In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same track where Vinny Chase and boys drove those Ferraris around in Entourage and no, it wasn’t as cool because I probably didn’t go as fast and had an instructor next to me the entire time. But no matter, I was in the driver’s seat of one of my must-drive-before-death cars – the Ferrari 430 Scuderia – and about to blast it around Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s road course. Oh, let me mention that this was all happening at around 9am after a night of heavy gambling and drinking – or was it the other way around? Either way, too early to be doing this. I was paired up with instructor Joey G., who made me feel right at home even though I was about to drive a pretty fast and rare car around a race track with a complete stranger sitting next to me.
I’m a certified car nut but this was my first time taking anything out on a track, let alone a Ferrari. Was it unnerving? In short, yes but I was still prepared to push as hard as I could. Did I mention it was early?
So what was it like? In a word – glorious. The Scuderia appeals to all of your senses, delivering a real visceral experience. Having driven the Corvette ZHZ literally all day the day before, a car which I now hold in high regard, I was still completely blown away by how much better the Ferrari was. Where the Corvette showed its size and width in corners the Ferrari was light and nimble. While picking up the revs in the Chevy’s V8, aka dropping the hammer, felt like a great generator winding up, the Ferrari’s motor sounded more like a surgical instrument, reaching 7-8k rpm with ease.
Both cars were equipped with paddle shifters but the systems couldn’t have been more different. The Corvette employed button-like shifters, two on either side of the steering wheel, that made a first-timers like me confused under aggressive driving. With your hands on the 9 and 3 position you could select higher gears by pushing tabs in with your thumbs and the lower gears by pushing larger buttons located behind the wheel. Sounds easy enough but I was accustomed to selecting anything on the right side as the higher gear. By accustomed I mean using my Logitech G-Force steering wheel to play GranTurismo 5, which of course, was modeled after Ferrari’s Formula 1 derived paddle shifters – left paddle for down shifts, right for up shifts. The paddles on the Scuderia had the easiest of action to them requiring a slight, one finger tug to select a gear. The immediacy too of the Ferrari’s transmission, the gear changes, was lightening quick with no need to lift of the gas going from third to fourth. The Vette’s changes by comparison were much slower (one mississippi slower) while lagging its way up the rev range in higher gears (4,5,6).
I did say the sound was intoxicating which more than made up for the fact that you never shift out of third gear except for the main straight, (shifting from 3 to 4 at 7,000 rpm then back to 3) and that distracting sound of loose change banging from side to side. There were probably a few corners where shifting down to second would’ve helped but the car had adequate torque down low to get you going again, quickly enough. One of my last laps there I braked quite late and really stood on the brake pedal going into the first turn. Trail braking as best I could, I was amazed at how good the Scuderia was under hard braking like that, so balanced. You can also hear the transmission blip the throttle when down shifting from fourth to third at the end of the straight… ya that’s all the car’s doing.
As for going out with an instructor – a standard practice at Exotics Racing, even for qualified racers apparently – it was actually a great experience. Unlike the video games, you don’t have possibility of monitoring your lap times so you can’t really tell how well you’re doing. With the instructor next you though, he’s giving you that instant feedback so you know how to better attack the ensuing laps and the confidence to really open’er up when he says “full throttle”.
Was it worth it? I paid almost $500 which included 6 laps ($399) and a the DVD ($80). Compared to what I paid for the Hertz Corvette rental – $220 for 24 hours with unlimited kilometers – the answer is no (mind you, that was with a free upgrade from Hertz). But then again there’s just no way you can drive a supercar this hard, legally anywhere but a track. I also kept thinking to myself what the maintenance costs must be like with all the abuse these cars get. So in that regard, it was very worth it.
After waking up from a nap by the pool later that day, the whole experience felt like a dream. No it really did because I was half awake, so early. Thanks again to Joey G. and everyone else at Exotics Racing Las Vegas for making me one very happy Ferrarista.