Stay Calm, Itís Just a Lamborghini at 200 mphhttp://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=a1B7dOSIIpuU&refer=muse
Jason H. Harper
March 12 (Bloomberg) -- The funny thing about going really, really fast in a sports car is itís a bad time to look at the speedometer. Your eyes should be on the road.
I remind myself of this as I push past 150 miles per hour. The Ferrari 599 Iím driving is chewing through asphalt like a starved beast, yet part of my brain is curious. I take a quick peek: 160 mph, only 40 more to go. Itís 200 or bust, baby.
Whatís the fastest youíve ever driven? Itís a particular brand of braggadocio, akin to your best-ever bonus or how many shots of tequila you can down. It doesnít really matter, yet, well, how fast?
My previous top speed was on Germanyís autobahn in a Porsche 911, where I passed cars so quickly it seemed they were stalled in the right-hand lane. One of the risks of high-speed driving is that the car literally wants to fly. The Porscheís front end went scarily light, making steering sketchy. My hands were sweating and my rational brain begged for mercy at 176 mph.
Driving a car 200 mph is the equivalent of scaling K2. Why would you want to? Because the possibility is there.
My quest takes me to a 2-mile-long airstrip in the Florida Everglades. Built in the 1970s, Miami Dade Collier was going to be a mega-airport before environmental concerns wisely shut it down. Thereís one tired building, the runway and a parallel taxiing airstrip.
Instead of airplanes, I find an arsenal of exotic sports cars, including Ferraris, Lamborghinis and an ultra-rare Swedish Koenigsegg CCX.
This is a special program from the company World Class Driving called 200 MPH Xtreme Challenge, which takes place several times a year. The next program is April 5. Cost: $5,000. Clients can also pay $1,695 to drive five high-powered cars on legal roads at locales around the country.
Learning From Pros
The Florida program is overseen by pro drivers like Grand- Am champ Didier Theys, who ride shotgun on all the runs, making sure the 15 clients, including oil traders, construction company owners and a retired policeman, donít get in over their heads.
Even at 2 miles long, the runway is not lengthy enough to achieve 200 mph and slow back down. So drivers must swing around a corner at the runwayís far end and effectively sling-shot the car onto the adjacent airstrip at a speed of 50 mph or so.
Hitting that corner correctly takes skill, and we spend the morning practicing. In the afternoon each of us will get a chance to hit the 200 mph mark in three different cars on two consecutive laps. Only four of the cars are capable of the top speed: the Ferrari 599 GTB, with 620 horsepower; the Lamborghini LP560-4 (552 hp); the Mercedes SLR McLaren (617 hp); and the Koenigsegg (806 hp).
Brute power is important, yet the cars also must be designed to apply enough down-force to keep them from lifting off the ground and still be aerodynamic enough to slice through the air.
We wonít be driving the Koenigsegg: Thatís the sole province of the pro drivers, who give each client a ride. (On my ďhot lapĒ we achieve an incredible 216 mph.)
Unfortunately, speeds arenít independently verified by radar; the driver or instructor must look at the speedometer.
I strap on my helmet, get into the Ferrari 599 and gun it down the strip and through the corner. The asphalt is slick, so I take care swinging to the extreme edge of the runway.
The engine is at the 8,400 rpm red line in third, and I trigger fourth with the gas pedal flat on the floor. In 11 seconds Iím at 125 mph; another 10 Mississippis slip by and the gauge reads 160.
Hitting the Brakes
Orange cones mark the point where you must begin braking. I scream past them, lift off the gas and let the chassis settle, and then step on the brakes. Gravity crushes my chest. ďClose,Ē my instructor says, shaking his head. ďBut only 199.Ē
The Mercedes McLaren has broken down, so I take my next run in the Lamborghini Superleggera, a featherweight car with a top speed of 196. I make 195.
My final car is the Lamborghini LP560-4, which Iíve driven on a racetrack yet never imagined taking up to 200 mph. My passenger is Belgian driver Vanina Ickx, and she warns that she canít see the speedometer from the passenger seat, so Iíll have to look myself.
This is it: 200 or shame. Iím a speeding Zen master. I can do it.
I carry good speed through the corner and the analog dial slowly creeps up: 160, 175, 190. The V-10 engineís roar envelops my body. The cones are approaching. I glance down and see the dial strike the 200 mark. Another two seconds pass, I let off the gas and cram on the brakes.
Iíve done it -- at least 200. Iíd be exhilarated if I werenít concentrating on stopping.