For the average person, the easiest way to track a supercar is through a “supercar experience”-type program. Many of these let you loose on a real track in a supercar for a set number of laps. I tried out Xtreme Xperience’s Ferrari 458, and I’m not sure I wanted to let them have it back.
[Full disclosure: Friend and occasional LeMons teammate W. Christian Mental Ward wanted me to check out the Xtreme Xperience setup where he was instructing so much that he threw me in a car for free to try it out. All I had to pay was the insurance fee. He then proceeded to use Fluffy Bunny as an instruction tool.]
Supercar experience days know that they’re frequently gifted to gearhead family members with zero track experience, and thus, most of the instruction is geared towards keeping total novices from freaking out or breaking the cars.
Nobody here is going to tell you how to rotate these cars at the ragged edge of their — and your — abilities. They will, however, tell you to lift at the end of longer straights before your braking zone.
There’s a lengthy classroom session that goes over the basics of green-student track driving: braking in a straight line, making smooth steering and throttle inputs, etc., etc. They also go over the specifics of the track, which was good since I was right there with a bunch of other folks who hadn’t driven the Driveway’s full course before.
This was perhaps my biggest fear: breaking someone else’s car. The Driveway is awesome for being right in Austin, but it also has far less runoff than most other tracks in Texas. Walls along certain parts of the track are close, and the consequences for meeting said wall in someone else’s supercar were especially high. I’d only ever done karts on their shorter loop before, so I wasn’t familiar with their long course.
I’m also 100% fine with Patrick being the last person to break a loaner vehicle on this staff, and I’d like him to keep that honor for quite a while. “Don’t break cars” is a thing.
Of course the Fluffy the LeMons team mascot came along.
After the classroom session, everyone grabbed an open-face helmet that made them look like Spaceballs bad guys and waited for their cars of choice. Once your car was ready, you got in with an instructor, who then talks through car-specific information and some more basic track driving tips.
I even made Mental run through his usual spiel for the sake of this write-up. The amount of info they’ll go over while waiting for the track to go green is pretty exhaustive, and informative.
The instructors keep all the mirrors in the car to themselves, but otherwise, it wasn’t too different than a regular track outing. The instructor talks through all of it just as they would any other first-time track driver anywhere else. I’d say that they do a pretty good job of keeping everyone under control by just talking through things. There wasn’t a car out there that I wanted to immediately run away from.
Either way, “don’t break the car” was on the top of my mind. Texans who cannot into walls had given the Driveway somewhat of a reputation — deserved or not — for eating Miatas, much less a Ferrari 458.
Don’t break the car.
Don’t break the car.
Don’t break the car.
I even left it in automatic mode so I could just focus on learning the track and the car. They had set up an additional chicane before the corkscrew part of the track to slow down straight-line speeds in the back section and highly encouraged us not to get on the curbing. (Oops.)
I laid down two ultra-timid grandma laps before I got passed by an instructor-driven Ferrari and then, it was on. I was finally getting comfortable with the car and its freakish ability to stick to everything. I had a carrot.
And just like that, my time was up just as I was getting used to the car.
Oh my gosh, this car, though. Oh my gosh. This 458 in particular had been fitted with loud straight pipes that gave it a few extra horsepower and it sounded like everything right with the world. I wanted to take it home, take it to the track some more, and take it to get tacos and everything. I’m pretty sure I would read it bedtime stories at night and snuggle it like it was my own Fluffy Bunny.
The 458 was like nothing I’d ever driven before. It was just planted to the ground in situations where my worn-out 944 would probably flop around.
The “cram everything onto the steering wheel” design still isn’t my favorite on a road car, but the important parts —the horns — were right at thumb level when your hands were at 9 and 3 as they should be. See? It’s even practical. That’s a practical defense mechanism right there.
I will have this car with those loud pipes when I strike oil in my yard. I will annoy all the neighbors, and not care. It’s as if they built it specifically to my tastes: louder, and more obnoxious.
Is a supercar driving experience worth the cost, then? It depends. With a range of cars starting at $258 for three laps (including their most basic insurance fee of $39, which was also required), three laps are just a little more expensive than most full-day track days that you’d do in your own car. The Ferrari I tried out came out to $338.
For those not interested in driving, ride-alongs started at $49 as one of several passengers in a nuttily modified Mitsubishi Evo, and ride-alongs in the other supercars started at $219.
If you’re out for instruction, do the track day instead, but this isn’t a driving school so much as an experience. I’m not sure there’s anything that leaves you as downright giddy after just three laps than tracking a supercar. This is where they’re supposed to be driven!
This is probably the safest, most controlled environment to go drive a supercar. It’s even not bad for first-time track drivers. Everything you’d need for a good introduction to track hoonage is there.
The day I went to wasn’t full, so follow-up laps (also in sets of three) were significantly discounted. I didn’t have time to stick around, but that’s clearly where they’d get you: three laps (which doesn’t include an in- or out- lap since the cars are almost constantly in use) is like a teaser.
Just enough to get comfortable, and want more. So much more.
Photo credits: Mental Ward (Puff on wheel, Puff with Stef); me (all others)
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