Get in gear with Ferrari and Mario Andretti driving schools

Some think that race car driving is not a tough sport, since the driver is seated and the car is doing all the work.

But as one race car driving instructor said, “Anybody can get into a car on a long straightaway and jam the accelerator to the floor. But that is not testing your driving skills. Your speed is simply determined by physics. In other words, weight, horsepower, traction, etc. establish how fast you can go. It is what happens in the corners that separates a real race car driver from the rest of the pack.”

One way to understand this rule is to attend a driving school in a hot car on a real racing road course or racing oval. For many, it is a humbling experience; but in the end it is a downright exhilarating adventure.

Clearly the premium school for prospective hot shoe drivers seeking a spectacular experience in top-rated machinery is the Ferrari Driving Experience, offered exclusively to Ferrari owners and special guests. The latest Ferraris are provided, including 430 Scuderias, 599 GTBs and F430 coupes, all to be driven at the Canadian Circuit Mont Tremblant former Formula One track in Montreal.

This two-day program is taught by the best, including race car drivers from the Indy Car series (such as Ryan Hunter-Reay), the Grand-Am and 24-hour Rolex racing events.

What’s presented is a real “school” experience, not just hopping in a car and hoping for the best. Concepts such as spotting the correct driving line through the course, so-called threshold braking (learning to brake at just the right spot before the tires slip), weight transfer issues and the limits of adhesion are taught, among other vital driving lessons.

The classes are limited to about 15 students, and for the price of admission, participants are accommodated at the five-star Hotel Quintessence. After graduation from the basic course, a longer and upgraded learning event is available.

Ferrari also offers its Pilota Ferrari driving program with courses set in Italy. For more information, visit www.ferrari.com.

A different take is provided by the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. This is offered at many premium oval tracks – some of which also have an interior road course – including Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and a dozen others.

Essentially, the Mario Andretti experience lets you pick your level of comfort. For example, you can sign up for a ride in an Indy-style car (think 600 horsepower in a 1,800-pound car) for three laps. Or, if you are really brave, sign up to be a passenger with the real Mario Andretti piloting you around the course.

For those who want to drive, three race cars are available for various programs. On the oval, you can drive an Indy-type race car in various eight-minute sessions. Before shoeing yourself into the car, of course, instructors prepare you for what to expect and give you radio guidance while on the course. Top speed is up to you, but 150 mph can be achieved.

For those who want to learn road racing (a course with lots of turns), two cars are available depending on your bravery and pocketbook. The starter is a fully race-prepared BMW Z3 sports car. Next up is an open-wheel Formula 2000 (think about 150 horsepower in a 1,200-pound, fully winged car). Again, the sessions vary in seat time on the track, but all come with full instruction. The ultimate, however, is a full two days of racing instruction and racing experience with about four hours of track time.

With either of these experiences, two things will happen: First, you will understand that racing a car requires skill, experience and a certain amount of bravery. And second, you will be a better driver than you ever were before.

Driven Beauty

Leilani Munter is a budding name in the racing world. She began racing in 2001 and has since driven on many celebrated tracks.

The Minnesota native (whose mother is originally from the Big Island) got her start at Panoz Racing School in Florida.

“It was so much fun and gave me a real passion for the sport,” says Munter, who also worked as a race instructor at Fast Track Racing School in Charlotte, N.C.

Munter, an avid environmental-ist, proactively incorporates green practices in racing. To offset her carbon footprint, she purchases an acre of rainforest for every race she runs. She also shares her message at environmental events worldwide.

“I had a wonderful time speaking at the Hawaii Conservation Fair,” Munter tells HILuxury. “I also found some time to go scuba diving with Deep Ecology in Haleiwa.”

Look for Munter on the racetrack this month as she returns to the Firestone Indy Lights Series on Oct. 9.