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So let's say you just had your $1,100/day Lamborghini Huracan delivered to valet at your hotel. Where do you go? Down the strip? Uh, yeah... ok. Everyone will be impressed. Drive in and out of the hotel valet parking lanes? I'm sure they've seen that before. How about the endless outer streets off the strip that were surely drawn by men with pocket protectors, past shopping malls, restaurants, gas stations, office parks, public storage, churches and other signs of suburbia. All right, we need to get out of town. A few years ago, I rented a Harley and rode out to the Valley of Fire State Park, about an hour from the Strip, where the roads are clean and largely deserted and there are dozens of miles of curvy, twisty roads. As long as you know where to go and where to stop for essentials such as gas and water, barring a mechanical breakdown you shouldn't see any vultures circling. In isolated stretches, depending on your nerve and confidence in your insurance policy, you may begin to test the car's mechanical limitations. I wouldn't, but no doubt some do. Adios muchachos. It's a big-time commitment, but you've got the car all day. 'But I have to be at the SEMA show – I can't give up six hours of my life. Tell you what – how about I keep the eleven hundred and let me rent the Boxter for a couple of laps around the block?', I felt like saying.
Las Vegas has a couple of answers for the driver or car enthusiast who wants to rent an exotic car for a short time and legitimately test its limits. EXR, Exotics Racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, will rent you a Lamborghini Gallardo for 5 laps around the track for $299, or $60 a lap. The price goes down, relatively speaking, the more laps you do, so you could go a long way for eleven hundred bucks. I don't know much more about it, but next time in town I may give it a try to compare to this brand-new facility that I'm about to tell you about.
While in town for the SEMA show, I was invited to go for three laps at a place that opened that is custom made for an exotic car experience. It's called SpeedVegas, and it is right on South Las Vegas Blvd. I mean S-o-u-t-h Las Vegas Blvd. 14200, to be specific; so far south that my taxi driver, who' been driving in Vegas for 20 years, almost didn't believe it existed. When we arrived, he said it was the farthest he'd ever been out of town. At Las Vegas taxi rates, that's about 50 bucks from the Flamingo, where we grabbed our hack. Take the free shuttle they offer. To be fair, I was offered the free shuttle, but it couldn't get close to the SEMA show in a reasonable time frame and I had to check out of my hotel anyway before I headed out there.
I was totally impressed with the scale and newness of what I was looking at. Here was a 1.5 mile track, with a large pit area, observation area, class room and customer service areas. Check-in was simple enough. A telemetry device, a combination of a plastic wristwatch and a big Fit Bit, was placed on my wrist, but they kept my driver's license. On monitors behind the service desk, activity of the other telemetry devices on the track or in action was displayed, including driver names, their cars, and speeds.
The track is a left-handed, 12-turn circuit with a long, arcing ½ mile straight that goes past the building before braking to a chicane where the pit lane joins the track. As you proceed through the opening series of tight, technical S-turns, a small straight emerges. You duck into a slightly undulating corkscrew turn and come through a couple of quick left-right sweepers before the hairpin turn back to the main straight.
I was asked what car I wanted to drive. Even though I was given only 3 laps to evaluate this experience, I was really looking forward to it -after all I don't get to drive Ferrari's, Lamborghini's or Porsche's very often. I chose a Porsche GT3, because of it's race-car-like handling. My advisor confirmed that he thinks I made the right choice. He said "Most people gravitate to the Lamborghini Huracan or the 458 (basically the super-exotics in their collection), but the best handling cars around this track are the GT3 or the [Corvette] Z06. I feel reassured by my selection and wait for my classroom session to begin.
About 15 minutes after our classroom session was supposed to begin, a group of us are summoned to a glass-walled room with a track map and white board – we are about to begin. After the lead instructor's intro and brief self-presented bio, we get into some technicalities. There is no real discussion or review of the participants' level of experience or prior exposure to the kind of machinery available here. I think the assumption is that everyone is a novice. The next 15-20 minutes are a review of the track and basic principles of physics, inertia, braking, and the virtues of hitting the apex of a turn. Don't worry if you're a little vague on some of this; you're going to have a 'coach' in the passenger seat to help you through every step of the way. Your coach's passenger seat is also equipped with a brake override so that in the event make a big mistake, he can bail you out. I'm reminded of the car I took my driving lessons in – 1970 Volkswagen Super Beetle, with the same setup.
Meeting over, we get fitted for helmets and instructed to wait for our coaches. As we queue up behind our designated cars, I'm informed that there are three other people in front of me waiting for the GT3 - do I mind waiting? I had a plane to catch and needed to stop by the hotel for my luggage, so I couldn't hang around long. I decided to 'settle' for a Valencia orange Lamborghini Gallardo. My coach escorted me to the car and opened the door. Despite warnings of the tight accommodations, I found ingress easy and the driving position comfortable. I was sitting in a real supercar. I turned the key and the car fired up immediately. As we exited the pit lane my coach reminded me that he had a duplicate brake pedal on his side. Also, don't be surprised if he grabs the wheel to correct any errant actions. Yikes!...couldn't you just text me instead?
As we began my first lap around the track my coach provided me with insights as to the best line to take through each turn. As I rounded the hairpin I was able to kick down on the accelerator with some real authority. There was no doubt about it -this car was FAST. As the numbers at the end of the straight approached, I also found that the brakes were also responsive and brought the Gallardo do a speed slow enough to safely navigate the chicane. The remaining two laps went by very quickly. I felt I couldn't get a proper feel for the track or the car. With my coach barking out hints at every turn, I found myself reacting late because I was listening more than watching the road ahead – a bad turn of events. This kind of activity is much more visual than it is auditory. Listening to my coach's instructions were proving to a noticeable distraction, despite their helpful intention. I felt like saying, "Please shut up so I can figure this out!", but I knew it would be to no avail. As I returned the car to the paddock, I wished for a few more laps -faster and quieter. But I had a plane to catch. Upon exit, my photo was taken outside the car and it was emailed to me, matched up with a graphic (137 mph on the straight). For a person of my meagre abilities, there was easily another 10 mph more that could be had, but there was inadequate or budget time to test that theory.
I get it - these folks are letting me play with a $300,000 toy; they have a right to be anal retentive. Perhaps one day there will be a screening process to allow drivers with a more experience than novices to have a more latitude with the car.
At an advertised price of $69/lap, SpeedVegas is slightly more expensive than EXR, but I can't vouch for the other experience. As I said, I'll try that next time. Good thing I remembered to give back the watch thing an pick up my driver's license.