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Unread 02-16-2010, 03:34 PM   #1
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I just came back from Vegas, where last Saturday, I drove a Ferrari F430 around the infield road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was one of the most fun things I've done in a long time. I very highly recommend it to everyone.

It was through a company called Exoticsracing.com. I made my reservations back in December, but I doubt you have to make them that early. I chose to do 5 laps in the Ferrari and get an in-car video of my experience, all of which came out to about $380. It might sound like a lot of money, but compared to how much money I normally spend or gamble away in Vegas, it's nothing. To be honest, I considered it a pretty good deal.

I figured there had to be a catch, though. The price was reasonable, but these cars are worth hundreds of thousands. How do they protect their investment? Maybe the cars are rev-limited? Maybe it's follow-the-leader, and while the leader is pretty quick, it's not like you're going balls out as fast as you want. Maybe there's a super expensive insurance rider they don't tell you about until you get there. In any case, I decided to buy the cheapest package until I tried it out first hand.

Well here's the catch: there's an experienced driver sitting in the passenger seat with you the whole time. You have to listen to what he says, but it's not a bad thing. He lets you drive as fast as he thinks you can handle and can give you tips as you drive. By the end of the first lap, my co-driver could tell I more-or-less knew what I was doing, so he was letting me go balls out. He didn't freak-out or tell me to slow down when I got the car sideways coming out of a turn. He just kind of chuckled and said I overcooked it a little.

So like I said, I'd made reservations on line. They'll send you a confirmation email and ask that you print it and bring it, but they had my name (and my wife's name) in their records when I got there, so I didn't actually have to bring anything. I'm sure the confirmation email is necessary if there's a problem, though, or at least your confirmation number.

They're right here: (green arrow). It takes about 20 minutes to get there from downtown Las Vegas (Main Street, California Hotel, etc.). Once you get off I-15 North and turn right on Speedway Blvd., there are temporary "ExoticsRacing" signs you can easily follow to get there. Finding the place is not a problem.

The building is a long line of garages, so they've basically taken the one garage at the end and made it into a reception area. There's a reception desk, a few sofas make up a sitting area, and there's a table along the side with coffee & soft drinks, etc. There are also folding chairs outside so you can sit and watch the cars. There are also restrooms.

So I go up to the receptionists desk and give them our names, which they promptly find on their system. They tell me that the video equipment is down, and apologize for not being able to give me a video of my experience. They ask if I'd prefer 2 extra laps in the Ferrari or 2 laps riding in a Z06 with a professional stunt driver to make up for it. They go on to explain that the stunt driver is Romain Thievin, a Hollywood stunt driver who did all of Matt Damon's stunt driving in the Bourne movies. He happened to be there filming a segment for a French TV show called Fast Club, which is apparently like Top Gear in France. Both my wife and I opt for the ride w/ Romain.

They call themselves a racing school, but it's really just track time in an exotic car. It's not a school. Still, we had to sit in a class and receive some instruction. There was a guy there who went over things like the racing line, oversteer, etc., but if you didn't already know that stuff, you weren't going to learn it there. What was more important was how this stuff was going to work.

They explained that an experienced race driver was going to sit in the passenger seat the whole time, and I had to follow his directions at all times. On the approach to every corner, they had 2 cones side-by-side indicating the start of the braking zone. A single cone further on indicated the turn-in point and the end of the braking zone. Another cone was placed at the apex, and finally one more at the end of the corner, where you should be at full-throttle and steering straight ahead.

Every car there -- Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Aston Martin Vantage, and Porsche 911 -- was equipped with a paddle-shifter gearbox. If you wanted, you can drive the car in full-auto mode.

The mirrors in the car are set for the codriver to use, not you. If he sees a car coming up behind you, he'll tell you to slow down, pull to one side, and let the other car pass. He will also turn on/off your hazards to signal the other driver to pass. If you're the car doing the passing, you're only allowed to pass when the other car's hazards are on. If you're the faster car and you get held up for more than a few corners, the codriver will let you do another lap for free.



I'll post up about my actual experience later when I have more time.
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Unread 02-16-2010, 04:00 PM   #2
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Wow...sounds like an absolute blast. Now I know what to do when I go to Vegas...screw gambling!
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Unread 02-16-2010, 09:38 PM   #3
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maybe i should make reservations since i'm going in july. thanks for the info zff, this sounds like a great experience for all gearheads
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Unread 02-16-2010, 10:44 PM   #4
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yups! heard about this too! seemed like u had a great experience!!! they also got other racing schools to at LVMS right?
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Unread 02-17-2010, 10:35 PM   #5
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Ok, part II:

There were lots of girls there -- all wives and girlfriends of the participants -- but very few female participants. Of the 12 to 15 people in my "class", my wife was only 1 of 2 females. (I say "class" in quotes because that's what they call it, but like I said, they're not really a racing school.) The class was an interesting mix of people. There was a group of 3 young guys from China, 2 guys from Africa, 2 or 3 European-male-model wannabe types, and the rest, just regular American folks, ages ranging from their 20s to their 60s.

