know what you are doing (I think he was pulling my leg, but it was nice to hear). I’m going to show you how to make the most out of this car."

"Are you familiar with the phrase ‘smooth is fast’?”

-“Yes sir," I said.”

"....O.k. lets go." I tipped-in the throttle, added a bit more rumble and we were off.

He told me to take turn 1 a bit wider than most were doing and to let the car’s momentum glide across the turn to set up for the first mini straight. He said to to just lift the throttle gently for the first chicane, go wide then brake deep into the next turn. The instructor even gave me a few pointers on shuffle-hand steering. I was really glad I got to “warm up” with the Spyder because now I could increase my corner speed. There were a few times when I heard the tires start to squeal a bit. Even still, I probably was driving this car at 6/10ths at best. I can’t stress enough how amazing the sound is from that flat-crank V8 screaming behind you; yhat alone is worth the price of admission. By the third lap, I was starting to get a nice rhythm. His tips were so good that we caught up to the Lambo that started a half-lap ahead of us, and we had to back off a little. The instructor says “Wow, you really got this. Your pace is not far from mine when I really push this car.” (Again, I have a feeling he was just saying that to make me feel better, but I won't complain about an ego boost.)

And then it was all over....They never told me my lap time, but I can tell you Fernando Alonso’s job is very safe.

Despite the fact that it would have taken me many more hours and a lot more training to fully understand the capabilities of these cars, it was a truly amazing experience. I would like to say the extra laps are worth the money, but I didn't pay for them. This is a super-cool gift for: birthday, anniversary, holidays, or just to buy for yourself. For those of us that don’t have the dough to have a Ferrari or Lamborghini of our own, this is great way to cross that off the bucket-list.

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For more info you can go to ImagineLifestyles.com. There is also another group called ExoticDriving.com that I plan on using next year for a date with Godzilla. If you know of any more supercar events or something similar please post them in the comments below.

(Photos courtesy of Mrs. Automatch who was confined to the "spectator" area and nice enough to tolerate the heat, snap some shots, and take care of our 10 month old at the same time)