Saturday, September 24
I spent my track day budget on my Laguna Seca trip so I didn’t register for CECA’s second track day at HPR. But it was a nice day and I decided I could postpone mowing the lawn and changing the oil in the Lotus so I could head out to the track and perhaps get a ride or two. I knew Scott would be there in his Miata, which I haven’t seen on track yet. And Ryan is generally there with his Exige, he might give me a ride.
Upon arrival, I made my way out to the wall between pit lane and the track to watch the cars. It looked to be the usual variety of CECA entrants: mostly Porsches, Corvettes, and Mustangs leavened with others for variety: 2 Exiges, Scott’s Miata, a few Cobra replicas, a Pantera, a couple of Vipers. It looked like there were several interesting cars running without passengers, including a pretty red Ferrari 458.
I wandered around the paddock for a while, checking in with my track rat pals. As usual, Ryan had a covered spot. He was only a few spots away from that 458. I made my way down the row and introduced myself. The 458 was owned by John. I asked him if he wanted about 190lbs of ballast in his passenger seat. He didn’t get my meaning at first, but it clicked eventually: “Oh, you want a ride!”
When his group was up I grabbed my helmet and jumped into his car. He told me he wasn’t out to set a fast lap time and I told him it didn’t matter to me. Onto the track we went. We hauled ass onto the track; faster, by far, than I’ve ever entered the track. From the passenger seat I couldn’t see the speedometer but I did have the forethought to start the lap timer on my phone before we got started.
The 458 is quite the machine. The steering wheel has about as many controls as an F1 car. One of the dials is called a manettino. This is where the driver selects the mode: low grip, sport, race, and so on. I’m not sure whether John had it in sport or race. John told me he could put the transmission into auto but at the track prefers to use the paddle shifters. He allowed that auto might be faster, but he enjoyed doing the shifting.
The car is fast. John said he hit an indicated 145 mph (my phone said 135; the truth is probably in between). We ran about five laps but never managed to have a clean lap. My lap timer showed a best lap of 2:08 (for reference, I’ve managed a 2:09 in the Elise). He had a theoretical lap of 2:01 (that’s a lap made of the three best sector times). I have no doubt that several seconds could be trimmed from that time. I don’t think he’s had a lot of laps at HPR, and certainly not a lot in that car.
Braking is fantastic. The discs are huge and he’s running on large, sticky tires. The seats are very nice, do a good job in cornering. Still, CG-Locks on the seat belts would be helpful. Exiting the turns I could feel the car squirm just a bit as all the electronics worked to keep it pointed in the right direction. John was missing the occasional apex, and his line is quite a bit different than mine in a number of places. It felt much faster than the recorded lap times. Certainly, with a traffic-free lap John could set a very quick time indeed. It’s a seriously fast car.
In the spot next to John was another Ferrari, one of much older vintage. I introduced myself to Bill. I told him I don’t know my Ferraris so he told me a little about his 365 GTB/4. It’s a V-12 (the 458 is a V-8). It predates all the computer control of modern cars. In contrast to the silky smooth modern 458 the 365 snarls and growls, pops and sputters. It sounds incredible.
Bill agreed to give me a ride. His car is much more like a race car than John’s 458. It has a roll bar, five point harnesses, and an array of old-school switches and dials on the dash, including a dial to adjust the brake bias. Headroom is a bit cramped with the helmet on – if I sat up straight my head rubbed the top. Less headroom than the Elise with the top on, but quite a bit wider.
Like John, Bill said he wasn’t going to go fast. I used to talk this way. For a few years I told my passengers we’d be one of the slowest cars on the track. I think there’s a bit of expectation management in this. I didn’t really think I was one of the slowest cars on track, and I don’t think John and Bill weren’t trying to scoot.
The two cars are quite a contrast. The 458 seemed a bit like a video game. All the controls are on the wheel; a flick of a finger to shift up or down. (And a misplaced finger to start the windshield wipers. John had to come into the pits to shut them off – he doesn’t drive the car in the rain and had difficulties turning them off, even putting two wheels off at one point dealing with the distraction.) Bill was working much harder in the 365 – double clutching, blipping the throttle on downshifts. Dancing on the pedals and sawing at the wheel.
The lap timer gave Bill’s best lap as 2:13, with a theoretical best of 2:12. As with John we encountered a fair amount of traffic. Bill gave everybody lots of room. I have no doubt he could log a quick time on an open track. There was the occasional clumsy downshift, but he was hitting his apexes pretty consistently. The car is a real chore to drive. When we got back to the paddock his first remark was along the lines of “I can’t imagine driving a 24 hour race in one of these.”
I will admit here that I’m not a good passenger. Typically, my discomfort arises due to not being in control. I don’t like riding with most drivers; too many people don’t pay enough attention. It’s a mental discomfort. Today my issue was in my gut, not in my head. I never have problems with motion sickness when I’m behind the wheel but if we’d have stayed on the track much longer, I’d have been signalling my desire to get out of the car. I’ve seen videos of people puking in their helmets and I don’t want to go there. Particularly in a Daytona 365GTB/4. (This is certainly not a critique of either Bill or John.)
I’m guessing that, together, these two cars together are worth about a million bucks. They are truly exotic creatures. Most folks only see them on display – like animals at a zoo – at shows and auctions. I’m happy to have gotten a taste of them, running wild, on the track.