My wife thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I would recommend all the wives and girlfriends out there to try it out too. It's not a competition; there's no pressure. You can drive the car in full-auto mode if you like, so it's very easy to drive. There's lots of run-off space, so even if you lose control, you won't hit anything. Everyone is busy driving their own car, so nobody will notice if you're driving a lot slower than everyone else. The guy sitting in the passenger seat is very helpful, too. At the very least, do 5 laps in the Porsche (the cheapest car). It's probably more fun than you thought.

Anyway, after the class, they split us up into groups of 4. They take each group out on the track in a Hummer H2 driven by the guy who "taught" the racing part of the "class". He does 2 laps, going over the braking, turn-in, apex and exit points. The first lap is moderate, but he steps it up the 2nd lap, with the Hummer's tires howling like wolves at the full moon. If you sit in the middle in the back, make sure you like the 2 people you're sitting between, because you're going to be smashed up against them a lot.

After you get out of the Hummer, you report to a girl who will give you a goofy-looking fabric shower cap thing to wear under the helmet which she'll also give you. It's a black open face helmet, and they have assorted sizes. Then you just wait around until your car is ready.

My Ferrari happened to be sitting there already, so I didn't have to wait. They had 2 red F430s there, an orange and a neon green Gallardo, a white Porsche 911 and a dark grey Aston Martin V8 Vantage. They also had a red Z06 and the black Hummer. Any number of those cars could be on the track with you.

Before I get into my F430, my wife takes a picture of me standing next to it wearing my goofy helmet. Getting into the Ferrari with the helmet on is kinda tricky, but I made it in. There's not a lot of headroom in the F430, and it's even worse if you're wearing a helmet. I think tall people might be uncomfortable.

I shake hands with my codriver, and we have a little conversation. He wants to know how much driving experience I've had, etc. I told him I've done maybe 20 or 30 laps on a road course about 8 years ago. He repeats some of the stuff we covered in the class. He asked me if I'd ever driven a paddle-shifter gearbox before, and I tell him my GT-R has one.

The engine is still running from the last guy, so I pull the left paddle to engage 1st and head off. We cruise along in the pit area, and I upshift into a leisurely 3rd on the way to about 30mph. I'm getting excited as I see us nearing the 90° right-hand turn to enter the track.

Here's a map of the track. The pit lane is in blue.

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Unread 02-17-2010, 10:58 PM   #6
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what did he say wen u said GTR?
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Unread 02-18-2010, 10:48 AM   #7
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He said "the new one?", to which I said yes, and all he said was "cool". I doubt it means much to them; they probably get a lot of people who own interesting cars. Speaking of that, after having driven a $200K Ferrari F430 full speed on a track, I'm pretty sure my GT-R is faster.

Anyway, getting back to my story...

I make the right turn on to the track, downshift into 2nd, and floor it. The F430's exhaust system has butterflies that bypass the silencers above a certain RPM, so when they open, the sound is absolutely incredible. It's the most beautiful car sound you'll ever hear. When I shifted to 3rd, I was surprised at how brutal the shifts are, especially compared to my GT-R. I know the DCT in my GT-R would naturally be smoother, but I was shocked at how brutal the single-clutch transmission in the F430 shifts.

I reach the start of the braking zone, and I get on the brakes hard -- really hard, like you naturally would when you're racing. I didn't slam on them; just a very quick roll on to a very high pedal pressure. It surpised my codriver. He said something like "Whoa, you really know how to use those brakes." I guess I did. I could have easily stopped the car completely before the turn-in point. I assumed this was mainly because it was my in-lap, and I wasn't going the normal full speed into turn 1. I also assumed they build in a safety margin in the braking zone. During the class, the instructor seemed to make it a point to stress how important it is to brake hard. I guess normal people don't tend to brake very hard? I don't know. Whatever the case is, I ended up having to accelerate into turn 1 that first lap.

By the time I went into that first turn 3, I felt like I should be at normal lapping speed, but I still had plenty of room in the braking zone. I just followed the rules and kept braking at the double cones, but it just ruined my corners. I was going way too slow and had to accelerate before I reached the apex. That would lighten the front and cause it to push. It was a mess.

I'll tell you one thing, though, the Ferrari F430 has magnificient steering feel. The turn-in is incredible. I thought my NSX had great turn-in, but the F430 blows it away. The front of the car moves INSTANTLY when you move the wheel, and when the front tires start to push, you can feel it in the steering right away. My NSX had really good steering too (even compared to my Ferrari and my GT-R), but the F430 is in another league.

