Ferrari's ladies day at Hampton Downs
Letting the ladies loose with their Ferraris is a really good learning experience
While Ferrari’s emblem is the prancing horse, after braking slightly too late into a corner at Hampton Downs racetrack in a 458 Spider, the symbol became more like a wild equine.
At the Waikato track for Ferrari Australasia’s first “Ladies Day”, I was taking a few laps in the 458 under the tutelage of rally champion Emma Gilmour.
I had just hit the straight at over 200km/h in the 4.5 litre, V8 engine Spider but braked a few milliseconds too late to take in the sharp right turn. With the caliper brakes applied, the exhaust snorted its disapproval sharp downshift of the transmission.
And the sound was magic. So much so that Gilmour laughed at the 458’s reaction — although the Ferrari under her steerage was easily tamed.
Earlier in the day, 11 female Ferrari owners (or soon to be owners) and me met at the track for a reminder session on Ferrari performance.
The chief instructor, Downforce’s Tim Martin, said the morning sessions would include skidpan lessons to demonstrate what happened in ice or snow, a slalom session to teach drivers to lift their vision and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) reminder: “the one thing that can be a lifesaver”.
And the afternoon was going to be devoted to track time. Most of the women weren’t novices to circuit racing or driving fast, having experienced track days with their partners or competing in Targa rallies.
But for the others, it was a confidence builder, giving them the chance to test the limits of their Italian supercars with plenty of support.
Hosts Ferrari NZ and Continental Car Services had a 458 Spider and a California T on loan for me and those considering buying one of their products.
My first session was ABS testing: heading towards cones at 70km/h before braking hard and turning left. The lesson was the manoeuvrability of vehicles under ABS, to look where you want the car to go and, as Gilmour said, “that you can’t break the ABS brakes”.
Before testing our braking (not breaking) skills, Gilmour reminded us about our seating position: knees slightly apart and bend to make sure you’re solid in the seat, wrists resting on top of the steering wheel and the seat belt tight.
Heading at speed towards cones is also a sobering lesson in how long the stopping distance is once you apply the ABS brakes as you are projected metres ahead, reinforcing the three-second rule when following cars on the road.
Slalom, or as it was described “like a dance with your car”, was to encourage smooth movements, but some women found their car’s bonnets too long for the turning circle at the end of the circuit while other drivers were able to show what their vehicles could achieve at speed.
The skidpan was the star attraction of the day. The concrete area had built-in sprinklers to keep the area wet to help reproduce over- and understeer.
A few of the owners were nervous when told they had to turn off the traction control .
But, with an instructor as passenger, it was a case of spin not speed around the figure eight-coned area.
The trick — which I quickly and delightfully picked up — was to go 70 per cent around the coned circle then flick the steering wheel so the rear jerked out, bringing about oversteer.
“I don’t think I could have done this exercise first off,” said an owner. “I needed to have built up my confidence.”
While another’s reaction when she drove off the pan after skidding around was, “it was better than sex and you can quote me”.
After a gourmet lunch, it was track time and a chance for everyone, with an instructor onboard, to drive at licence-busting speeds.
“What you learned in the morning, you’ll put into action in the afternoon with the track time,” said instructor Martin.
A warm-up lap was followed by a 160km/h restricted circuit but then women could test the limits of their vehicles.
With four Ferraris at a time on the track, the women showed why they owned these cars in the first place; the vehicles are stunning designs but built for speed and performance.
So, what was the difference to a male-dominated track day?
This inaugural one had make-up sessions during lap times plus a photo of the women with their Ferraris.
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