There are certain events that have an expected overlap between their participants. For example, a monster truck show and an NASCAR race will have some overlap in attendees. Bridal conventions and The View might be another example of overlapping clientele. These are expected. The 24 Hours of Lemons and Ferrari of Salt Lake track day on the other hand? Who would have expected a common thread? That thread?
I went from losing wheel bearings and breaking half-shafts in a half Corolla/half MR2 to screaming around the track in a beautiful, hand-crafted Italian sports car. It’s been a good month.
Ordinary blokes like myself aren’t usually asked questions like, “Do you want to go drive a Ferrari on lap day at the race track this weekend?”. The local Ferrari/Lotus/Maserati dealership had arranged a customer appreciation day with Miller Motorsports Park, complete with breakfast, lunch, and all-day track time for all of their interested (and interesting) clients. The 360 Modena pictured here belongs to a friend. Knowing that racing is sort of my thing, he invited me along. Of course, I said, “Hell yeah!”
Driving to the track, I ended up in front of the Modena and behind an FF with Idaho license plates. Being a huge fan of the shooting brake body style, the FF stands as one of my favorite cars. Naturally, I had to chat with the owner when we got to the track. After he and his two (two!) passengers climbed out of the FF, we asked him how the ride was from Idaho, to which he replied in a European accent, “Oh no, we had it trailered down here.” Apparently, he’d have rather brought his 458 to the track, but it is at his other place in Kansas. It was that kind of event.
Only three weeks earlier, the very same track had been blighted by nearly 70 Lemons crapcans, and now there were about 18 high-end exotics doing their best to breathe some respectability back into the place. Miller is one of the nicest racing venues in the country. Other than spectator capacity, it rivals Sonoma Raceway, facilities-wise, so it needed to wash the stink of the Lemons series off of itself, pronto. The Italians were just what the doctor ordered.
The format was pretty simple. There would be a driver’s meeting and then we would be divided into a “slow” group and a “fast” group. The difference between slow and fast was based on track experience, not the car. Some of the attendees had never been on a track before, so they were “slow” (even though one was in a McLaren 12C). I have six Lemons races under my belt, so I was volunteered for the “fast” group. The groups then alternated every 30 minutes on the track. The longer straights were designated as passing zones and no passing was allowed unless the driver ahead acknowledged your presence and gave the following car a “point by”. I was very happy to abide by all of these rules. After all, I was trying not to wreck a Ferrari…or more than one Ferrari.
The 360 is great. It has very good, if not great, acceleration (you know, for a Ferrari). It has amazing brakes, and a gated 6-speed transmission. The car is sure-footed, but will get out of shape under full acceleration coming out of a turn. It quickly recovered with a blip of the throttle though, and carried on doing what it was designed to do – go fast and turn. The leather seats have amazingly tight bolsters, but it was still unnerving driving on a real race track with just a three-point seat belt. I am accustomed to being strapped in to a racing seat with a five-point harness that makes my collar bones ache. The track was the same, but all the braking points were different because of the differing capabilities of the MRolla and the Modena.
There was no official timing, but my group timed pretty much every lap that the 360 completed with a cell phone. I started out running 2:02 lap times, which I eventually cut to 2:00.06. For comparison, the fastest lap time that team Volatile RAM achieved in the MRolla three weeks before, on the same exact track was 2:04.58.
Can that be right? Did the old Toyota actually only run 4.5 seconds slower than a Ferrari Modena?
The answer is yes. In fact, the lap times between the faster Lemons cars and the Ferraris were shockingly similar. The McLaren turned in the fastest time that we timed, at about 1:52. The fastest lap time among the Lemons? 1:53. Again, shockingly similar.
How could that be? Lemons cars are as fast as $250k sports cars?
I have a couple of theories:
- First, a Lemons car, while being a shitty old deathtrap, is a race car. It’s been prepared for the track. They’ve been stripped of all excess weight, many have cheaty engine and suspension upgrades, and they have the stickiest allowable “street” tires available. High-end sports cars have leather interiors, air conditioning, even stereos.
- Second, a Lemons driver isn’t very concerned about whether his car gets damaged in the line of duty. High-end sports car drivers are generally pretty careful about not wadding up their investment.
- Third, Lemons teams have several drivers and complete hundreds of laps per race (almost 400 laps at the Return of the Lemonites race at MMP), giving them a ton of opportunities to string together enough good turns to equal a good lap. Volatile RAM, for example, achieved a 2:04.58, but probably averaged around 2:12 or so over the course of the weekend.
- Finally, laps times must be somewhat similar to ¼ mile times in that it’s pretty easy to go from a 17 to a 16 second pass, but much harder and more expensive to go from a 10 to a 9 second pass. It gets exponentially more expensive and technical the faster you go.
So there you have it, a comparison of a Lemons MRolla to a 360 Modena. That, my friends, is why you read Hooniverse.
[24 Hours of Lemons photo credit: Murilee Martin]
[All other images: Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Scott Ith]