It may sound smarmy coming from anyone else, but when Roland Linder offered that advice to drivers at a recent World Class Driving (WCD) U.S. Supercar Tour, it made perfect sense. (The fact that he's a dashing 60-year-old Frenchman didn't hurt, either.)
The day began at the headquarters of Chester, N.J.-based car club Vulcan Motor Club with a safety and driving briefing from Linder, a two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion who drove professionally for Porsche and Ferrari. He told us how to brake and corner ("you must respect the car or it's going to bite you") and explained the cars' manual paddle-shift transmissions. Vulcan acquired World Class Driving several months ago; they operate one combined fleet of 18 vehicles. Prices start at $1,695 for the day, not including a $5,000 insurance deductible carried by Vulcan.
My fellow drivers--a husband and wife celebrating his birthday, an older British gentleman, a father/son duo--looked to be typical participants for the half-day drive. Vulcan's club memberships cost from $12,000 to $40,000 annually, but nonmember activities account for 60% of business, according to CEO Aaron Fessler. He says revenue has remained relatively steady through the economic downturn.
Many Dream Tour participants already have a Porsches or BMWs in their garages, Fessler says, but Vulcan provides a cost-effective way to actively indulge their short attention spans: "They like the club because it provides the cars they always wanted to drive and always dreamed about being close to, but out of practicality or cost they had never bought--a car with swinging doors or a lime green exterior that you couldn't get your wife excited about." The day was a lesson in extremes. At one point, I found myself lounging on a cloud--er, in the back of the Maybach--fully reclined beside the champagne fridge pondering life under a 12-square-foot windowed roof. The next minute I was barreling down on the R8 in front of me, driving an achingly stylish Ferrrari 599 GTB--a car that seeps elegance and grace through every touch of the brake, every turn of the wheel.
Still, the GTB seemed downright domesticated, having just jumped out of the Gallardo Spyder (the aforementioned F430 was also undoubtedly more aggressive than its Ferrari brother). Gallardo's combination neon paint job and roaring 520-horsepower, V12 engine created such a cacophony it was impossible to forget even for a second the beast struggling within--and I mean that in the very best of ways.
With the Gallardo, corners became opportunities to accelerate, and straightaways became ab-strengthening exercises. I may have also developed an addiction to the attention we drew blowing through small towns and bright farmer's markets.
Tamer by a tad was the $146,000 Audi R8--out of all the cars in the group, this is the one I'd actually buy, a still-super-cool-but-practical daily driver. But let's not go crazy here: In this case, "practical" means it has a 3-inch ledge behind the driver's seat for a handbag or jacket, and that it doesn't leave your ears ringing when you finally wrench yourself away from the wheel.
The R8 is a brilliant offering from Audi, expertly combining pluck (zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds) and plush (leather-shod sport seats, alcantara-wrapped wheel, carbon-fiber inlays galore) with supple handling and an exciting hum from the back upon acceleration. I can't wait to drive the R8 Spyder when it comes out this fall.
Its distinctive tone was indeed reassuring--different from the fearsome growl of the McLaren, certainly, but welcome and fitting: The last words I heard from Linder before wrangling a cumulative 2,785 horses in one day? "Forget about the radio. Your radio is the engine in the front and in the back of the car."
He didn't have to tell me twice.