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Rally day for Ferrari owners (and me)

Rally day for Ferrari owners (and me)

This week, I had the sheer pleasure (and gave my coworkers fits of jealousy) of spending a day driving Ferraris around the Napa wine country here in Northern California. Ferrari sponsored three days of rallying, which attracted around 60 Ferrari owners--which meant 60 Ferraris, ranging in age from newborn to 50 years old. The first two days were spent in Napa and the surrounding counties on some truly excellent twisty mountain roads. The final day was a trek down to Pebble Beach, where the Ferraris would arrive in time for the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. The Ferrari owners were serious about competing in the rally, but we members of the press got to drive along without the pressure of recording our times.

The first car I drove was the F430 Spider. Although powered by only eight cylinders, this car moved along in breathtaking fashion. With the top down, I could hear the symphony that is the hallmark of Ferrari engines. The tuning is spectacular, as is the acceleration. The cabin looks kind of low tech, with metal plates holding buttons and switches, but this car is as high tech as it gets where performance is concerned. The F1 transmission is a clutchless manual that you shift via paddles on the steering column. The left side is down, and the right is up. It works brilliantly, although it takes a little getting used to. The F430 includes five suspension settings accessible from a metal dial on the steering wheel. I kept it in Sport mode, which was more than adequate to keep it hugging the road while I pushed it hard around the curves. The stability control is subtle, but I felt it help me out here and there. I don't think I ceased grinning throughout lunch.

And the next car I drove, the 612 Scaglietti, did nothing to remove the grin. The F430 is a classic Ferrari roadster, offering all the sounds and feel of the road at full bore. The 612 is a coupe with 2+2 seating and leather encasing the cabin. That beautiful Ferrari engine sound is muted in the 612, even though it's generated by a 6.0-liter 12-cylinder. The 612 includes the same F1 transmission and some more obvious tech. An LCD next to the tach shows tire pressure, oil temperature, and other essential information. The wheel is power adjustable, and the stereo can take four CDs. However, I didn't really notice these niceties, as the 612 shoots up to incredible speeds with even less effort than the F430; 100mph feels like 60. Of course, being a heavier car, it doesn't feel as solid on the curves, but that's partly due to the fact that I was usually going faster than I thought. The tach is the main gauge on the instrument cluster in both cars, with the speedometer pushed off to the side. That arrangement is a good indication of Ferrari priorities.

* Wasn't it Eddie Money who said, "Driving one Ferrari is like a ticket to paradise. Driving two is like two tickets to paradise"?