I Drove a Ferrari 488 - My Experience Going From Sim to Real

Discussion in 'Cars in General' started by JackRyanWMU, Oct 21, 2019.

  1. JackRyanWMU

    JackRyanWMU

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    It's the sort of thing sim drivers dream about. Taking all of the virtual miles we've driven and all the simulated apexes we've hit, and putting it into real practice. Indeed, going back to when I got the original Gran Turismo as a Christmas present over two decades ago, I had dreams of what it would be like to actually take a performance car onto a race track and be able to drive it flat-out.

    Finally, this past September, I finally got to find out.

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    I'm a passionate traveler during my vacations, and on this occasion my journey brought me to the Las Vegas area. I was coincidentally there when the Area 51 Raid was supposed to (but didn't) happen, but it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was on my way to California to see Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, but I had reserved one morning in Sin City to visit Exotics Racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Several of my co-workers had already been here before; and knowing of my addiction to IMSA, Indycar, and other car-related interests; they made sure I was bound to stop at Exotics Racing and get my first real taste of driving on a race track.

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    If you're thinking, "Driving a supercar on a race track doesn't sound cheap", you're not wrong. Some of the fastest cars will cost several hundred dollars to be able to drive for five laps. So when I made my initial reservation, I opted for one of least expensive options: a Chevrolet Corvette Z51. I've been a Corvette fan as long as I can remember. I grew up a NASCAR fan, but I can definitely credit seeing the C5R in Gran Turismo 3 as being a "gateway drug" to IMSA, Le Mans, and Sports Car racing in general. So I couldn't pass up the opportunity to drive a Corvette for myself.

    However, the cars at Exotics don't live easy lives; and a few days before my drive I received an e-mail to inform me that the Corvette was sidelined with a mechanical issue. That disappointment was quickly eased by what I was offered for a replacement: a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Porsche 911 GT3, or a Ferrari 430. For me, the choice was easy. The Lamborghini would have style. The Porsche would have motorsports heritage. But the Ferrari would have both in spades. So the 430 it would be for me.

    Or so I thought.

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    I arrived that morning, a bit nervous but quietly confident that I was up to the challenge of driving a supercar on a race track. There was some time before the driver's briefing and eventually the supercars began to file into the paddock area adjacent to the Exotics Racing building. At first, the other customers and I respectfully stood off to the side and watched from a distance. To which one of the attendants told us, "Go on, get up close, take pictures, sit in the cars, it's no extra charge."

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    So I got to sit in the driver's seat of a Lamborghini Gallardo, a Mercedes AMG, and an Audi R8. Not a bad way to spend a morning already. Then came time for the driver's meeting. Here, we were given an introductory course of road racing technique and what to expect from the track. I could see other would-be drivers in the room showing signs of nervousness, hunched forward and their legs fidgeting. I was doing my best to exude Dale Earnhardt levels of confidence, laying casually back in my chair as I took in the lesson. After all, it was more or less a refresher of what I've been trying to practice in sim-racing all these years. I understood the concepts, just a matter of putting it into practice, right?

    The next step was a couple of familiarization laps of the "Playground Circuit" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This came from the passenger seat of a Porsche SUV with an instructor at the wheel and another customer in the backseat. (Our instructor asked us where I was from. I replied, "Kalamazoo, Michigan" thinking I was a long way from home. The young woman behind us made me think again when she replied, "Australia.") Now, I do tend to scoff at "SUVs", as I think they're neither sporty nor utilitarian. Well, as the Porsche leaned through the corners seemingly about to capsize like the Andrea Doria, it was something of a hard reset to my internal navigation. I was expecting my driving experience to be double or triple what I was used to taking a spirited drive in my 2014 Buick Regal AWD down some twisty roads. The Porsche SUV already had exceeded those expectations by a wide margin.

    Then came the biggest surprise of the day. I went to check in for my appointed drive for the Ferrari 430. The receptionist then informed me that the 430 had been sidelined with mechanical problems as well that morning. And so I had received a free upgrade to one of the fastest and most expensive cars in their fleet: The Ferrari 488. She then commented that I seemed alright with this arrangement, perhaps from watching my eyebrows bounce off the ceiling.

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    On one hand, I was extraordinarily lucky, getting one of the most expensive cars to drive at a significant discount. On the other, it was pretty much like putting a rookie pilot in the cockpit of an F-14 Tomcat. The nerves were starting to climb at this point, but no way was I going to wuss out now. After selecting a helmet that was probably a size too big (over-estimating the thickness of my skull), I was then introduced to my instructor: Romain Thievin, an experienced touring and stunt car driver. From here, perhaps it's best to let the video and telemetry tell the story:


    So first thing to address, the gas and brake pedals were so close together in the 488 that I found the edge of my right sneaker was getting caught on the brake pedal when I lifted off the throttle. I had initially intended to use my right foot for both throttle and brakes like in my everyday driving, and in how I was using my Thrustmaster T150 on my PC. But with this new issue, I quickly decided that I would have to start left foot braking for the first time ever while in the fastest car I'd ever driven on my first time on a race track.

    The other thing that a racing sim can't prepare you for; no matter how good its physics or how fancy your rig, are the G-forces and how they affect you. My brain and body did feel like they were operating on overload and it took everything I had to hit my marks and listen to what Romain was telling me. (To the point where he had to remind me to breathe at one point.)

    Don't think I did bad, though. We were told beforehand that if your instructor is telling you to push more, it means he likes what he's seeing from you and is trying to get the most out of you and the car. Without him there, I would have never broken the 1 Minute mark on the track, much less get 59 Seconds flat. Even when the car was under what felt like intense g-loads exiting the corners, he was telling me to get back on the gas. There were several moments where my brain was telling me, "The car is going to spin," and I just had to ignore it and listen to what Romain was telling me. As he mentioned in the end of the video, my big breakthrough was breaking a bad habit I had in racing sims; where I had to stop staring down my braking points and instead focus on the corner ahead and aiming the car towards where I needed to go.

    So to sum things up; driving a Ferrari 488 was absolutely one of the most incredible experiences I've had in my life, and I highly recommend Exotics Racing to any car and racing fans that find themselves in the Las Vegas area. It's a bit expensive, sure. But compared to giving away the same amount of money to a slot machine at a casino, this is a much better use of your money. My advice: if you can afford it, do it.

    Although it has had one side effect. I don't want to wait until my next time in Las Vegas to be back on a track again. Like I might want to finally get around to taking my sports sedan to a track day. In fact, this poster may have been downright prophetic:

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    Last edited: Oct 21, 2019
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  2. Nismonath5

    Nismonath5 Premium

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    What an absolutely awesome write up, and epic experience!!!
    It does however irk me that you never quite topped 200kph! Got to199 a couple of times, I was waiting for the big 2-0-0... Maybe next time? ;)
     
  3. Danoff

    Danoff Premium

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    What cars have you driven on track before?
     
  4. JackRyanWMU

    JackRyanWMU

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    This was the first (not counting some go-karts while on vacation in my youth). ;)
     
  5. jjaisli

    jjaisli Premium

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    Preach it like the 'truth'. Because it is. At an entry level, first time ever on a track, even if one is a pretty competent driver, there are many ways that sim racing can help prepare you for the real thing. Driving faster and pushing harder than you (probably) ever have in the real world, on public roads, basic line theory (outside-inside-outside), cornering at the apex (slow in fast out), all while minding the cars in the front of you, the cars behind you, flag marshals, minding and being mindful of tire temperatures and pressures, braking points, turn in points, fuel level, etc. These are all concepts that sim racing can help train you to focus on simultaneously.

    The first time on track for most people is an exercise in sensory overload. And racing on line certainly does help to compartmentalize all of that input and allows you to slow it down and break it down while still getting on with the business of actually driving and driving quickly and accurately. Actually forgetting to breath is a very typical example of what happens to people the first time out. Don't feel badly. I think the time I spent with racing sims in years past certainly gave me an edge my first time on track compared to those who didn't. But that said, moderate experience autocrossing before the first time on track, and there after, moderate seat time on track, will trump any sim racing experience.

    It's not a popular opinion on GTP but somebody with 20+ hours of real life seat time on track with a good instructor probably can't gain much of anything from (commercial grade) simulators, other than to just familiarize yourself with the basic layout. Aside from the very real physical effects of G-forces on your body and inner ear, the over-simplified tire models games like Forza or Gran Tursimo have, that don't really take the contact patch, tread width or proper pressure or degradation into account, really limit world word cross over.

    I imagine it's a great experience being able to drive these exotic cars for the first time without having to worry about the dangers and pitfall of doing so on public roads. In general, I'm not a big fan of the concept, because I think a lot of the people who sign up, HAVE very limited real world experience on track, and doing it the first time in a car that often has 3 times the power of what they're normally driving on the road, is a recipe for disaster. But few people would probably sign up if all they offered were spec Miatas. And these Exotic drives aren't really about learning how to drive on track properly--they're really just thrill rides. Although it does sound like they made an effort to teach some basic concepts. (Thank goodness) All that said, it sounds like you had a really good time and you thoroughly enjoyed yourself. And getting a double upgrade isn't bad either. Nicely done.
     
