It's Sunday morning of the Bathurst 1000 weekend, the biggest motoring race in Australia. Normally I would be assuming my customary position on the couch for a day of motorsport viewing pleasure.
But this year it's different, this year one of my lifelong dreams would become a reality and I would get to drive a Ferrari. Not just any Ferrari, but a 458 Italia, probably the best supercar of its time and an utter joy to behold, both visually and aurally.
To top the day off I would also be driving a Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 and an Alfa 4C.
The day began around 9.30am with espresso and an introduction to the cars that we would have the pleasure of driving over the next seven or so hours. Matt, our host, put all the keys behind his back and asked me to pick a hand. I drew the Ferrari, but knowing where we were headed first I didn't want it. I got the Alfa keys and Matt gave me a rundown on how to start the car. But when it came time to head off, I couldn't start it! This would become a pattern for the day.
I finally figured out how to fire up the Alfa and immediately realised just how close the engine was behind my head. The first part of our drive was a steep and twisty mountain pass and the Alfa was easily a match for the Lambo and Ferrari, as I expected. The Alfa has a carbon fibre monocoque, similar to the original Mclaren F1 road car and it's quite sparsely finished to keep the weight down. You get a radio and air conditioning, but from what I could tell not much else. The seats are hard and definitely not designed for more than a couple of hours driving at a time.
The Alfa has a 1750 cc turbocharged engine and TCT transmission (paddle shift gear box) that propels the you from 0-100km/hr in just 4.5 seconds, with a top speed of 258 km/hr. For an entry level Italian sports car you could not want for much more. The turbocharger spins up quickly and provides nice boost from pretty low down in the rev range and the chassis is tort, meaning it handles great through the corners.
At the top of the twisty mountain road we switched cars and I took the Lambo next for the drive down the other side of the mountain to our lunch destination. After the Alfa, the Lambo initially felt slow and heavy, but the fun factor improved once we hit some straight roads. That V10 engine is simply awesome and another first for me having never driven anything with this much power before. It's sounds fantastic from both within the car or when you are following it.
We stopped for another quick break and when I got back into the Lambo, I couldn't start it. I kept messing up the put foot on brake, put it in neutral sequence and felt like a bit of a twat. But eventually I figured it out and I was off again.
The downsides of the Lambo are you can't see the front of the car when driving, the seats are hard, the brakes are heavy, and the air conditioning didn't work that well. But when you stamp on the throttle, all that doesn't really matter and you just enjoy blasting down the road at warp speed.
We stopped to have a delightful lunch, but to be honest I was too nervous to eat. I was driving the Ferrari after lunch and my heart was already racing. As the plates were cleared I went for what they call in F1 'a comfort break' and when I got back to the table my hands started to shake.
I walked down to the cars; the beautiful Rosso Corsa 458 was waiting under the trees ready for me to take the wheel. After another comfort break I settled myself in for the next hour or so of pure joy. Some quick photographs to preserve the moment, turn the key, and press the big red start button.
The V8 roars to life, my instructions are to leave it in Sport mode for about ten minutes and then change into Race mode for a bit of fun. We headed off and my first thought was how easy the 458 was to drive and that the gear shifts were instantaneous. The throttle seemed a bit sensitive, but maybe my foot was a little too firm?
After about ten minutes trundling out of town we turned onto the freeway. 'You can put it into race mode now', comes over the two-way radio. I didn't need to be asked twice, I flicked the manettino to Race, pinned the throttle, and held on for the ride.
Oh My God! Not sure what speed I hit, but a certain amount of deceleration needed to occur before I merged onto the freeway at a speed of around 100km/hr. We cruised along the freeway for a bit, and I just loved the looks from people as they drove passed only to see a chick driving the bright red Ferrari.
We turned off the freeway onto some lovely winding roads and it was time for some real fun. I tell myself 'remember slow in fast out', but I just want to go flat-out everywhere! This car is epic, I loved Ferrari before I had ever driven one and now I just want one more than life itself. 'A little less emphasis on top speed and more on cornering', comes over the two-way radio. 'Uh', is my reply.
After some hard driving we pulled over for a quick break, which was good because I needed a moment to catch my breath. Daniel, our co-host, came up to me and said, 'You are one crazy chick'. 'Thanks, my husband calls me unique', I replied with a huge smile on my face.
We drove back along the beautiful winding road, which gave me a couple more opportunities for some flat-out acceleration, brake, downshift, overrun, again and again. In my mind the noise of the incredible V8 engine is the soundtrack they play in heaven. Did I mention that I love this car?
We wound our way up a steep mountain goat track and stopped for some more happy snaps. The car was smoking hot and the smile on my face was as wide as the glorious view before us. 'We've decided the only way to satisfy your appetite for a Ferrari is for you to own one', was the comment. 'It's on the top of my shopping list when we win lotto', I replied.
We got back into the cars for the last drive of the day. I put my foot on the brake, turned the key, and the 458 didn't start. I tried it a couple more times and it got the better of me, so over the two-way I asked how to start the 458 again. 'Press the big red button', was the reply. What an idiot I am, but in my defense I think I was drunk on Ferrari!
What a car! What a day! Clarkson has said that everyone should want a 458 and I have to whole-heartedly concur. This car is just so beautiful to look at and immense fun to drive. The boot space is big enough to carry the weekly shop and you would make it home from the supermarket in record time.
If you ever get the opportunity to drive a Ferrari 458 Italia, grab it with both hands, pin the throttle and smile, smile, smile!