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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rich Get Quick: The Ferrari Driving Experience

Those sniffy investor guidebooks say this is why you want to get rich: to pay college expenses, polish off your mortgage, and enjoy a ripple-free retirement shuffling through Sarasota sand traps wearing plaid pants. Eeeewww.

Allow me to suggest a far better motivation for getting loaded: so you can buy your own Ferrari (preferably several) and then spend a few days at one of the world’s great racetracks banging an F430’s tach needle off the rev limiter, making quantum leaps in your driving skills, and swapping cocktails and lies with a swell group of similarly moneyed tifosi-plaid pants highly discouraged.

Ferrari F430

You prefer the Motor Trend plan? Excellent. Now that you’re a Ferrari owner (a class prerequisite, by the way), you’re eligible to attend the Ferrari Driving Experience( two and a half days of first-class meals, five-star accommodations, and ten-tenths merriment under the careful tutelage of a corps of veteran race drivers. Short of landing a seat with the Scuderia (besides, Rikknen’s mom might object), the FDE is the perfect place for Ferrari owners to learn what their thoroughbred steeds can really do.

In 1993, Ferrari launched a version of the program in Italy and today holds FDE courses at its private Fiorano test circuit in Maranello. For the past two years, though, the maker also has offered the Experience at Canada’s fabled Circuit Mont-Tremblant (see sidebar), about 90 minutes northwest of Montreal. “It’s hard to find time to get overseas,” says Scott Kohl, a trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and owner of an F430 Spyder, as we arrive at the track at 8:30 a.m. “But Montreal is nice and close. Plus, when I showed my wife the pictures of our accommodations [students stay at the sumptuous Hotel Quintessence-hotel the shores of Lake Tremblant, that sealed the deal.”

It’s an automatic neural response shared by all enthusiasts: When you first catch sight of a racetrack-fleeting glimpses of writhing asphalt framed by Armco barriers, a pitlane streaked with rubber, colorful flags snapping in the breeze-your pulse rises 30 bpm. If you then spy a dozen or so candy-colored Ferrari F430 coupes in a row-and you know they’re all bridled and saddled for you-well, your adrenaline level goes straight to 11. Already, our group of mostly 40- and 50-something Ferraristi-masters of the universe all-is giggling like Cub Scouts unleashing a jar of ants at a Girl Scout tea party.

“Let’s begin with a video I know you’ll enjoy,” says Pierre Savoy, French-Canadian TV host and race instructor (he coached Greg Moore and Jacques Villeneuve, among other stars) as he fires up a plasma TV in the circuit’s airy pit-tower classroom. What follows is six minutes of Ferraris-road cars, Le Mans racers, Grand Prix single-seaters-searing across the screen to the screeches and slashing guitars of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” That’s it. Our collective bloodstreams are now at 12.

Ferrari F430

Savoy rolls through a lively 45-minute introduction to driving basics-braking and downshifting before entering a corner, the effects of weight transfer, the importance of smooth inputs-and then we head straight to the cars. For our class of just 18 we have eight instructors-all top racers. Among them: Anthony Lazzaro (three-time world karting champion and class winner at the Daytona 24), Matt Plumb (2003 Speed World Challenge rookie of the year), and chief instructor Nick Longhi (a Rolex GT hot-shoe with 10 years of teaching Ferrari drivers to go faster). Yet the FDE doesn’t exist to churn out future world champs. Rather, the emphasis is on exploring your limits, learning driving finesse, and having a great time.

Because most of the class has never even been on a racetrack — much less pushed a Ferrari to its limits — job one is for half the students to climb aboard the F430s so the instructors can drive them on a series of introductory laps on the track’s twisty North Loop (along the way, they explain the racing line, shift points, and how not to stuff a $200,000 Ferrari into the wall — in the program’s two years at Mont-Tremblant, it’s never happened). The other nine head out to a slalom course for handling and braking exercises. After an hour or so, everybody swaps places. Another hour or so later, we do what all Ferrari owners (and interloping journalists) do: break for a superb gourmet lunch.

“This is the first on-track stuff I’ve done, and it’s just amazing,” gushes Tefft Smith II, 32, a visual-effects supervisor from Los Angeles who’s here with his father, Tefft I, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-trust lawyer.”I drive my dad’s 355 pretty regularly [the Smith fleet also includes a 308GTSi, a Testarossa, a Superamerica, and a “new” 250GTO made with original 1962 GTO parts], but now I’m learning how to brake, caress the car, look far ahead. Plus, this is such a great bonding experience for my dad and me.”Ferrari F430

With Ferraris and drivers freshly refueled, half the group adjourns to a vast wet skidpad for several giddy hours spent intentionally pushing the F430s to their limits — and beyond. “The throttle is not an on-off switch,” Savoy says as another student pirouettes his car. “It has an infinite number of settings in between-and I want you to try them all.”

The rest of the class hits the track: Student in Ferrari follows instructor in Ferrari. It’s all one on one: If you keep up, the instructor ahead goes faster; fall behind, and he’ll slow down. You’re only racing against yourself. Even at today’s relatively modest pace, though, it’s exhilarating. There’s nothing like the yowl of that four-cam Ferrari V-8, the F1 shift paddles cracking off lightning-strike gear changes, the track rising and falling and twirling under your squealing tires. Memo to self: Get rich quick.

Ferrari F430

Ferrari F430

[source: MotorTrend]

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