You Are Really Slow Compared to a Pro Driver

That title seems a bit obvious, but it’s difficult to comprehend just how true it is until you see it first hand.  I’ll state it up front, I’m not a bad driver.  I spent many years sawing at the wheel of various cars in a competition setting.  That includes seat time with front wheel drive, all wheel drive, and (the clearly superior) rear wheel drive.  But, as I found out, I’m not nearly as fast as Mikey Taylor, one of the professional instructors at Xtreme Xperience (XX).

(Full Disclosure: we’ve written about our friends at XX before, Danny Korecki spent his own monies to go visit with them at Summit Point, you can read about that here.  Rich Schumacher, Marketing Coordinator, and one hell of a petrolhead, invited us to come back out and try the “xperience” at the New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP).  Coincidentally the date he proposed was my 40th birthday.  You’re not going to not.)

Before you read the text, take a look at the video.

The Pre-Xperience

So now that I’ve (sort of) established my bonafides, let me tell you a bit about how this all went down.  It was a bright and sunny New Jersey morning, I got some down time the night before in lovely Stone Harbor, along the “shore” as they call it.  Camera gear prepped, batteries charged, helmet…well, with me, I took the scenic drive over to NJMP and met up with RFD writer Danny Korecki.   This was my first trip to this particular track, and apparently it’s about the only thing in Millville, NJ aside from a McDonalds and a gas station.

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Now, I won’t get into too many details about everything that happens during an XX event, you can read about Danny’s trip to Summit point, and his updated experience at NJMP coming soon to RFD.  Suffice to say, they treated us very well, as they do all the folks that showed up for their events.  You get a great classroom session with one of their expert instructors, who gives you a primer on the track, the basics of car control, weight transfer, etc.  Then we met our in-car instructors, and I soon realized these guys have a pretty awesome job.  One of them would sit shotgun in a Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4 while I drove fast.

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Mikey Taylor was that guy.  A South African race car driver, Mikey was born in Pretoria and competed in his first World Go-Karting Championship at age 10, just missing the podium.  At age 16 he moved to the States, competing in Grand Am, Pirelli World Challenge, and IMSA, among others.  Since then he has worked as a driving instructor, coach, and head of a branding and marketing company he helped form called Out There Brands.  Basically, he’s living the American dream and gets to drive cool cars 20-30 weekends a year.

Mikey Taylor Racing

The Track

Learning a new track is always a challenge.  Sitting on more than 500 acres, NJMP more than earns its reputation as a “motorsports entertainment complex”.  Aside from the road course, they have karting, paintball, and even a pub.  XX uses the 1.9 mile northern circuit, known as Lightning Raceway, that features some of the best dramatic corners and elevation changes in the park. The course is made up of “10 turns exciting for enthusiasts of any skill level”.  Well alright!

NJMP Lightning Raceway

Like most exotic car driving experiences (and RFD has brought you reviews of several , including Exotics Racing and Dream Racing in addition to Xtreme Xperience) you get a chance to experience highly illegal speeds on a closed circuit.  Unlike my trip to Vegas with Exotics Racing, this is a real racing circuit, used by real race cars in anger (vs. the converted parking lot at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).  Which is both exhilarating, and scary when piloting a $200,000 plus supercar that you don’t own.  It wasn’t long ago that a student crashed at a exotic driving experience in Orlando, killing the instructor.  In a Lamborghini.  These are real speeds on real tracks, and while there is some runoff at NJMP, it’s not everywhere.  There are walls.  Gulp.

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Danny and I were give the opportunity to go out on the Evo Ride along, which gave us a chance to further learn the course.  Our instructor took a slow lap and then a full-tilt AWD-enhanced scramble around the course to help us learn about pointer cones, where to apex, and braking zones.  It was a hoot, we’ll miss the Lancer Evolution.

Danny also got to experience a Ferrari 458, and as you’ll see in his article, he very much made the most of his time.  Ever wonder what the slowest lap ever turned at NJMP looks like?

It looks amazing in a Ferrari.

/teaser

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The Car

Climbing into the Huracan LP610-4, I was immediately more impressed with this iteration of Lamborghini’s “entry level” car when compared to the Gallardo I drove during the Vegas experience.  At just 6 feet tall, wearing a helmet, I barely fit in the old model Lambo.  In the Superlegerra, my head was wedged against the ceiling, it was not a comfortable way to experience such a quick car.  Don’t worry, I’ll crank out a full review and comparison in case you are supercar shopping, but suffice to say the Huracan was more than adequate to blast around NJMP.

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My Driving Xperience

So, we’ve established that I think I’m a pretty good driver, my instructor is cooler than I am, NJMP is a great place to visit, and the Lamborghini Huracan is a pretty nice ride.  You forget everything when you engage the flappy paddle into “first” and the bright red Lamborghini starts moving forward.  Well, not everything, thankfully your trusty instructor is there to remind you.  In a very calm, very South African manner, Mikey gave me verbal reminders (and back-up hand signals so I could hear him over the Italian tuned engine and exhaust) about which side of the track to plant the car, when to brake, and when to give it the beans.

