For me this year Black Friday wasn’t about shopping… it was about speed. And more specifically, exotic speed in Las Vegas. For the second time in about 4 1/2 years, I spent a few hours at the SpeedVegas track and ripped around the circuit at over 120 mph in two different sports cars.
While a lot of people go to the track to go fast, I go for the coaching — how to understand what the car is telling me so that I can get better at driving my BMW M Roadster. Thus far I have driven four different exotics, each providing very different and in some cases, very surprising experiences.
Lamborghini Gallardo (2018), which sounded utterly amazing as I pushed it to about 127 mph. For what it’s worth, it did try to kill me. I lost control of it a little bit and took some gravel on a corner. I just have to say that the brakes on that car are terrible. That car will not ease to slow down — it is all brake or nothing. What I learned quite quickly (pun intended) is that a Lamborghini, although sounds amazing and looks stunning, is not for me.
Porsche 911 GT3 (2018), which took off like a rocket and I pushed to about 135 mph. Unlike the Lamborghini, it did NOT try to kill me. In fact, it felt a lot like driving my German roadster except a heck of a lot quicker and more sure-footed. People say that you should never drive your hero car. Well, the “hero” car from my youth is a 1987 911 (930) Turbo. The 911 GT3 was everything I imagined a 911 to be and much more. Yowza.
Fast forward to 2022 and I picked two cars that I could possibly, one day in a slightly alternate reality own: a Porsche 718 GT4 and an Aston Martin Vantage.
Porsche 718 GT4, which I managed to get to about 122 mph — Black Friday morning was a bit cold, so the track wasn’t exactly sticky. The little GT4 was definitely a Porsche — precise, agile and relatively quick. However, I have to say that it wasn’t “fun” to drive. Maybe it is the mid-engined chassis or the cold track or both, but the car was just too clinical. My coach raced 718s, so he did a great job of pushing me — it wasn’t him; it was the car and my relationship with it. I enjoyed the laps, but the car felt a bit numb. I did do flappy paddle shifting, which was supposed to make it more interesting, but that whole gearbox experience didn’t work for me. I simply wanted a third pedal and a stick. And maybe that’s the problem — it felt like a video game. I know I was sloppy on the track because, frankly, I couldn’t really feel it.
Aston Martin Vantage, which I pushed lap times up to a second faster than the 718, hitting about 128 mph. The Vantage is a beast and is an animal on the track. There’s a lot of power up front that’s pushing a light back end. One only accelerates that car going in a straight line; if you do anything else, the rear end will come around. I was warned about that by my coach. The power to the rear felt like my little half-the-horsepower and torque BMW, but that’s where the similarities ended. When I hit the first corner, I hit it like I was in my BMW and nearly spun the car.
I was a very happy driver.
After that, I know I worried my coach a bit because I pushed the rear end of the car on that corner to the start of tire squeal, which is what I “feel” in my M Roadster. That Aston, for as big and powerful as it was, felt better and more alive to drive. I actually did better in the corners in that car than the 718, which is weird given the nimbleness of the Porsche. I didn’t want to let the Aston go.
And now I want one.
At SpeedVegas, the instructor takes you and two other customer/drivers around in a Porsche Cayenne to learn the track. The first lap is relatively sedate and the second is at speed. That’s the “free” experience and one, for me, that was very informative. I NEVER want a Porsche SUV or any SUV (or truck) that is supposedly designed for the track. The body roll is awful and you’re whipped around like a rag doll because of the high center of gravity. The whole Porsche SUV experience was utterly disappointing and a firm “not for me.” Again, this is not SpeedVegas’s fault; it is the whole letdown of an SUV with a Porsche nameplate as somehow being a performance vehicle. It isn’t. It’s a compromised engineering mess.
Anyhow, if you like performance cars, definitely do an exotic track day. While it may be tempting to only focus on speed, think about learning how to drive in a car that’s alive. You’ll never drive your car the same again (although you might wreck your SUV).