Speed Secrets: You Can Sleep In Your Car, But You Can’t Drive Your House

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I October 05, 2015
A question for you: Do you drive faster when you’re driving your own car, or when driving someone else’s car? Why? Ingrid Steffensen (author of Fast Girl) shares her answer to those questions this week, while writing about her experience of driving a friend’s rather expensive car. Pay attention, because there’s an interesting message here. –Ross
“You want to drive my car?” he asked.
Now, you’d think that if the car in question is a Ferrari 458 Challenge, and the offer is to take it out for a spin on the racetrack, then there’s only one possible answer. Remember the advice from Ghostbusters? “When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say YES!” But for me, it was a little more complicated than that.
Mr. F is another instructor with whom I often cross paths at HPDE events. We are friendly but not (yet) what you’d properly call friends. It happened that last fall, at the end of the season, his lovely Ferrari was having a bit of a nervous breakdown. We got to chatting about its ailment, and during the course of the conversation, he popped The Question. 
“Really?” I replied. “You sure about that? Yeah, I’d love to!” Thing was, I knew this was a perfectly safe response to a purely hypothetical question because the car was already on the flatbed on its way to the spa and Mr. F and I would not be seeing each other again for half a year at least. Surely if I kept my mouth shut he’d forget his offer by then, right?
Fast forward nine months and we are at Summit Point, West Virginia, and as I’m lounging between sessions in my trailer, Mr. F stops as he walks past, looks in, and says, “So are you going to drive my car this time?”
Well, I ask you: does anybody turn down the offer to drive a Ferrari on the racetrack twice? I almost do. I tell him, “I dunno, that’s an awfully big responsibility.”
“You’re an instructor. You know what you’re doing. It’s insured,” he returns, which really left me with no choice in the matter.
And that is how I find myself strapped into the most amazing piece of machinery I have ever had the privilege to pilot. Oh, yes, it is THAT good. We rocket out of the pits like a thoroughbred with a bee sting. (I did figure: Why faff around? I may never get an opportunity like this again). It has paddle shifting and though I am a stick shift snob (see SSW #83), I give this one my seal of approval. 
Yee-owwwwwwww-BANG (that’s the upshift), yee-owwwwwwww-BANG, yee-owwwwwwww-BANG it screams and you are over 100 mph before you can even manage to blurt “Holy crap!”
From his position in the passenger seat, Mr. F later reports that when I dial in the wheel for Turn 1, I begin to laugh. This sounds plausible: the thing bites and turns in as if the Hand of God has thrown a grapple hook into its pretty hood and hauled it to the apex with one quick yank of His mighty biceps. Put your foot to the floor as you track out and the boost pushes you back in your seat and splits your face sideways into an idiot’s grin. Everything it does, it does so well that superlatives fail. The brakes are like throwing out titanic anchors. The steering is so telepathic, it’s like that weird braid-connection device from Avatar that linked those blue dudes to their six-legged horses. I’m pretty sure that if I ask it to make me a cappuccino, it would do that, too, and it would be the best damn cappuccino I’ve ever tasted.
But here’s the catch (there’s always a catch): I am behind the wheel of a car that could buy you a pretty respectable house in most areas of the country. As I track out of the sweeping, blind left-hander at Turn 3, the car in front of me catches some stray gravel from the pit and spews it out onto the hood. 
“Ack!” I cry into my helmet’s mic, “Omigod, I’m so sorry!”
“It’s okay,” reassures Mr. F. “It’s a track car. And I wrapped the whole hood.”
Does this pebbly horror slow me down? Not so much. But it does bring up the nasty question of blame and responsibility. What if something goes truly wrong? Mr. F has entrusted his machine to me, and I do my best to comport myself respectably and do this magnificent machine some justice. But how about if a kamikaze groundhog runs across the front straight, as has been known to happen in that neck of the woods? Not my fault, but there goes the front end. What if someone dumps some brake fluid or oil in front of me and we end up in the Armco? Or, worse, I misjudge just how fast the gorgeous beast can really take Turn 10? Then that would be my fault.
Another instructor I know of took a pass on a request from a student to drive the 10-year-old Lotus Elise he’d actually owned and had sold to the student in question. He explained his rationale thus: “If I can’t write you a check for the full amount that the car is worth, I don’t want to drive it.”
This stance might take the question of moral responsibility to the extreme, but it does underscore the precarious nature of the bargains we enter into at the track. I have often driven students’ cars. I certainly take my care with them and never even attempt to go all out—that’s not what I want to demonstrate to my students in any case. 
I have an overactive imagination prone to doomsday scenarios. It was all too easy for me to envision balling up the Italian beauty and owing Mr. F if not the full amount for a replacement vehicle, then certainly the deductible but more importantly, my eternal shame and obligation. As easily as I had seemed to acquiesce to his offer, I’d had nine months to mull it over, and I came very close to turning him down. In the end, however, the enticement was just too great. 
Through a combination of care and good fortune, nothing worse than the gravel on the hood marred my stint in the 458, and even if I never get the chance to do so again, forever after I can say: I have driven a Ferrari on the racetrack, and that should be enough for anyone.
Just in case, however, per i signori in Maranello: io sono disponibile.
– Ingrid Steffensen

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