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Drive Review: Ferrari F430 vs. Audi R8

19 Sep

Scuderia Ferrari. No other name in the world of motorsport evokes the same level of pedigree, prestige and exclusivity as cars emblazoned with the famous Ferrari prancing horse. With 15 drivers’ championships and 16 constructors (manufacturers) championships in Formula 1 alone their reputation for winning is unsurpassed. So, when I had the opportunity to pilot on of their modern sports cars I didn’t hesitate.

Now, before I go on a longer rant about Ferrari you need to realize that as a journalist I need to be fair in my evaluation and assessment of both vehicles featured in this comparison. You also should know that Ferrari isn’t the only manufacturer with a laundry list of top-tier accomplishments at some of the world’s best automotive competitions.

Audi was founded in Germany by August Horch in 1909, a full 20 years before Enzo Ferrari established his own company in Maranello, Italy. And, although the Ferrari nameplate is synonymous with victory, it has been the company with the four rings that has dominated the world of endurance racing. Audi has claimed the overall title at the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans in 11 of the 13 races at the French track since 2000.

So, has all of the experiences these manufacturers have amassed on the racetrack really translated into their road cars. The answer is a resounding one, YES.

Both the F430 and R8 were driven on two different occasions at the Imagine Lifestyles autocross track at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. This allowed me to fairly test each car on an identical track.

The particular R8 I drove in June was an earlier production version that was equipped with Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 engine, as opposed to the optional 5.2-liter V-10 found in the limited-production R8 GT. Because of this I had a total of 430 horsepower available at my disposal, compared to 525 with the larger V-10. