Ferraris Are Meant to be Driven -- Hard
Are you up to the Task? By Bob Gower
I always get a chuckle when I see a classified ad written by someone selling his or her used Ferrari that says, “This car has never been on the track”. I find this humorous because the very first thing that you will notice when you visit the factory in Modena is the smell that comes from a car that has been exercised very hard. The smell of hot brakes, and overheated exhaust pipes is wonderful. The fact is these little cars are meant to be driven hard and each car is given a factory test drive by a team of skilled drivers before leaving the factory. The test drive is not a genteel cruise around the block either. The factory test drive will push the car harder than either you or I will probably ever push our car because today’s Ferrari is way more car than we are drivers. So why not close the gap and improve your driving skills. Flogging someone else’s car is really more fun. We are all capable of learning and a 2 or 3 day driving school makes a great vacation so let’s take a look at what is available.
Unfortunately I do know a little about these schools having squandered away more than a few dollars at various schools. I speak from a position of experience and reduced wallet size. The following is strictly my personal opinion and is probably worth exactly what you are paying me for this opinion.
The Mother of all driving schools for the Ferrari owner is of course the schools offered by Ferrari. Ferrari of North America offers the Ferrari Driving Experience. At this school you drive F430s on the Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant track in Quebec. This school runs from May to September since it is very difficult to get P Zero snow tires. In addition, the Ferrari factory offers a series of 4 schools under the name Corso Pilota. These schools run at the Fiorano track near the factory and use a fleet of F430s and 599GTBs. If you have to ask how much, you cannot afford these schools.
More affordable, but non-Ferrari schools abound here in the U. S. The big 3 have always been Panoz, Skip Barber, and Bondurant. Recently Panoz went belly up. An unfortunate circumstance as it was one of the better schools. The Panoz School used purpose built racecars and ran on Road Atlanta. I attended the Panoz School prior to attending the 1999 FCA National Meet. It was a great help to have had the teaching, as Road Atlanta is a fast, technical track. That year 5 cars were wrecked at the National Meet but the yellow car was not one of them.
The Skip Barber School has been around for a long time and unlike most of the other schools Barber runs at many different tracks. Representative tracks are Laguna Seca (my favorite), Road America, Road Atlanta, Lime Rock, and Watkins Glen. Barber offers both High Performance Driving and Racing Schools. Three days at either will cost you between $3,000 and $4,000. The starter driving schools use a 300 hp Mazda MX-5 Cup racing car, the racing school uses a 2 liter open wheel formula vehicle, and the High Performance course uses a Porsche 911 at most tracks. Barber uses over 80 instructors and the instructors are somewhat track specific. The quality of instruction is good.
Bondurant is the biggest and probably the best known of the U. S. driving schools. Located in Phoenix, Bondurant claims to have over 200 cars. The students drive 2007/2008 Corvettes and the instructors drive Cadillac Escalades. There are 4 tracks at the 60-acre site and every thing is first class. A 3-day High Performance School cost $3,275 and the 4-day Racing class is $4,795. What really sets the Bondurant School apart is the quality of the instructors. Terry Bordheller, the 2000, 2001, 2003 ALMS champion instructs there frequently. In my last two visits I had Darren Law as my instructor. Darren is currently in 5th place in the 2008 ALMS series (driving a Porsche no less). Bob Bondurant will sometimes be on the same track with an advanced class giving private instruction to someone like a NASCAR Cup driver. It is a hoot to latch onto his rear bumper and to try to stay there. Each class begins with a 15-passenger van ride around the teaching track. If you go there, take my advice and grab the front seat for this ride. The front seat gives a better view and avoids the person in the back row of the van that is hurling breakfast.
I have only scratched the surface of driving schools here. I am familiar with these schools but there are many other choices. Auto Week does 3 issues each year of what they call “AW Driving School Directory”. This Directory is an excellent listing of U. S. schools. The next Directory will be the Auto Week issue of 09/01/08.
FCA RMR member Bob Gower in an openwheel car at Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix.