When I got the invite to cover the NSX media launch with Temple of VTEC. But to date I’ve never really driven a supercar, so I wouldn’t have any useful points of comparison with the NSX. To fix that, I decided to spend a weekend in Vegas and head on over to Dream Racing to drive a few of the cars that either are either competitors to the NSX, or would provide for useful comparisons. I ended up choosing the 911 Turbo, 911 GT3, Huracan, 458 Italia, and 488 GTB.
They start the experience out with doing a short presentation explaining what ‘the line’ is and how to shift the cars (all of them were DCT’s). They then move on to a room with about 10 iRacing setups with full-on race seats, steering wheels, pedals, and a mock roll cage. An instructor has you take a lap or two around the track, and he gives feedback on what you’re doing.
I thought that was a pretty cool innovation, although the instructor gave me some strange advice about braking. Basically saying I shouldn’t threshold brake, and that I should use only 50% of the braking force so I can spread out the grip over all 4 tires. Then he said something to the effect of, ‘you don’t want the front tires doing all the work’. I didn’t want to argue with him, I figured it was just one of those things they tell people so that they limit their speed, especially since this guy didn’t know I had track experience.
On to the cars
My instructor ended up being an Italian guy named Alessandro Balzan, who actually races professional in IMSA on a 488 GT team (he actually won 12 Hours of Sebring this year). He ended up being great in that he had me push the pace a bit towards the end, and he let me go relatively fast throughout. It was weird having an instructor giving instructions again since I hadn’t driven with an instructor for years but Alessandro never got in the way and truly helped me enjoy the cars.
One of the options with each session is to add 3 orientation laps in a Cayman GTS for $99. I decided to add that to my first session so that I’d be more comfortable once I got into the heavy metal.
The way they count laps is that the in-lap and out-lap are counted so with the Cayman I didn’t get much time to really evaluate it, but that wasn’t my goal anyway. I was just trying to get warmed up for the 911 Turbo.
Porsche 911 Turbo S
I picked the 911 Turbo S because it’s one of the cars that will directly compete against the NSX in that market segment. Similar horsepower, similar price, both with AWD, with the 911 having the weight advantage, and the NSX having the torque advantage.
The Turbo S was easy enough to drive, it was friendly and relatively neutral with smooth power delivery. I would almost call it soft, but that would be relative to the other cars, not the typical street car. I didn’t really encounter much understeer and Porsche manages the boost well enough that you don’t get any sledgehammer hits of power.
Unfortunately the car I was driving had these weird button shifters on the steering wheel to operate the PDK transmission, rather than traditional paddles. There was a button on each side, and if pushed it from the front, it would shift up, if you pull it from the back (the same way you would do with a normal DCT) it would shift down. I found myself asking for the wrong gear multiple times to the point that it was a distraction. Basically, I hated it. I have a DCT in my street car but the buttons were just too counterintuitive for me to get used to in 7 laps.
Overall the Turbo S perfectly reflects its mission in life as a practical supercar. It’s not a raw or emotional car but it’s got plenty of power and can do the business around a racetrack.
Porsche 911 GT3
So the GT3 isn’t really a natural competitor to the NSX but it’s a car I really wanted to drive and I got a little discount if I signed up for the 2 car package with the Huracan. Why not sample what all of the P car hype (and inflated MSRP’s and waitlists) were all about?
Unffffffhhhh. From the moment you turn the key on you know the GT3 is gonna give it to you nasty, just the way you like. Much sharper engine note, weightier steering, great steering feel, and a chassis that is toit like a tiger.
You can feel that it’s down on torque to the Turbo but it feels so much better in the turns and so much more rewarding. It’s the car that you can put where you want, when you want, and enjoy putting i there. It almost melts away and lets you focus on your driving rather than focusing on the car. I can see why some of the magazine journos say that this is the car they would pick to pile on the laps at a track day.
I wish I had more laps with this car because I was short shifting it during most of my sessions, forgetting that it’s got 8500 rpm of power band to play with.
The Huracan is a car that is a bit too pricey to necessarily be directly cross-shopped against the NSX, but since the R8 V10+ will be using the same engine as the Huracan, and the new R8 isn’t out yet, I thought the Huracan would be a good way to evaluate the heart of the new R8.
In some ways the Huracan was the most emotional car I drove that day. The car sits extremely low, and the door opening is sleek and compact to the point that I had to do a little twisting and turning to get into it. And what a badass cockpit it was. The Huracan easily had the coolest, boldest interior of the cars I drove. I feel like Lamborghini took the criticism of the Gallardo’s interior looking too much like an Audi to heart. The Huracan’s interior says fighter bomber more than R8.
