I drove a $243,000 Lamborghini this morning -- for about six minutes, maybe a little longer. You can do the same... but are you willing to spend 500 bucks for the privilege?
If so, then you're the target audience for the Exotic Driving Experience. It comes from the makers of the Richard Petty Driving Experience and operates year-round at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, but also brings its fleet of supercars to 10 other speedways, including Atlanta, Daytona, and Charlotte. This weekend marks the first of four times it will set up shop in Concord in 2013.
Cars offered at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday and Sunday include a Ferrari 458 Italia, a Ferrari F430, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, an Audi R8, an Aston Martin Virage, a Porsche 997 S, and a Nissan GT-R. Prices start at $169 to take the $90,000 Nissan for a spin and run up to $419 to flex the muscles of the $295,000 458 Italia. (A $35 "driver release fee" also will be tacked onto the bill.)
EDE had about 25 paying customers on Friday, and already had roughly 110 commitments for the weekend as of Friday morning. (A total of about 100 slots per day are available.) At my 10 a.m. session, I counted eight clients, some of whom had brought spectators. One guy had come up from Georgia to participate; another was given time in three -- three! -- different cars by his wife, as a gift.
It's important to note that you drive on an asphalt "road course" that's part of the infield at the speedway, and not on the actual oval itself. That said, here's how it all works:
Upon arrival, the first thing you face is paperwork. One page just asks for basic personal info, then the next two are all legalese, with 19 blanks that need initialing. It pretty much boils down to "understand that you could be killed or injured" and "you won't sue us."
Then there's a roughly 20-minute instructional class, which starts with a pre-recorded video (starring Christian Fittipaldi) that informs you about driving techniques, warns you not to check mirrors or gauges (in fact, the speedometers in all the cars are concealed to eliminate the urge to obsess about breaking records), and talks about paddle shiffting (all cars have fully and semi-automatic modes; none are stick-shift).
After that, an instructor goes over a map of the .75-mile course for drivers and talks through a first-person video covering every inch of it.
That's all that stands between you and your ride. Throw on a head sock and an audio-capable driving helmet -- which provides protection and also allows you to communicate easily with your driving coach via mics and speakers -- and then jump in. Your co-pilot/coach gives you a few words of advice, and you're off.
Interestingly, the ride is much more about agility than pure speed. Much of the course is made up of several sharp left- and right-hand turns. The longest straightaway is less than a quarter-mile long (the actual track layout is slightly different from what is advertised here -- there's now a cut-in interrupting the long straightaway shown), so my top speed was "just" 69 mph. Still, unless you're a former illegal street racer or have experience driving high-performance cars on short tracks with lots of turns, you will sense plenty of speed. Your coach also will do a great job in terms of providing direction that helps to embolden you. If you listen to him and are aggressive as he suggests, you'll see how incredibly nimble these vehicles really are.
Total drive time is about 5 minutes for six laps, and unfortunately, it takes about that long to start feeling comfortable with the handling, the power under the hood, and -- if you opt to come out of the full-auto mode -- or the paddle shifting. (My run was eight laps; you can pay more for eight instead of six, and yet more still for 10 laps instead of eight.)
Of course, $419 is a lot of money to pay for five minutes in a Ferrari, and after having been a part of this, I feel like 10 minutes would be more fair for that kind of dough. Then again, I'm not a super-fanatical supercar enthusiast, and I also am not the one who has to pay to maintain and service cars that probably cost a fortune to maintain and service.
But it's an undeniable rush to be in control of something that can go from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds. The responsiveness of the steering, braking and acceleration is jaw-dropping. Only a tiny fraction of people on the planet will ever get to drive these cars, and most of them have Swiss bank accounts. Even if you've got the financial credentials to test-drive one at a dealership, no salesman who wants to keep their job will let you operate the automobile the way these folks will.
In the end, the type of person who buys the Exotic Driving Experience, says chief marketing officer Mike Bartelli, "is an aspirationalist. ... These are guys who wished they could own these cars (about 80 percent of EDE's clientele is male). But the reality is, they're expensive cars, right? And so this is an opportunity to do something that would typically not be available or accessible, at a reasonable price point, and then it becomes something they can tell everybody about. They can tell their friends about it. 'I drove a Ferrari on a racetrack.' ... That's what this is about."
For reservations or more information about dates and times, call (855) 822-0149 or visit www.ExoticDriving.com. All cars may not be available on all dates.