After my first lap, heading down the straight into turn 1, I told my codriver I was going to start my braking later. He didn't comment, or if he did, I didn't hear him. When I went flying past the double cones still on the throttle, he was yelling "BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE!", so I don't think he was into the idea. Eventually, I did this compromise where I'd get really hard on the brakes just after the double cones, but then let off almost immediately and sort of coast into the corner with a lot of speed. I know it wasn't the best way around the corner, but it seemed to make my codriver happy, and it helped me focus on getting a good corner exit.

The laps were an absolute blast. The turn 5 6 7 esses are a little tricky, and I kicked the back out once accelerating out of 6. I never seemed to get that damned decreasing-radius double-apex turn 8 right, but it didn't seem to affect my turn 9. I managed to get to 5th on the straight before reaching the braking zone. When I was watching the Ferrari do laps earlier that day, I noticed everyone only upshifted once between turn 9 and turn 1. I was managing to shift twice. Pretty much everything from turn 1 to turn 9 can be done in 3rd. If you come out of turn 4 really quick, you might hit 4th gear for a bit before turn 5, and if you screw up there, you might have to go down to 2nd before going into turn 6.

The F430 was amazing. Like I said earlier, the steering is incredible. My NSX had way better steering (both in turn-in and feel) than my GT-R, but the F430 is in a whole other league. It also rotates very controllably. When you're in a long steady turn (like turn 1 or 2) and you've got the car really leaning on its outside tires, you can very easily steer it with the throttle. It's as if the gas pedal is connected to a rear-wheel steering system. I don't have a lot of track experience, and I don't often drive cars at their limits like that, so I don't know how common this kind of thing is, but the F430 felt absolutely amazing to me. I have some experience pushing my NSX to the limit, but it was never so throttle-steerable like that. Mostly, you could just vary the level of understeer. My Ferrari 308 is also very throttle-steerable in the same way the F430 is, but it responds much more slowly and, of course, the level of raw grip is much much lower.

I have never driven my GT-R at its limits, but it feels like the F430 doesn't have as much raw grip as the GT-R does. I suspect the F430 feels better at the limit, but from what I've read about all the fancy computerized systems in the GT-R, maybe the GT-R feels just as controllable. I don't know, but I do know the GT-R has way more power. The Ferrari pulls harder the more you rev it, but the GT-R pulls hard at any RPM. I would love to run my GT-R on that track. (Or any track, for that matter.)

Overall, I felt pretty good about my run. I was definitely improving with every lap, and I passed the Hummer, both Lambos, the Porsche and the Aston. I will definitely go again the next time I'm in Vegas, and I will defintely do more laps.
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Unread 02-18-2010, 12:21 PM   #8
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wow thats pretty cooL! so when can i drive ur GTR?
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Unread 02-18-2010, 07:57 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zff View Post
After my first lap, heading down the straight into turn 1, I told my codriver I was going to start my braking later. He didn't comment, or if he did, I didn't hear him. When I went flying past the double cones still on the throttle, he was yelling "BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE!", so I don't think he was into the idea.
hahahahaa!!! classic! scaring the instructor!

sounds like me teaching my ex how to auto-x. she'd still be going wide open at the point i would have started braking, and she began braking at the point where i'd be thinking about jumping out of the car.

i think she scared the crap out of my car a couple of times.
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Unread 02-19-2010, 08:09 AM   #10
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I didn't take very many pictures, but here are a couple:

This is the pit area, where the cars are parked while waiting for customers. It's hard to tell, but that's an Aston Martin V8 Vantage at the end. That red F430 is the one I just drove.



This is the same F430 with the next customer in it, heading out for its run.



The red Corvette Z06 in the foreground is the one they use to take customers out on the track w/ a professional driver.

As I said earlier, I opted for 2 laps with Romain Thievin after my run. He took me out in that Z06, and it was a blast. He drifted his way though every turn, even passing the other cars on the track while sideways. The dude's got some mad skillz, but they tell me all their drivers are capable of drifting their way around the track. It was definitely an experience to have, but not necessarily one you have to repeat. Most of the women that didn't participate in the driving went for drifting laps with Romain, and it was fun to see some of them step out of the car frazzled.



So that's it. That's my review of my day with ExoticsRacing.com. I highly recommend the experience to everyone.
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Unread 02-20-2010, 07:53 AM   #11
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Sounds like fun! I bet you'd really like to take the GT-R out for a drive like that just to feel the comparison. Kinda crazy that the GT-R is so damn good of a car it can compete with 200K machines and upwards. Thanks for the great story, but it sure does make me wish we had a track. Tom B. was doing the same thing at the J&N Track Days with Maseratis, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris. That was the shiznit.
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Unread 02-21-2010, 12:45 PM   #12
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i just got back from vegas too. i saw the ad for that, i also thought there was a "catch". guess not, my loss! $380 is pretty reasonable. sounds like you had alot of fun.
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Unread 02-22-2010, 08:52 PM   #13
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Awesome!! Maybe I'll try this out when my next business trade show is in Vegas.

