A slowpoke in the fast lane
We take a Ferrari for a spin at the Walt Disney World Speedway
06/11/2012 12:00 AM
06/11/2012 12:41 AM
I don’t think I have enough testosterone to fully appreciate what I’m about to do.
I’m going to pull on a racing helmet, step into a Ferrari 458 Italia and drive it as fast as I can around a race track.
The man sitting next to me trackside, apparently anticipating his turn behind the wheel, is already drooling.
I’d rather be riding a rollercoaster.
We’re at the Exotic Driving Experience at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando. About 18 of us — including one other woman — are going to get six laps around the track this afternoon in the car of our choice — the Ferrari, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4 or LP 570-4 Superleggera, a Porsche 997 S or an Audi R8.
The last time I tried to drive fast around a track was 30 years ago, in a toy car at a Malibu Grand Prix that is to NASCAR racing what mini-golf is to the Masters. I spun out.
The cost for getting behind the wheel ranges from $212 for the Porsche to $414 for the Ferrari and includes an instructor in the passenger seat coaching us through the course.
Although up to six of us will be on the track at the same time, we will not be racing — or even passing. There is one shortcut where fast drivers can get around slow ones and a detour where slow ones can be shunted out of the way. I suspect that in this crowd, there is a lot of shame involved in being relegated to the slowpoke detour.
The Disney public relations staff, which has been trying to get me into one of these hot cars since the Exotic Driving Experience opened in January, has signed me up to drive the Ferrari. The car has a V8 engine that produces 562 horsepower — enough to get me from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds — and a top speed of 201 mph.
I’m not totally immune to the Ferrari’s charms — just think what I could do with that kind of acceleration on I-95! The roar of the engine alone would intimidate drivers into getting out of my way. But driving the car in circles — what’s the point?
We sign away our right to sue Disney if we’re injured on the track, and watch a video of Christian Fittipaldi, a former Formula One driver, giving us driving tips. An instructor tells us that they’ve fixed the traction control so that it can’t be disabled and sternly tells us there will be no doing wheelies to impress wives, girlfriends or other bystanders. A couple of men groan.
Then we go outside to be photographed with the cars we’re about to race, uh, drive.
My Ferrari is red, which I don’t think much about until three men assigned to the black Ferrari decide their cars aren’t sexy enough and ask if they can have their pictures taken with the red Ferrari. Such a girly thing!
When it’s my turn, I put on a head sock and helmet and get in the car with Sean, my instructor. The car has an automatic transmission but is equipped with paddles on the steering wheel so I can upshift or downshift as if it were a manual transmission but without using a clutch. I opt to use the paddles.
To my surprise, the Ferrari is unassuming. I thought it would be pulling at the reins, skittish and impatient like the prancing stallion on its grille. The handling and braking are both smoother than I expected. When I accelerate, the car responds powerfully but not jerkily.
We make a couple circuits so I can get used to the mile-long course. Imagine the track this way: The top half is an arc that is slightly banked, the underside a zigzag of esses and switchbacks.
I’m supposed to stay close to the yellow cones, begin turning at the orange cones, brake at the signs counting down numbers. I am not to use my mirrors or check for other cars. Sean is my eyes. He stays in communication with the track steward and knows what the other cars are doing. He also tells me when to accelerate, shift gears, brake.
“Let’s go faster this time,” he tells me at the beginning of a circuit, so I speed up, but here’s where my lack of testosterone comes in. I’m not really pushing it. I don’t lay down any rubber. “Turn here,” Sean tells me, pointing at a stretch of track I haven’t used before. I realize I’m on the slowpoke detour. Two cars have pulled ahead of me by the time I merge back onto the main track.
We go through the zigzags again and turn onto the arc. “Hit the throttle!” Sean yells. I do. “Harder!” he cries, and the Ferrari roars as I push it. Everything is a blur except the asphalt right in front of me, so I miss the first of the braking signs.
“Hit the brakes now!” Okey doke. By now I’ve figured out that this is the time to downshift, so I click the left paddle too. “Good,” Sean says. “You’re doing great.” He tells me that the drivers he has the most trouble with are the ones who think they already know what they’re doing.
We make one more lap. I hit the accelerator harder and hold it, feeling the pull of gravity through the gentle curve. I hit the brakes at the last second, downshift, pull into the pit lane. I have not spun out, and I feel no shame at being sent down the slowpoke detour.
When I get my data sheet, I see that I did each lap faster than the previous one, hitting 106 mph on my last lap. The last media person to do this topped out at 103 mph. You hear that, Bob? I’m faster than you are! Nyah, nyah!
OK, maybe I do have a little testosterone.
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