There’s nothing that makes a trip to the mall bearable quite like running a Lamborghini Gallardo or Ferrari F430 around an autocross course setup in the parking lot. At least, if you feel the way about shopping as I do. Or about cars and driving.
The Motorsports Lab organization put on a Groupon event at Tuttle Mall in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend, and I took advantage. The chance to drive a Lamborghini in a performance environment had a lot of appeal to me. Since it was at a mall, I had no problem convincing my girlfriend to come along with me, although this might have been the first time she was waiting on me, and not the other way around.
We arrived early (primarily to shop) but I checked in first thing and noticed all the fun the ride-alongs were having while waiting for the next round of drivers to go through training. I took pictures for a few minutes and then got in line to process registration.Helpful and quick, the event staff answered my questions about the paperwork (which, to be honest, can be quite intimidating unless you have disposable income) and got everything in order. My biggest concern was the 6500 RPM waiver, which basically said if you go above 6500 RPM you have to pay for a (much) pricier experience, unless you opt in (pay) for a waiver. Here’s me thinking I’d (either purposefully or accidentally) punch it, miss a gear, or slide into a new price tier: turns out, no, the cars are effectively automatics and the course is setup for beginners in a way that would almost remove all chances of hitting that RPM with those cars. Makes sense, glad it’s not setup where you could easily slide over the edge of being completely broke by pressing the pedal too hard. Whether official advice or not (hint: the answer is not) it turned out to be accurate, which made me happy.
The orientating training was fun, led by the events manager, a New England Patriots fan from Boston. There was at least one mention of a deflated tires scandal, but after further review, it was determined that all tires were filled to the proper levels.
Screaming tires and the roar of a supercar turning the apex 20 feet away kept the drivers in orientation distracted every 30 seconds or so as ride alongs and other drivers were turning laps. An impromptu Lotus and Porsche even stopped by and drove the course (it was only $30 to take your own car around as many time as you wanted — not a bad touch if you had something worth driving.) The other drivers and I were still in the “what if I crash this thing” mindset but orientation served it’s purpose and gave us some confidence and increased our excitement. At one point, a Lamborghini Aventador in all black stopped by, seemingly to grab Starbucks from the nearby mall, and then took off. Neat to see, nonetheless.
Before and after orientation, they urge drivers and their families to choose a Hot Wheels car from a big box, grab a marker and a sticker, and write a fun or encouraging message on it. These Hot Wheels toys were then donated to children in hospitals. It was a nice thing to do.
After a quick review of the rules — #1 being to have fun — and the others equating to “listen to your instructor and don’t be stupid — you’re driving a $200,000+ supercar that you don’t own” we got into lines based on which car we were driving (and a few other reasons, that I’ll leave for future participants to figure out) and began inspections. You basically document the shape the car is in, just in case any damage occurs while you drive it.
Somehow I was able to drive first in the Ferrari F430. A beautifully elegant red rear-wheel drive monster with the engine directly behind you screaming in your ears. Even the GoPro video clip couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the engine — no complaints. My instructor, Tom (Brady, what?) was encouraging and pushed you harder on the laps than you probably thought you could (unless you have significant experience driving performance cars) leading to a really great experience.
I drove last in the Lamborghini Gallardo, an all wheel drive V10 beast wearing orange blasting you around the course. It’s like being strapped to a rocket the first time you floor it and jump into 2nd gear so quickly — an F1 style paddle shifter. It’s a much more visceral experience than the Ferrari, but it feels much faster, partly because of how much grip you can push down without slipping while turning. Basically there’s a hard first left turn that leads into esses where, at my driving skill level, I felt like I need to hold off the gas or break if I pushed it any harder but my instructor told me to jump on the gas. Wow, that thing stuck to the corners in a way that felt almost unnatural, but ultimately incredibly satisfying.
Both cars were setup in Sports mode with traction control and stability management enabled. One thing to note about these cars, compared to say my 2005 Chevy Colorado 5 speed manual which needs 5th gear to hit 70 MPH, is that 2nd Gear runs up to almost 90 MPH so in an autocross course with no significant straightaway, you basically don’t go out of 2nd gear.
Enjoyable to the point where I would recommend and hopefully can do again. It’s hard to say how well I did: there were no timers going, and no leaderboard time comparison. It would have been nice to know a comparison to one of the instructors, or other participants, for example. I understand why they don’t do that though: it’s the experience that matters, not the time. Instructors gave favorable feedback at the end of runs, and you always clap for the person who just finished their laps. It’s a really cool experience, and I can’t say enough for how well they did putting this event on.
Patrick Labbett is the managing member of NotifiUs, LLC. His work in technology and passion for communication keeps him busy in the contact-center industry where he creates human-powered and automated telephony solutions to solve customer problems.