Thankfully I was able to manage the beans-per-minute (BPMs) with the paddles; not all drivers who show up to the Xperience are necessarily allowed to shift their own gears.  It likely varies based on driving experience and the instructor’s comfort level with you.   As you can hear in the video, I was asked if I wanted to give it some time in “auto” or shift myself.  You know what I said, of course I’ll shift it myself.  We continued out onto the track, me in my Huracan, Danny following in a Nissan GT-R Nismo.

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Little did I know, I was going to get the business end of some JDM fury.

Following the pace car Evo, I got a sense of the track, it’s undulations, and blind corners while at the wheel.  That last bit, the blind corner part, is terrifying; you pretty much point the car where it’s supposed to go and hope it makes it the right way round the bend.  I found that I had to back off a few times because the Evo in front of us was going a bit slower than my badass supercar was trying to go, like holding a pit bull on a leash I dialed back the throttle.

Meanwhile, Godzilla was calculating it’s maths and biding its time behind me.

The Evo pace vehicles exited the track and I rolled onto the throttle, focusing on smooth inputs of both gas and steering.  Exploding petrol turns into speed incredibly quickly in a Lamborghini, as it does in most 600 plus horsepower vehicles.  My second lap, my fastest, went by in 1 minute, 35.2 seconds.

1:35.02 is not fast at NJMP, by anyone’s measure.

In fact, here are some measures to judge it against.  It’s painfully slow, especially in such a fast car.  The slowest car on that particular list, a Honda Civic, still managed a 1:26.496 lap time.  Of course, these are experience drivers in prepped cars.  Yeah, that makes me feel better.

On lap three, Danny’s Nissan had calculated enough slip angles and traction optimization methodologies to realize that it no longer needed to smell Italian exhaust gasses.  After the long straight, where I hit a race-keeper indicated 130 MPH (145 on my speedo), my instructor suggested that we let Godzilla by, lest he destroy us.  It could also be that Danny is a good driver, but I’m going to give credit to the car.

I spent the last lap chasing the black GT-R, the fish eye lenses used in the video make it look much further ahead than it actually was.  I swear.

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The Pro Xperience

All that is well and good, but you will never feel quite as much adrenaline as you do when you’re not in control.  Sitting shotgun, Mikey took over control of the Huracan, sidling out of the pits and onto the track at a pretty slow pace.  We ambled around the track on the first lap, Mikey giving me some advice about driving fast, meanwhile he wasn’t, turning in a 1:49.50 driving one handed.

Then shit got real.

Lap number two, the South African wheel man laid into the Lambo, still occasionally driving with one hand to illustrate a point.  For reference, during the gradual flow of turn 6, he hit 124 MPH just before passing under the Subaru-sponsored bridge that you use to enter the track.  That’s crazy.  What felt like a “turn” to me was straightened out by a pro driver into a 100+ MPH speed zone.

Incredibly hard on the brakes, hard left into turn 7.

Mikey didn’t bother with powerslides (this lap) and instead focused on speed and quickness, loading up a lot of miles per hour coming out of the last turn onto the straight.  70 MPH at the last apex turned into 145 MPH (160 MPH on the Lambo’s digital readout) along the straight, the V10 bull attempting to destroy my insides with g-forces.

That was the pinnacle lap, showing what a trained human is capable of.  And even then, he chatted most of the lap, continued to gesture with one hand; this was lunch-break entertainment run for Mikey.

And he still turned a 1:18 flat.

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Subsequent laps were a hoot, slow in some sections with tail out action in others.  So much fun.  Looking through the PDF above, lots of cars have traversed that track faster than we did.  In fact, most cars on the list were faster, but those laps were done in anger and for pride and trophies.  I imagine with Mikey’s background, and given the task of setting his fastest lap in a Huracan, that time would have dipped way lower.  And I’m OK with the fact that I wasn’t on board for that lap.  While it was thrilling experiencing 160 MPH, which is easily the fastest I’ve ever traveled in a passenger vehicle, it was also terrifying.

And that’s why you should totally do it.  Riding with someone like Mikey tests your intestinal fortitude in a lot of physical ways, not to mention what it did to my brain.  It couldn’t stop mulling over the idea that “hey, this could be all over the news tomorrow when we slam into a retaining wall at 150”.  But we didn’t, and you won’t.  Laps like this are done all the time with squealing passengers trying to hold on, the likelihood of death incredibly low.

So go hit up Xtreme Xperience and drive (or ride) fast.

Plus, for someone like myself, who fancies themselves a pretty good driver, it was a nice awakening.  Race car driver excuses in 3, 2, 1, with just one lap to get to know the track, I think I could have done much better.  As Mikey said, it’s all about confidence and once I saw what the new Huracan can do I would definitely have been more aggressive.  Regardless, I’ll need to consult the RFD HPDE calendar (soon to be updated for 2017) and get back out there.

I’m apparently a little rusty.

Bonus Gallery

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