Driving a Supercar

Earlier today I cashed in one of the presents I got for Christmas: a Living Social deal for a 3-lap driving experience from the folks at Motorsport Lab. While it’s not travel, I figured I’d throw out a quick review on it. Note that my review is for the Charlotte event, I can’t speak for any other location.

When you register on Motorsport Lab’s web site, you get to choose the type of car you want to drive. For this event, there were 3 options when I registered in late December:

  • Lamborghini Gallardo
  • Ferrari 360 Modena
  • Ferrari F430 (upcharge for this one)

Being a life-long Lambo fan, I chose the Gallardo. After you register, you’re sent a link to the participation form you need to fill out and bring with you to the event. As I saw called out in the many Yelp reviews of this company, this is a rather long form (16 pages), filled with all kinds of scary language warning about possible charges for things like damage and exceeding various RPM levels among other things. They offer insurance for each possible problem at the charge of $20/$30/$50 per waiver, depending on the item. That, and the form calls out suggested tip levels very clearly, which I admit is something I find a bit tacky. I’m fine letting people know the instructors work off of tips, but suggesting amounts like that can be a bit of a turnoff. After reading a few of the Yelp reviews, I see I’m not alone in that. I also saw a number of people mention that the added insurance wasn’t needed for most locations, so when I filled it out, I declined all of them. I’m glad I did.

Several of the reviews I read were negative, with some people even saying they skipped the experience entirely after being scared off by the language in the form. This is completely unnecessary in my opinion. Even if you don’t believe me, go early and watch a few people run the course before you sign in so you can get an idea of exactly what is going on, you might be surprised. With all the negative reviews, I figured it was only fair to throw in a positive review since we enjoyed the event.

First, did I spend any money beyond the cost of the Living Social deal? Yes. Totally by my own choice and it was worth it. I asked about getting a ride along for Bayley, who is home for spring break, and took him up on the offer to get her laps with the instructor for $50. That fee and the tip were the only added costs for us. They weren’t being pushy with anything, and were up front in saying that people should tip what they were comfortable with. When I checked in, the guy at the table looked over my forms, saw I’d declined all optional insurance, and moved on without trying to change my mind. I even heard him tell the guy in front of me that most of it wasn’t needed for a course like this. Don’t be scared or turned off by all the language in there around damage, I assume most of it is to ensure that people thinking they’re going to treat these things like rental cars are talked down off that ledge. There were a few other complaints in other reviews that could have been addressed by people doing a little research beforehand, so I’ll call a couple of them out here:

(Note: If you want to read those reviews, just search for the company. I’m not a big fan of Yelp so I’m not linking to them)

  • This experience is on an autocross course. It has the words ‘autocross’ and ‘agility’ in the experience name, so arriving to find a course of cones shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not going to be on an oval or on city streets, even if the event is held at a track, like it is in Boston. You’re not getting the cars up to 100MPH. Even the straight on our course was too short to get up over 50MPH-ish (had it been dry) unless you’re really experienced on these types of courses. If you want something faster, maybe try the IndyCar or NASCAR experience. I’ve done the IndyCar one, and you definitely go a lot faster with that, but you’re on an oval.
  • The Lambo wasn’t put in to automatic transmission mode as some reviews mentioned, but we never got out of 2nd. You do get to shift, but basically only from neutral to 1st to get going, and to 2nd pretty quick after that. Once in 2nd, you stay there the rest of the way. You’re not getting close to the 6500RPM limit in 2nd on this course unless you’re planning on exiting over some cones and paying the price.
  • Scheduling can be a pain. I don’t disagree. Once you buy the deal, register as fast as possible to ensure you have options. I’ve learned this the hard way with other LS/Groupon deals in the past (namely my IndyCar one), so I registered shortly after opening this present. Even with that, the list of available dates was limited, but I got something that worked for me.
  • Some people said your time in the car isn’t that long, and that’s true. The deal is for 3 laps, and being an autocross course in a parking lot, that means a relatively small track. They do offer more laps as an add-on, or if that’s not enough, you might want to check out one of the companies that use real road courses or take you out on streets.

Back to the review: After checking in, we hung out under the canopies they’d put up (due to rain) and waited for the event to start. There weren’t a huge number of people for our 9am session, I’d say 7-8 for each of the two cars at most. Those driving the Ferrari got a nice upgrade at no cost, as the 360 was in the shop, so all they had was the F430 (both the F430 and Gallardo are 2006 models, BTW). They take you out based on the time you checked in, which they’d written on your wristband, so I was 3rd for the Lambo. With the ground being so wet none of us in that first three pushed all that hard, but I really did enjoy it. I’ve driven some fast stuff, but never something so well balanced in the corners. The instructor (or ‘sherpa’, as they call it) who was with me was really good, too. Very nice and talked you through the whole thing, and was far more helpful than the spotter I had with the IndyCar experience. He gave me pointers on corner entry/exit, and when to give it power exiting a turn. It ended faster than i’d have liked, which wasn’t a big surprise. Three laps is a bit short in my opinion, but I knew what I was getting in to, and I’m sure if I’d asked I could have upgraded to six for a little more. It was enough to give me a taste of what a well balanced supercar felt like, so it was worth it to me.

