When you get an invitation to drive exotic cars on a racetrack, you don't say no, even if the skies have opened up with so much rain that you start calculating the cost of building an ark.
I recently got tapped to head to the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., on the extreme fringes of Chicago's suburbs, to take part in the Xtreme Xperience. Simply put, the Xtreme Xperience is a touring road show that takes exotic cars (our event included the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Ferrari F430, the Audi R8 V-8, and the Lamborghini Gallardo) to a track and allows the general public to purchase three laps of track time, along with video of the driver's on-track exploits.
My track day started with a quick safety briefing, after which, it was time to wait for a seat in a car to open up. Mother Nature's wrath was in full effect, but that didn't stop me from sliding into the driver's seat of a 911 Turbo. In the annals of bad ideas, taking to a wet track in a car that puts out around 500 ponies or so (all the cars used are slightly older, so I'm not sure what model year the Porsche was) that I'd never driven before seems like it would be right up there, but with a pro instructor riding shotgun and a pace car leading the field in a lead-follow format, there was plenty of safety net should I do something stupid. Not that I planned on it—I have a little bit of track experience, and I'd been to Autobahn before, so I figured that if I just kept the speeds down a bit, I'd be fine.
And I was right, for the most part. The first few laps were frustrating, as I was hampered by slower traffic. Passing is generally not allowed during lead-follow sessions, but the instructors allowed it when necessary, and as soon as the opening was there, I was given the go-ahead.
Once I got out into space, I found that the Porsche wanted to get a bit tail-happy in the wet. Nothing I couldn't handle, but the behavior served as a reminder to keep my speed in check.
Next up was a turn in the Ferrari. I hadn't driven any of the prancing horse products before, and the F430 seemed more balanced on the track than the Porsche, but it also seemed unhappy that we were driving it at a conservative pace. The Ferrari felt more like a racecar than a rich person's plaything, and it almost seemed palpably frustrated with the weather. Still, the exhaust sonata that was happening aft of the driver's seat from the 4.3-liter V-8 sounded glorious, like an Italian opera on wheels.
After lunch I had time for one more ride—a spin in the Audi R8. I and another auto journo were given front of the line priority, and I worked hard to keep a strong pace in the rain. Not too hard, though, as the well-balanced R8 proved easy to drive, even with the downpour causing us to modify our line. Like the Ferrari, the R8 sounded wonderful at full zoot.
When the day was over, I talked with Joe Moore, the vice president of marketing for Xtreme Xperience. We chatted about racetracks and exotic cars, and about the event itself.
Because the event is open to the (paying) public, the event is geared a bit towards novices. None of the cars had a true manual transmission, and all of the cars had plenty of techno-wizardry meant to keep the cars on track. Instruction was also geared a bit towards the novice.
Speaking of paying, the event isn't cheap—a quick look at the company's site shows that the next event is selling for $399, not including the on-site costs of video and insurance (both optional). Moore told me that the company often runs Groupon, Living Social, and TravelZoo deals.
Despite the rain, I enjoyed my brief time behind the wheel of several exotic automobiles. Track days are always a blast, and this one was no exception.
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