Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fiat Alfa Romeo Quebec Track Day

Today our Monday night lapping crew organized a track day for the Fiat Alfa Romeo Quebec club members. I had seen the list of entries before the event and was expecting a bunch of Fiat 500's, Spyder's and a few Alfa's. The plan was to provide an introduction to track driving to these Italian car enthusiasts.

My first surprise was that the only cars that had arrived when I got to the track were a nice Porsche 911T and a clean Datsun 510. Eventually, several Fiat's and Alfa's did arrive. Second surprise: there were a couple of Italian cars that had not been on the list: a Ferrari F355, an F430 and a Lamborghini Gallardo. Also, there was a Fiat Barchetta, a neat little two-seater that was never sold in North Amercia. Final surprise: there were two new Fiat 500's. I don't know if these cars are going to be sold in Canada, but, as far as I know, they are not available now. I guess these guys are connected in the automotive world.

As head instructor of the fast group, I got the chance to drive several of these cars on the track. Here are my impressions:

Ferrari F430
I drove this car for ten minutes at a relaxed pace and it just felt at home on the track. The power delivery was awesome, the F1 gearbox worked seamlessly and the car dealt with the bumpy track with no issues whatsoever. This is the first car I have been in where the "engine start" button seemed an appropriate addition to the (beautiful) interior. The seats were awesome and, surprisingly, were manually adjustable. I approve of this, as electric seats add a lot of weight for such a small benefit. What a fantastic track car.

Ferrari F355

This was the convertible version, which is nice if you're only taking a few laps in the car. The interior of the car is also nice. The transmission featured the traditional Ferrari gated shifter. this was a lovely car, but the differences between it and the modern F430 were staggering. The brakes were wooden (I suspect the pads were to blame) and the gas pedal was so stiff that it was hard do modulate. The engine pulled smoothly from low revs, but it had very little torque. Modern performance engines seem to have torque everywhere. The gated shifter takes a bit of getting used to, but has a nice mechanical feeling. I suspect the car would have felt a lot faster with some more revs.

Lamborghini Gallardo
This car was a blast to drive. It inspired confidence right away. It had the same awesome power delivery as the F430, and felt really planted coming out of the slower corners. Like the Ferrari, the suspension was firm but compliant enough to deal with the track's bumps and rumble strips. The fact that the car was convertible just made the experience more enjoyable because of all that awesome V10 sound. My only criticism was that the shift paddles were a little bit on the small side compared to the wings behind the Ferrari's steering wheel. I guess that that's not a problem if the steering wheel is straight, but the paddles were not always there where I expected them to be. After I drove for a few laps, the owner took the wheel. However, all the day's participants had eaten a huge catered meal, and he was not feeling great after a few laps in the Lambo, what with all its grip and acceleration. The gracious owner encouraged me to go out again for another ride while he sat on the sidelines. What a nice guy! I went back out with one of the club members' kids in the passenger seat. I think he had a fun time... I know I did. What a car!

Alfa Romeo GTV 2000
I was pretty psyched when the owner of this car asked me to take his son out for a few laps in this car. Lately, I have been wondering what it would be like to drive a sporty vintage car like this. This is the first time I had ever driven a car with a wooden steering wheel. Neat. The shifter was sloppy and the steering was a bit vague, maybe due to the high profile, low performance tires. The car reminded me of my old Mazda 323: peppy and fun. You had to plan what you were going to do well in advance, and there was not enough power to have to worry about wheel spin. The only issue I had was that there was so much slop in the shifter that when I wanted to grab second gear, I would pull the shifter until it hit my thigh, then I had to move over my thigh to get the gear in. I was black flagged by Dave, who though there was too much smoke coming out the exhaust when I was driving the car. I told the owner and he said it was normal for these engines.

New Fiat 500
Looks pretty good
OK, I admit that I actually asked the car's caretaker if I could take it out for a few laps. He gladly accepted. I went out for a few laps and quickly realized that this was not a sports car. It was a pleasant car to drive, with adequate power, not unlike a Mini Cooper, but I could not help but wish it had better tires and suspension. Still, the interior is lovely and this would surely make a great daily driver. I'm sure it will sell well in Quebec if ever it is offered for sale here.

Over all, this was a great event and I think the drivers had a great time. I love seeing people enjoy driving on the track for the first time, and I also love seeing people drive their sports cars as they were meant to be driven.

To top off this great day, I was handed a doggy bag of leftovers from the catered meal. What a day!

P.S. Trong asked me if I had now driven most of the cars on my wish list, and I realized that, in fact, I had. Here is a list of cars that I've at some point wanted to drive, and that I then got to drive:

Any Ferrari
Any Lamborghini
Porsche 911
Acura NSX
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 8
Subaru WRX Sti
Nissan Skyline GT-R
Nissan 350Z
Mazda RX8
Mazda Miata
BMW M3 (E46)
Mini Cooper S
Audi RS4
Honda S2000
Lotus Elise
Dodge Viper
Acura RSX Type S
EP3 Honda Civic SiR

Cars not on the list that I'm happy to have driven nonetheless
BMW M3 (E90)
Maserati GT
Porsche 996 Turbo

Still on the list:
Nissan GTR
Mazda RX7 twin turbo
Porsche Boxster
Any AMG 6.2 liter

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