So, You Want to Drive a Ferrari?
"Go, go, go!" My instructor implores as I unwind the wheel, flat-foot the throttle, and point the car toward the main straightaway. The Ferrari 458 Italia's 570 horses are in full prance mode as I head for turn three on the 1.2-mile circuit. "Hard on the brakes. Start turning it into the apex. Back on the gas now!"
No, this isn't some high-end, fancy-pants driving school you'd have to take out a second mortgage on your house to attend. Instead, I'm at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, just east of Los Angeles, at the Exotics Racing experience, where you can literally walk right off the street and get behind the wheel of some of the most exciting street cars on the road today.
What started out as a couple of former French race car drivers with a single Ferrari F430 and a wing and a prayer at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has evolved into a full-blown operation with more than 140 employees at two locations. The company expanded to L.A. less than a year ago, and judging by the activity on the day I stopped by, it was a good call to set up shop here. Men and women, young and old, from as far away as Canada and points between, were on hand and itching to get in on the action.
Anastasia Vastrebtseva, an enthusiast who's taken her BMW 335i out to some track days, rolled up from San Diego for the day with her husband and a young, wide-eyed teen boy relative in tow. "I wanted to drive the Aventador, but it was too long of a drive to Vegas," she told me. She settled for a Gallardo while her husband went for the Gallardo Superleggera. (Exotics has a wider selection of cars in Sin City.)
As we're chatting, suddenly a mean-looking red Corvette Z06 rears its monstrous V-8 head, tires spinning furiously, and rips out of the gate and onto the track in a hail of tire smoke. Whoa, that guy isn't playing around. It's another part of the Exotics experience, one specifically designed to "scare the daylights out of you," according to their pitch. You get two ride-along laps with a professional drifter for $99. Kids from 8 to 80 are welcome (yes, really). It gives little Johnny something to do while you're out on the circuit—that is, when he's not taking selfies with Godzilla or the 911 Turbo S out in the staging area.
Me, I had Scuderia on the brain thanks to our fabulous Ferrari 60th anniversary in America section, in the November 2014 issue of Automobile. While I've had two amazing experiences in Ferraris during my career, I'd never driven a 458 Italia, which my colleagues have endlessly slobbered over. After a short, energetic driver training session ("ARE YOU READY TO DRIVE FAST?! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!") and two familiarization laps in a Porsche Cayenne, I was off for five laps of my own in the 458.
While the track is short and has no banking or curbing (think of it like a supersize go-kart track for regular-size cars), it's a decent, well-maintained circuit carved out of a section of Auto Club Speedway's parking lot, and you can hit triple digits on the straight. Just as I was getting a little familiar with the track and the car with the instructor's help, suddenly it was over for Captain Slow-er. Now I understand what all that slobbering was about. Need more laps.
Vastrebtseva's take? "Seven laps [she bought a few more] is not enough." Amen, sister.
So what does all this set you back? There's a graduated rate, depending on the car, that starts at $199 for five laps in a Porsche Cayman and moves up from there, along with plenty of up-sell opportunities for more laps or videos of you either on the track or sliding around in the Z06. The Italia starts at $349. For the full scoop, go to exoticsracing.com.