The AutoSlash team travels a lot. In fact, the folks who interact with customers are from five different cities and based in three different time zones but we each travel frequently. In fact, there was one day last year where all the names you might recognize from AutoSlash support were all in different time zones! So when our team gets together, that inherently involves more travel at undisclosed times and locations (we don't want Payless to know where we are)! And on one recent meeting, we had an excellent side-trip up to Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Dream Racing to race Ferraris designed for the race track. Remember our post about not racing rental cars unless it's designed to be a race car? We're really good about taking our own advice!
The day started with us hopping into our rental Nissan Quest. Not the most exciting of vehicles (even with a specific lead foot) but minivans serve a great purpose -- if you have a group of 6 or 7, a renter's looking at a minivan, full-size SUV, or full-size van. AutoSlash founder Jonathan had already arranged our track time with Dream Racing and we were encouraged to start our Ferrari F430 experience an hour early to avoid a very large group that had been booked at our original time. We would be getting track time without extended delays and with few cars on the track.
At this point, it's important to note that there are various classifications of driving experiences, whether on road courses or ovals.
- There are experiences of "drive an exotic car around cones in the parking lot" (commonly sold on GroupOn) that are simply about saying "I drove a Lamborghini (insert exotic car)".
- There are experiences where there's a driver setting the pace on a course (oval or road course).
- There are experiences where the cap is the driver's capability (oval or road course)
Jonathan booked us for the latter but as the program is in the infield of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, there were no elevation changes. The goals were to hit lines, roar by in Ferraris, and have a little fun in the esses. And here's something else you need to know about the AutoSlash team -- we're always on the lookout for the lowest possible prices on your rental cars and other things we want! Jonathan even negotiated a discount to get us more time on the track, not in the originally offered Mustangs but in our racing Ferraris. So we headed off to training, which involved three phases.
- Watching a video: The video was good to acclimate to the controls of the Ferrari, safety processes/checks, lines on the race track, gearing on the track, and handling characteristics of the race track. I was really excited to hear that the racing Ferrari was designed to stick to the track but could get squirrelly if coming off the gas or brake too quickly. Identifying that fine line became my personal challenge; I readily admit to almost rolling a Ford Escape rental during normal highway driving in 2009 (rear brakes got a little too grippy -- thanks, Budget).
- Driving in the simulator: These were again helpful in track acclimation and gearing. A coach was there to assist with shift points. It was so much easier to get into the sims than the actual race cars but time times posted by our team members showed that we were going to be really racy on the track. Sadly, our simulator coaches were not our coaches when we hit the track.
- Actual track time: Six people and three Ferraris meant that we had to take turns. Two of us had trouble getting into the Ferraris and it was definitely good to have a spotter/driver in the car. With helmets and safety equipment, the field of vision may have been 120 degrees (60 degrees each side of straight ahead). Ludo -- owner of our hot lap -- needed his spotter's permission when he elected to make a pass! One of the driving coaches wasn't the greatest, which slowed down some of our colleagues in the esses (unclear whether he intended "up" or "off") but everyone was able to punch the accelerator on the straightaway!
I didn't purchase the video of me racing because I didn't need to be reminded of the spotter's "if you don't brake, we're not going to stop" at the end of the straightaway, where I once ended up in 6th gear instead of the 5th prescribed in the simulator. And on the next to last lap, I did find the car's braking limit and missed the inside line by about a car length and a half. But the esses on the back of the course were the most fun and where I made up time. Although my spotter repeatedly stated "that's not braking" for the first few laps (because I was not, in fact, braking), he realized the car was hitting marks and let up! For a first time in a Ferrari, we all had impressive drives, to the point some team members (looking your way, Andrew) really wanted to try opening the car up on a roadway! He apparently had forgotten about the string of LVMPD officers who had vehicles pulled over on Interstate 15 -- a Ferrari in race trim will get pulled over out of principle.
Eric suggested that we shouldn't drive rentals like we drove the Ferraris (very wise advice); we don't want to have a broken Nissan Altima with no tire tread depth remaining in the infield at a major motor speedway! Two of us have previous experience on road courses but hadn't driven anything like a Ferrari before! Ludo picked up a copy of his driving video so he could show his family and his son's comment? "When are you going to drive a Lamborghini?" Tough crowd! And Chris and I -- despite me being the largest team member by far -- had simple adventures in getting into (and out of) a race-equipped Ferrari while wearing helmets. Chris also nicked me by 1 mph on the straightaway based upon Lap 3 telemetry (not that we're competitive) ...
Jonathan and I had a talk about the theoretical squirrelyness of the vehicle described in the video. I intentionally tested that statement (and found "that point") but the Ferrari otherwise stuck to the racing surface really well. And it's probably better that the Ferrari was designed to stick to the track -- knowing Jonathan as I do, he probably would have created a drifting competition* if we had done the extra laps in the Mustangs originally offered.
* Yes, we know the meme that everyday driving in a Mustang can unexpectedly become a drifting competition!
The great part of the experience (aside from team bonding)? It's new, with an element of danger that's partially engineered out, and gives an appreciation for folks who race for a living, with the fitness and acuity to stay in those seats for hours! There are so many schools and programs offering a real driving experience at race tracks; most have configurations that allow an individual to view the layout of the program before making a purchase decision. Rather than risky behavior in a rental, consider the rental as transportation to a real racing experience!