A while back my wonderful wife decided that for my birthday I should go drive an exotic car around a track with an instructor.
Now, I’m not a rich man and I’m honestly not that crazy interested in exotic supercars. The engineering is amazing of course and I understand that filters down to normal cars… but I’m a realistic man and I love attainable cars I can drive in the real world.
Saying that, the Audi R8 yanks my chain. The idea of Italian monster of a heart in the cold chassis of German engineering is the kind of thing you can’t ignore. It almost looks like a sensible supercar to the point people argue wether it is or it isn’t. I don’t know on what planet a two seater, four wheel drive, mid engined 500+ bhp car isn’t a supercar but I don’t think it’s this one. Either way, my wife it seems had noticed my enthusiasm some months before and made a mental note.
She’s a keeper.
She found Exotics Racing over at ExoticsRacing.com and booked me up for their California experience, the other one being in Las Vegas. With a gift package you basically pay for an amount of laps you want to do and provide you with an instructor, and if you want you can drive just one car for those laps or split them between cars. If you want more laps they will of course happily sell you them on the day.
We rolled into the car park of the Exotics Racing site. It’s actually in the grounds of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and we could straight way see the track – it’s marked out on a big piece of carpark. That made sense. If I was sticking people off the street into seriously expensive fast as hell cars I would want nothing for them to hit and plenty of run off. The track looked a little smaller than I expected but later learned it was pretty much perfect for people that don’t spend a huge amount of time at tracks.
Inside it was smooth and easy to book in and we wandered out to watch the cars already going round while waiting for my group and the drivers briefing. While we were watching for a while it struck me that all the Lamborghini drivers seemed rather slow. In fact, they were. People were going round at a decent pace in a Porsche, a GTR, Ferrari’s… but the Lamborghinis looked like they were driven by scared people.
Looking round at the car bay, there were people getting in cars looking a little nervous but the people getting out had big grins on their faces.
That’s a good sign.
The drivers briefing was called, and as there were only three of us going out they figured we may as well do it in the Porsche Cheyenne they take you around a lap in before you climb into a driving seat. Now, I’ve been around a few real tracks and I’ve raced RC cars since I was a kid so I understand braking points, apex, how to get on power, picking a line so it became apparent this guy was very good at explaining this stuff in an understandable manner very concisely. It also became apparent why they use the Porsche Cayenne – it’s roomy, high and sticks through corners like a turd to a blanket. He wasn’t driving at race pace but he pushed around a few corners in a way your moms Lexus would have just understeered off the track.
I was then paired with a young instructor called Nic. He made sure I got a good driving position and asked a few questions about experience. I explained I have a little experience and understood the basics of going fast. He grinned and said that we can build on that. Perfect. I’m always up for learning something in a car.
I had been hoping that would be the attitude as back in the day I did some experiences like this, including one my parents got for my birthday when I was 18. That was with the rally school at Brands Hatch. I’ve no idea if it’s still there, but it was quite excellent. The course was a section of dirt track rally stage including a gnarly hairpin around a big tree stump. The instructor pushed the hell out of me to go faster and faster in the Sierra Saphire Cosworths they had. Oddly, they didn’t seem to worry about damage at the school. A girl there who ended up with the fastest time of the day ripped the bumper off with that hair pin tree trunk, and when she got back they rolled the car away and it came back about twenty minutes later with a fresh bumper. I wonder to this day if they were using that school to give mechanics practice.
But back to southern California.
After I was done, my wife said I looked slow. Now, this was a while back and we haven’t divorced so if anyone wants relationship advice from an expert just hit me up. Point is in the little video she shot you can hear those tires squealing away before lapping a Lamborghini.
Yep, inside 5 laps on a short course I lapped a Lamborghini. That’s not me bigging up my driving or my instructor, that’s how slow the people choosing Lamborghinis seem to be as a whole. Take from that what you will.
Nic did a great job of getting me to go quicker each lap, except the one where we got stuck behind a… Lamborghini! He had me run an extra lap because we lost most of one unable to overtake safely. He was noting points I was braking too early on, and in one case too late as well. He was also getting me confident to come on throttle earlier and harder as well as getting smoother through the joined corners on the best line. Having never driven something that was such an animal before, it was a bit of a blur. I can’t tell you what speed I hit because there was no full straight and by the time you had gotten out of a corner and into a straight line the engine was wailing and the next braking point was coming up fast.
Now, at this point I have a confession to make. There’s going to be some mean comments, but I’m a man and I can take it.
I drove it in fully automatic mode.
In my defence, I’ve been driving the crap out of stick shifts for the best part of 25 years and haven’t had a long period driving a car with paddles to get used to it up to the point of building muscle memory. Sensible me figured driving a powerful car in a small tight track didn’t seem to be the best time to try that. I was planning on seeing if we could change it for the last few laps but I was learning plenty and getting faster as is. I’ve done some sanity challenging stuff, but there is a sensible streak running through me my mum will be glad to hear. Just for the record though, first time there my lap times where up with people who have been two or three times.
I rest my case, judge me as you will.
So, can I give the Audi R8 a review?
No. I have nothing to directly compare it with. It had more grip than anything I’ve driven in years andit was faster off the line than anything I’ve been fortunate enough to drive let alone on a track. The one thing I can confidently say is that if you had that kind of money for a daily driver you could daily drive it in terms of access and comfort. It’s not hard to get in, and it’s snug but with enough room not to cramp you. It has a reputation for that and I absolutely see why.
As for Exotics Racing as a whole, that was a great experience. The staff were excellent. The lead instructor was excellent. Nic my instructor was excellent. The price isn’t cheap, but when you look at what they do that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Oh, the other thing they do there. They have a Corvette z06 with an instructor giving ride alongs. Currently it’s $100 for two laps, but both my wife and I went out so if it was that much I would have just sent her out. Saying that, if you have the money to spare it’s pretty damn cool. He was banging through corners with the back hanging out faster than anyone was using all the grip they had. My wife absolutely loved it so if you go with someone not driving who doesn’t mind a roller coaster ride make sure you budget that in for them.
If i get the chance to go back I would love to take a crack in another car and go for the paddles. Talking to the instructors the the choice of car for the track record was the Porsche GT3. If they still have the GTR there that would be rather interesting as well.
I would absolutely recommend the experience to any petrol head with some spare cash and most definitely as a gift to a petrol head in your life. While the bulk of the people going there are casual drivers that want to drive something exotic the instructors seem to relish getting someone to be faster at the end of the session than when they started.
If you want to seriously go learn to drive fast this isn’t replacement to a dedicated track day with instructors. If you want to experience a fast as hell car that most people won’t get to drive and learn something while you’re at it… this is a fun way to do just that.
A lot of fun indeed.