Thanks for sharing!!!
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Unread 05-18-2010, 12:37 AM   #14
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going to vegas next week.. debating weather or not to to spend some time here...lol

out of the 3 super cars the ferrari is the preferred car? why is the 997 cheaper?
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Unread 01-04-2011, 08:04 AM   #15
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I just noticed on exoticsracing.com's site that they've added a few more cars to their lineup.

Audi R8
Ferrari 458 Italia
Lamborghini Murcielago
Nissan GT-R

Damn, I would SOOOO love to flog a GT-R on a track. Every time I drive mine, it feels like a caged animal dying to break free. I would love to see what it can do if it had the room.
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Unread 01-04-2011, 09:14 AM   #16
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Argh...me no have money. Me jealous!
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Unread 11-30-2011, 12:11 PM   #17
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I just came back from Las Vegas, and of course, while I was there, I visited exoticsracing.com again.

I drove their GT-R because I never get to drive my own near its limits, and I did 10 laps (instead of 5) because I wanted to get familiar with the car at speed. After that, I did 5 laps in a Ferrari 458 Italia because, well, it's the latest and greatest from Ferrari.

Just like the last time, it was a blast. There were a few changes from 2 years ago -- their space is now a lot bigger, they're more organized, they have way more employees, and most significantly.... they have a lot more cars. In February 2010, they had fewer than 10 cars, including the Z06 they used for ride-alongs and the Hummer they used for discovery laps. This time, they had over 20 cars. The ride-alongs are now done in a bright yellow and VERY loud Ferrari 430 Scuderia, and they have 2 or 3 Porsche Cayenne GTSs for discovery laps.

Another difference is that you can now walk around the garage and see the cars up close. You have to watch for cars coming in and going out, but they're watching out for you too. Last time, they only had a handful of cars and they were usually on the track. Now, they have enough cars around that there are always at least a few in the garage to look at.

One big difference with the cars compared to 2 years ago is that they all have brake pedals in the passenger footwells now. I also noticed that every car had aftermarket brake rotors, and cars that came from the factory with carbon discs had regular steel ones. I didn't look at the tires other cars were wearing, but the GT-R had the factory Bridgestones on it, and they were pretty well worn.

The technical briefing is still kind of a joke. They claim to be a racing school, but you're not paying for the instruction, you're paying for track time in an exotic car. That's not to say their staff isn't knowledgeable. Every driving instructor I've interacted with on both visits seemed to really know their stuff. The entire staff is also very friendly and helpful. I have no doubt that they have the expertise to be a real racing school -- I'm just saying they're not really set up as one.

After the briefing, you get your discovery laps. Same deal: they took us out 3 at a time as passengers to see the track. Last time, they took us out in a Hummer H2. Going around corners, it had so much body roll, it felt like the outside suspension was resting on its bumpstops -- and the tires howled like injured dogs. The Cayennes they use now are amazing. For a vehicle that big and tall, there's hardly any roll, the tires don't complain at all, and we were going fast enough to be a little scary.

Almost as soon as I got out of the Cayenne, the GT-R was ready for me. Same deal: you have a little chat with your instructor so he gets a rough idea of your ability. I told my instructor I had a GT-R, so we skipped the familiarization stuff, he put everything in R-mode, and we were off straight away. Wow, I couldn't believe how worn out that car felt. Driving slowly thru the garage and pit area, it felt like everything was loose and sloppy, but once I got up to speed, the car felt fine.

On track, the procedure is the same: wait until the car in front puts his hazards on, then you can pass. The instructors control that -- the mirrors in the car are set for him (not you) -- and they are quick to allow faster drivers to pass.

I could write pages and pages on how the GT-R and 458 drove. I'll try to sum it up by saying that both are incredible, but in totally opposite ways. I was blown away by both cars, even the GT-R (and I drive one every day), but I was far more impressed by the Ferrari. It's far and away the better car.

Anyway, as usual, I highly recommend the whole experience.
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Unread 11-30-2011, 04:42 PM   #18
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damn, next time i go to vegas, i'll really need to try it.
the last time i was there, the IRL race was going on. Went and took pics of Dan Weldons qualifying too. Too bad there was no "Racing" school though.
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Unread 09-29-2012, 09:13 AM   #19
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Go to Vegas for SEMA at the end of October so I may have to look this up.
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