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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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A coworker pointed out a groupon deal on Gotham’s Dream Car Sprint. For just $100, plus $6 tax (paid in person), it was an opportunity to drive an F430 around an autocross track.

Seemed like as good a reason as any to try Groupon, I guess! So, we did that today. M drove the Lamborghini Gallardo, and I drove a Ferrari F430.

me in an F430

The basic idea is you show up, wait a long damn time, and then you get “four” laps around a dinky autocross track. The first lap is an orientation lap, at “the instructor’s pace.” Then there are two laps, followed by the exit lap (the exit is a few turns before the start). So you get like 2.7 laps, maybe.

You start moving, shift into second, and then you’re not allowed to downshift. You can shift up to 3 and back down to 2, but the course is honestly too small for that. I did it anyway, because might as well see what shifting an F430 is like under load, but there was no real point. Even when they were warming the cars up, the staff weren’t running out of second gear in the back straight.

If there’s squealing, you get a warning. After being warned, they reserve the right to stop the car and terminate your experience.

At the end, you get some photos, and you’re on your merry way.

The course is pretty carefully designed to prevent you from ever being at any sort of speed in a corner, and the braking zone cones are set up about 100 feet before you need to actually brake. I don’t necessarily think either of these are bad ideas, but it’s worth being aware going into this that the idea is to offer as neutered an experience as possible.

I underestimated what it would take to lock up the Ferrari’s wheels on my first “hot” lap and locked up braking in the straight. Somewhat fascinatingly, the steering column collapsed at this time too – I don’t know if this is something intelligent (e.g. crash avoidance behavior under heavy braking), or just shitty engineering, but either way I was extremely unimpressed with that behavior. May just be a by-product of 16,000 people having changed the steering column depth and then thrashed the car around a parking lot.

I was glad I locked up, as I got to experience the Ferrari’s ABS. It’s fantastic. Incredibly communicative, high-frequency, still allows for driving input, and is not at all jarring or erratic. Fabulous.

The car sounds great. Truly. The handling is great, but no greater at autocross speeds than any other decently sporty mid-engine car I’ve been in. Only once in the 6000+ RPM range in the back straight was it clear that this was a supercar, and not just a Cayman that sounds nice.

Second hot lap got the braking right in the back straight and that was nice. Started to get a decent amount of wheel slip and squeal around the corners. Was pretty sure the instructor was going to give me shit at this point and tell me to knock it off, but for some reason he didn’t. Operating theory was that it was clear it wasn’t intentional hooliganism or stupidity, so he was okay with it. So, full credit to Gotham for that.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. I now know there’s little point in a supercar for me, not that I was planning on buying one anytime soon. At anything approaching highway speeds, they’re not that much more exciting than any other decently sporty car. I suspect the real fun is in the 70-150 range, but then that’s only going to happen if being stupid or on a track.

$100 for two and change laps around a dinky course with a lot of restrictions seems pretty steep. On the other hand, there’s not much in between “nothing” and “rent a supercar” short of Gotham’s own “dream car tour” at $795. So I guess they can name their own price.