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The best test drive of my life

The best test drive of my life
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First Published: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 34 PM IST

Illustration: Getty images
Illustration: Getty images
Updated: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 34 PM IST
Every child has dreams.
Fantasies even. As he grows up, those dreams start to get left behind and somewhat forgotten in the mad rush for good grades, jobs and what you have. But every once in a while, that child is reminded of his dreams, and, miraculously enough, some of them even come true! I was one such child once, and, I had to pinch myself to ensure I wasn’t still dreaming, as I stood at the portals of the Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, near Modena in Italy. A small, sleepy town, Maranello is world famous because of its prominent resident. A large part of the community is very much connected to the Ferrari car business in a direct or indirect way.
And the locals take pride in their beloved Prancing Horse—smiling and nodding in approval as one of the handcrafted beauties roars by.
Illustration: Getty images
The year was 2005, and I was at the Ferrari headquarters to test-drive not one but two cars. I was also there to film the company’s facilities, which meant access to its plants, offices, museum and yes—the revered Fiorano test track. I could hardly believe it! After the initial formalities, I was handed the keys to a bright red—sorry let me correct that—racing street red (which is what Rosso Corsa roughly translates into, I was told) F430. A virtual masterpiece, the F430 was considered THE benchmark for sports cars at that time. It wasn’t just that this was a Ferrari, or that it was an Italian sports car. No, this car has gone down as one the greats because it was the first to adopt a lot directly from Ferrari’s F1 cars into a driver-friendly road car. It was also hailed for its gorgeous design by Pininfarina—which screams performance, even when standing still.
And there I was—suddenly feeling like a 10-year-old again—with the keys to my dream. And then it happened.
Our host for the day, Roberto Casolari, said the magic words. “Your request came through and so I have permission for you to drive on the Fiorano test track if you would like”. I’m sorry, WHAT? “You would be the first Indian on our track!” he added. Surely, I had died and gone to heaven! In my head, I was doing cartwheels, but I simply said a nonchalant “Sure, why not?” And there I was, driving an F430 on the very track that Michael Schumacher practiced on, the track that goes right by Enzo Ferrari’s famous house with the red doors! Almost two miles long, the track has all the right corners and bends, loops and straights to get your pulse racing. After all, the track is designed to be similar to Formula One grand prix style tracks, so that Ferrari’s race cars can also be tested here. Of course, it is Schumi himself who holds the record for the fastest lap here—which is under a minute, thank you very much—I probably took over two minutes! But then I was also soaking it all in too. The roar of the V8 engine behind me, the thrill of the F1 style steering, the slickness of the six-speed F1 gearbox, and the glints of red I caught off the hood, every time the sun ran across my windshield! It was pure magic. But I was also apprehensive—it was my first time driving a Ferrari on a track after all. It all ended almost too quickly! Track drive done, I also then tested a 612 Scaglietti.
We were then escorted by Roberto to the Montana restaurant—another famous landmark of sorts—run by Mama Rosella and her family. Delicious tagliatelle con ragu and tiramisu—and you’d think I was sated. Not quite.
Two years later, I returned to Maranello—this time to drive the F430 Spider or the drop-top version of the car. The second time around I chose the winding hill sections around Maranello, as well as some bits of Italy’s autostradas where I could get a feel for the higher speeds. The wind in my hair, and the roar of nearly 500 horses galloping hard—and now I was truly in seventh heaven!
It’s hard for me today—so many years later—to pick which drive I enjoyed more.
The one where I was wide-eyed on a track or where I felt one with the car’s free spirit as the summer sun splashed down on me from an azure blue sky. And then I feel—why pick? After all, both drives ended with Mama Rosella’s cooking!
The F430 was replaced by the 458 Italia in 2009, and a convertible Italia is being launched in two weeks at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show. But the F430 will always remain special for me. And I hope to go back to Maranello sometime soon. If not for the 458 Italia Spider, then definitely for some of that tagliatelle con ragu!
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
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First Published: Thu, Sep 08 2011. 09 34 PM IST