The Huracan was probably the best sounding car of the group, which is a good sign for the forthcoming R8. The engine was also the most lively, with all kinds of burbles, belches, and crackles coming from the exhaust while decelerating and with partial throttle.
While that sounded fucking cool, I found that sometimes the backfires could slightly upset the car under steady partial throttle in a long turn. Not a huge deal at the pace I was going but could lead to a Code Brown in other situations.
Ferrari 458 Italia
This was the icing on the cupcake, the car I was most excited to drive, the creme of the creme bruleé. The 458 was one of the cars that the NSX development purchased as a performance benchmark and as such was probably the most important point of comparison.
Our brief affair started with some uncomfortable contorting to try get comfortable in a car with seats that didn’t recline and had no vertical adjustability. Lord knows why they’d order such seats on car that was going to be driven by hundreds of different people.
Yoga poses out of the way, the first thing memorable thing about the 458 is that beautifully high-pitched, yet sophisticated exhaust note. If there ever was an engine note that could be Italy’s national anthem, this would be it. Energetic, eager, but not buzzy.
Getting on the power, the 458 really feels like two highly-strung inline-4’s melded together. The power is mostly up top and you really want to keep the revs up to stay in the power band, and because it sounds awesome. It didn’t feel as fast as the Huracan (as well it shouldn’t) and it definitely had less torque than the 911 Turbo. But like the GT3, it was extremely satisfying to run out to redline. Maybe someone who is used to torquier cars wouldn’t like the 458 though.
In the handling category the 458 was a lot like the GT3; lean, light on its feet, neutral. The 458’s traction control gives you a gentle calming hand here and there while you’re rolling on the throttle but it didn’t feel intrusive at all. It felt like it just tidied up a bit here and there rather than spoiling the fun. As a total package, the 458 made it easy to focus and crank up the pace, much like the GT3.
The steering ratio on the 458 was nice and aggressive but I thought it was a little bit overboosted. You get a good amount of feedback from it but it felt just a touch too light. But that’s a really, really, minor criticism.
Alessandro had me push my braking points and drive a bit more aggressively in my last 2 laps with the 458 and it felt nothing but rewarding. With the Huracan I feel like pushing harder would’ve just resulting in tenacious butt pucker but with the 458 pushing harder felt natural. While I don’t know that the 458 would be as durable as GT3, I think it’s another car that you could delight in slinging it around a racetrack all day.
Ferrari 488 GTB
I chose the 488 to see how Ferrari would deal with the challenge of switching from a high-revving naturally-aspirated engine to a twin-turbo while preserving the excitement and engine note of the former. One of the criticism of the NSX from the pre-production drive was the engine note, but my guess is that most of the turbocharged supercars are going to sound somewhat muffled.
Right away the 488’s steering felt nice and weighty, yet the engine note was a clear step backwards from the 458. It still had some of that Maranello special sauce but it was significantly quieter. Not unpleasant by any means, but not nearly as exciting.
But damn, the first time I went wide open throttle with the 488 it was stupid, to the point that I just laughed. That car was way faster than the 458 it replaces. The sheer thrust is just in a different league. It was the only car that I was able to get into 6th gear with on the front straight (although that might be partially a gearing thing).
I was pretty pumped with how fast the car was, but as I completed more laps I realized just how much power the car was pulling back while the wheel was turned. My instructor had put the car in Race mode but even then, the 488 just denies you the power until your steering wheel is all but straight. From the apex it’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, YESSSSSSSS!” Maybe you can create your own custom traction and stability control settings but from the sounds of it the only place to go from Race mode is ‘traction control off’. The instructor said that I probably could’ve handled it without TC but for the purposes of the experience he couldn’t really turn off it. Not sure I would’ve wanted that with only 7 laps to get comfortable anyway.
One thing that was really cool about my 488 experience was that the onboard video included telemetry. They didn’t tell me about this beforehand and it doesn’t say so on the website, so it was a really nice surprise. You can see the that the 488 can hold 1.1G in the corners without much drama, and I wasn’t really pushing it. I can’t imagine how fast it would be in the hands of someone who could hang it out.
Still, overall I think I’d rather have the 458. Maybe if I could’ve driven the 488 with a less intrusive traction control setting I would feel differently.
This event was pricey, and had I not had the NSX motivation I would not have done it. But all in all it was an extremely fun experience and I was happy I went. I would definitely drive again if I were in Vegas, and I would probably pick the 650S and/or some of the race cars they have. At the same time, I’ve kind of been thinking that I’d like to save up and do the Radical driving school just an hour outside the city at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch.
Either way it’s an experience that is hard to come by anywhere else in the world. If you can swing a session it is well worth the cash.