After I went, my daughter was up for her ride-along. When I bought it, the guy said that the cost is $50/lap, but they normally go ahead and do two laps for that. She actually got three, and he seemed to really be enjoying himself behind the wheel out there (who wouldn’t?), intentionally kicking out the rear in a few corners. Just for fun I gave him a heads-up that he had her past experiences to live up to, as she’s done an IndyCar 2-seater ride as well as the Audi ride-along at Daytona. He definitely pushed it, and she loved every second of it. I’ve got video of her laps up on YouTube if anyone wants to see it.

When it was all over, we both agreed that we had a blast. All of the employees were very friendly, and the car was a blast to drive, even in the rain. For the Living Social price it was definitely a fun morning, but I wouldn’t have done it for the listed price of $549. Not really sure if anyone actually paid that this morning, though. I do think Jen made a bit of a tactical error in buying this for me, as now I want to move up to one of the events on real tracks, like this one. There are a couple of cars on their list I’d absolutely love to get behind the wheel of, like the McLaren, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for deals with them, too 🙂

 

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Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 1

We don’t have any trips scheduled for the holidays this year, so I figured I’d fill the gap by revisiting a few of our past ones. My first one’s going to cover a more unorthodox trip completely unrelated to cruising, the one my daughter and I took to the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona for the 50th anniversary of the race. Yesterday I discovered Audi’s less than a week away from putting their Rolex 24 Motorsports Experience tickets on sale, and sitting here thinking of our last trip has me a bit nostalgic. I’ll be doing my best to pick up two of the Audi tickets as a Christmas present for Bayley and I, as the 2015 race happens to be the weekend she’s heading back to college. Fingers crossed 🙂 (Update: We’ve got the Audi ME tickets and will be enjoying the 2015 Rolex 24!)

I’ve been a fan of various forms of motor sport for years. Being that I tend to prefer road and street circuits, I generally follow F1, IndyCar and various forms of sports car racing. CART was my first love, and my interest grew from there. Honestly, if I didn’t need the paycheck, I’d quit my job in a second to stooge for whatever team would have me. I know people say it’s not the same when it’s your job, but I’d gladly do whatever menial task was needed if it meant I got to hear the roar of those engines every day, it’s most definitely my happy place. I’m lucky in that my daughter picked up the bug too, so we’ve been able to do some awesome father-daughter trips the past few years. Doesn’t hurt that it’s in her blood, as A.J. Watson was her great granduncle, and her great grandfather, Don Watson, loves to tell stories from their racing days when we’re up visiting. Her first trip with me was to the 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach when she was in 8th grade, and she’s been hooked ever since.

The Rolex 24 had been near the top of my list of races to attend for several years. Shortly after tickets for the 2012 race went on sale, I decided to go for it. Bayley’s always been a trooper at the IndyCar street races I’d taken her to in Long Beach and Baltimore, staying at the track from open to close with me, and enjoying every minute of all the track walking we did. Being a 24 hour race was different, but she was just as excited, and agreed that once we were at the track the day of the main race, we weren’t leaving. With that discussion out of the way, I got us a set of 4 day race/garage passes and infield parking.

Since she was in school, we didn’t go down until Thursday, and missed one day of track activity as a result. I’d booked a cheap hotel for Thursday, Friday and Sunday night a few miles away from the track, so once we got down there we crashed for the night. Waking up Friday, we got to the track as soon as it opened, parked in the infield, and began to explore. It was a bit overcast and misty, but neither of us cared, we donned our ponchos and walked the garages. One of the cool things about a series like Grand Am (now IMSA/TUDOR) or the now defunct ALMS is the variety of cars. You get to see everything from a Camaro, Mazda, Ferarri, Audi R8, all the way up to the prototypes. For anyone new to the sport who’s having a hard time understanding the different classes, IMSA’s got a quick video explaining the current class setup here. The prototypes are some of my favorites, there’s nothing like being next to the track as one goes roaring by. Here are some shots of the garage from Friday morning.

FridayGarageAudiR8CamaroFerarri LizardPatronPorschePrototypes

In addition to the garage area, Daytona International Speedway offers quite a bit of other stuff to see and do. The Sprint FanZone’s got food and drink options, shopping, and a handful of cars on display. For this event, they had the Corvette ZR1 that lapped the ‘Ring in under 7m:20s, in addition to a few other cars on display in the FanZone and/or other manufacturer display areas around the infield. That, and something I wish I’d bought Bayley when she was a toddler. Should be easy to pick out which one that is:

VetteZR1BimmerCamaro2MiniDF NissanNissanProtoPrototypeMazda

We walked the infield multiple times, checking out the facilities, and watching various practice and qualifying sessions. After grabbing some lunch at one of the food areas in the middle of the infield, we settled in to the grandstands in turn 4 of the road course to watch some of the Continental Tire Series race. As an ex-MINI owner, I was happy to see a couple of those out on track, but in general the race itself was pretty good, with the overall victory going to Jack Roush Jr and Billy Johnson in one of the Roush Performance Mustangs. As it was ending, we decided to head out and have a little fun for dinner. With Orlando being fairly close (well, closer than it is from our house :)), we decided to hit Downtown Disney for dinner before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep before our long weekend of racing.

Coming up in part 2: All the fun (and lack of sleep) we had at the track on Saturday and Sunday! In the meantime, enjoy some more pictures from Friday!

 

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