Track time with the p1, la Ferrari and 918: Part 1
LONG before the legends that are Clarkson, Hammond and May got the P1, 918 and La Ferrari in the same place I got my hands on all three. On the track.
How can one person have multiple highlights of a lifetime in a nine day period? I often ask myself this and I don't have an answer. In just the last twelve months I've had more once-in-a-lifetime experiences than I can count. When you have so many great experiences, when do those great experiences become the norm and what does it take to make one of those experiences stand out above the rest? For me, the answer was by doing something that I wanted to do so badly but never thought it would be possible. When you think about it, that's a pretty hard thing for a person to do. Most of the things I've had the pleasure of doing can be done by anyone with a small infusion of cash. Is your life's ambition to spend a week in Tokyo? That can be done by most people by budgeting properly. How about driving a Ferrari? There's a few places in the country that offer that and again it's achievable fairly easily for the average person. Everyone's list of those unachievable things will be different. For me, driving a McLaren P1 was the top of the list. And when I say driving one, I don't mean puttering around the public streets quickly going from stoplight to stoplight - I mean truly driving it. And that requires a racetrack.
To set the stage for how long I was waiting for this day, you have to turn the clock back to September of 2013. I was instructing at a driving school and I hear a rumor that one of the attendees that would be there that day had purchased a McLaren P1 which would be delivered at a later date. I had been infatuated with the P1 since its debut in 2012 and hearing that one would be making its way to my home town made my heart rate instantly rise. My skin started to get clammy with the sweat of anticipation and I could feel the adrenaline surge through my body. All because there was now a very minute chance that I could possibly get the opportunity to see a P1 in action on the track, and an even smaller possibility that I could slip behind the wheel.
Since then my passion for the P1 has constantly grown. I don't usually dream when I sleep, yet multiple times I dreamt of driving it. I woke up with my heart racing at what had to be 150 BPM, speechless at what I had just experienced. Only it wasn't real. I started visiting McLaren dealerships and the high-end retail areas in my travels around the world in the hopes of seeing one in the wild. After a year of stalki... err, searching, I finally saw my first P1 in the flesh at the McLaren dealership in Monaco in early 2015. How important was that moment to me? Important enough that I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw it through the window of the dealership and took a crappy picture just so I had proof that I saw it in the event I was hit by a car in the fifty foot walk between me and the dealership. I'm not kidding. I don't think I can accurately explain how much this car affects me - it's so bad that just watching the video of driving it and thinking back on some of my experiences relating to this story while sitting on an airplane got my adrenaline pumping enough that I had to take my jacket off because I was starting to sweat. It's an obsession, no question about it.
In February of 2015 I was asked to block off a day in April so that I could be at the track for a special event. I tried to keep my excitement in check as getting my hopes up that the P1 would be there was a recipe for disappointment. I failed. Everything revolved around that date. I didn't schedule travel around that time, I didn't commit to anything. The President, Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards could have all called me with a personal invitation to the Texas Tornado Bootcamp for that day and I would have told them to get lost; that day was everything. And of course it got postponed.
All of that built up excitement was now going to fester for another month. And that month was filled to the brim with many of the aforementioned once-in-a-lifetime experiences, to the point that most of the excitement was lost in the midst of everything. And then I departed for the track and BAM! It all came back. Not only was the excitement there, now I had to figure out how to combine being professional with the possibility of checking off one of my life's most predominant bucket list items. That's not an easy task. (Damn, there goes the adrenaline again just thinking about the things I was thinking about on the drive to the track!) As a professional, I will never ask to drive someone's car. The most I will do is give my students a small glimpse at the interest I have in driving said car. If I overdo it at all then it seems like my reason for being there isn't to help my students become better, safer drivers and is completely selfish in nature. This time, it was.
When the day arrived, the cars started arriving at the track. The first car to arrive was a Porsche 918, followed by a Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, McLaren MP4-12C, and multiple Porsche 911s in various trims. But where was the P1? Clearly it would have been one of the first to arrive but there was no sign of it. Dejectedly I turned away from the cars as though my disappointment in them would make the P1 show up. HOLY SHIT! IT WORKED! The Bell of the Ball arrived last, making the trip to the track on a non-descript trailer pulled by a pickup truck. I guess you could say it showed up fashionably late.