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  6. Danoff

    Danoff Premium

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    For your first track experience that was a lot of car. :) For your second track experience, maybe go for a beater BMW, miata, etc. It'll slow things down for you a bit and help you hone your skills.
     
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  7. JackRyanWMU

    JackRyanWMU

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    It was a bit like getting to spend a night with Scarlett Johansson. While I might've been way out of my league, I couldn't really turn down the opportunity. :sly:

    Part of why I went for the Corvette Z51 initially was to have something that wasn't ridiculously over-powered for my first go on a track, 460 horsepower seemed reasonable. Then came minor bump in power with the 430, with its 490 horsepower. And then it was a Saturn V rocket launch to the 488 and 670 horsepower in the hands of a complete pleb. Definitely a crazy turn of events, but I'm not complaining with how it turned out. :tup:
     
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  8. Slapped

    Slapped Premium

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    Great stuff - something I'd like to do one day should the opportunity come my way.

    I watched the video and it was really impressed, but there was one thing that was irritating me - If it had been me in the car I think I'd have probably made to the end of lap 3 before I pulled the car over to the side of the track, turned to the instructor and said "OK, I've got it, now either shut up or get out". That said I do know why he's there, and has to give so many instructions, and that everyday he goes to work he's probably terrified to within an inch of his of life having to sit next to randoms mashing the peddles in 600 BHP sports cars.
     
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  9. Danoff

    Danoff Premium

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    For first time on track 200 hp is more than enough....
     
  10. jjaisli

    jjaisli Premium

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    For what it's worth, as somebody who's been doing this for many years and has gone through preliminary training to be an official BMW CCA track instructor, I can tell you that the biggest worry instructors face is not students mashing the pedals to the floor in high powered cars, (although that's also a big concern) but rather the guys who think they know it all and don't need any instruction after 3 laps.
     
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  11. Slapped

    Slapped Premium

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    It was more to do with his shouty information overload rather than thinking I know it all. Maybe it's a British and American culture clash but compare that to the instructor when Jimmy Broadbent went for a run in a Mclaren GT4.



    No shouty shouty, just calm, relaxed, and informative - if you can hear it over the engine.
     
  12. jjaisli

    jjaisli Premium

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    Certainly different instructors have varying styles. And some students and instructors just don't gel. It happens. Usually a quick word with the chief instructor and an exchange can be made in between sessions. But stopping on track, and ordering the instructor out of the car, yeah, definitely frowned upon. :lol: But for the record, @JackRyanWMU's instructor was a French guy.

    We're generally taught to give constant feedback in a calm, steady way. And only offer 'corrective' advise after clear concise and direct instructions are given.

    For example.

    - Brake now
    - Turn in (left/right)
    - Apply throttle

    Say them as commands and in a way that they can't be interpreted two different ways. And not more than 5 words together for new students as many of them just can't process the information. And maybe after the action, once on a straight, suggest, "next lap turn in earlier, or brake a bit later or squeeze down slowly on the throttle".

    It's easy when you're sitting in front of a G29 in your living room. For students who are hitting a track for the first time, or with less than 10 hours seat time, especially in a car they're not familiar with, it's a very different and often very stressful experience. And it's all a bit overwhelming.

    After more seat time when students are more comfortable/confident, the input and comments become more complex and nuanced and eventually it becomes more coaching and less instructing. But in a situation like Exotic Racing, where the instructor has to deal with customers with varying ranges of experience, they have no choice but to take command. There's a method behind that madness. You're right, when their life is on the line you have to make it clear, in a friendly but firm way, right from the moment you get in the car that as the instructor, you're in charge. And giving that kind of feedback reinforces that.

    I know an experienced track guy who signed up for an exotic racing round at another location. After a conversation with the instructor and a few laps, it was clear he was comfortable and confident and the instructor gave him much more free reign.
     
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  13. 90sEnthusiast

    90sEnthusiast

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    Can't believe I missed this! Awesome video, and great driving on your end for your first time!
    I've been lucky enough to joy ride some of my wealthier friends cars; Lambo Diablo SV, Lotus Esprit V8 TT - my favorite - Acura NSX-T, R32 Skyline GT-R, R35 GT-R, some others. But never on a track! I'd have crashed the Lotus and the Lambo easily, the only one that I could maybe pull a below average time in would be the R35 GT-R just because it does the work for you.

    Congrats, and thanks for sharing!
     
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