(Disclaimer: I watched multiple nature documentaries the night before I wrote this paragraph. Hopefully knowing that will make it less creepy. Hopefully.) Once the P1 was removed from trailer I casually walked out to it to size it up. Much like a peacock in mating season I circled it slowly, signaling my intentions. Instead of spreading my non-existent tail feathers, I crouched multiple times to get a better look at its lines and curves. When I got close enough, I gently touched the door, an introduction of sorts. If we were lucky, our courtship would begin later that day. It just sat there, ignoring my advances. What a tease.
I had worked with many of the students in attendance in the past and one of them always gravitated toward me. For the purposes of anonymity we shall call him Hercules. Hercules wasn't the quickest, smoothest or most serious driver but he knew that and he was there for the experience and to have a good time. After the classroom session ended he sought me out to discuss our plan for the day. We decided to take whatever we could get into but I told him that I had my eye on the P1 and if we see it available we needed to grab it. With that we all went to get into cars and when Hercules told me that he had to tend to some work emails (likely about the proper ways to lift heavy objects), I jumped in the passenger seat of the first car I saw with an opening. The 918.
If the 918 was the only car there, I would have been all over it. However, since it wasn't I didn't give one crap about it, let alone two. It was all about the P1. Consequently, I didn't even bother to put my GoPro on my helmet to document this rare opportunity. The driver of the car, we shall call him Milo, was fairly experienced, had driven a lot of supercars and had some past track experience but he had multiple different areas that he could make major improvements in with some minor adjustments in technique. While I could tell the car had a lot of potential, it was hard to get an idea of how much from the passenger seat with a driver that needed to smoothen things out and get closer to the limit. Once that session ended Milo pulled the car in and drivers swapped cars. I connected with Hercules who was now ready to get behind the wheel and wouldn't you know it, we ended up in the 918. Once Hercules had put in a few laps we pulled in and swapped seats so that I could show him the proper techniques that I deemed the highest priority for him to work on.
Before we get to the 918, some background in my track experience is necessary to give you an idea on what I consider "normal" performance. I am a motorcycle racer and have been for a number of years now, with my highlight so far being an 11th place finish in the 2016 Daytona 200. This matters because motorcycles are better than cars. I love driving cars at their limit but to do so with a motorcycle is something that not that many people can do. Motorcycles offer another immeasurable benefit over cars - as the rider, you play a much greater role in the performance of the machine than you do in a car. You are moving all over the bike, dragging your knees - and on a great day your elbows - on the track surface at speeds well over 120mph. You are interacting directly with the track, it's giving you feedback on your performance through all of the parts of your body that it is contact with (if you're ass and shoulder are in contact with the track, it's feedback to you is "that didn't go as planned, did it?") and it is for that reason that you feel more alive on a motorcycle. Aside from the immeasurable aspect of riding a motorcycle, the performance of modern-day supersport bikes puts almost all production cars to shame. For a better example of this, check out a drag race between a P1, a 918 and a Ducati Superleggera (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfLqa4vlmFI).
Hopping into the driver's seat of the 918 I was prepared to have my brain mashed into the back of my skull as I powered out of pit lane and onto the front straight. I must say, I was a bit disappointed. While it is undoubtedly quick, if you have ridden a 1000cc sportbike made in the last few years then you've experienced similar, or better, acceleration. With the 918 having the least horsepower (887 bhp) and the most weight (3,602 lbs. as the car in question is equipped with the Weissach performance package), the acceleration of the 918 was noticeably slower than the P1 and La Ferrari. However, some adjustment to the electronic settings may close that gap as we found out at the end of the day that the 918 has a "Hot Lap" setting which delivers additional electric power when in Race Mode. As expected, the car was absolutely on rails in the corners. A big contributor to this was the four-wheel drive nature of it. Four-wheel drive cars are driven in a slightly different way than rear-wheel drive cars like the P1 and La Ferrari. I could feel the front tires slightly pulling me to the outside of the corner as I applied the power out of the apex and while I was able to adapt to that, it isn't my preferred driving style as I absolutely detest understeer (the symptom that results when the front tires of a car lose grip and slide to the outside of the corner). After three laps I pulled into the pits, happy with my experience in the 918 but still looking for something more. Make no mistake about it, the 918 is an amazing track car but it didn't suit my style and is slightly underpowered/overweight.
Stay tuned for The Trifecta - Part Two: P1 Paradise.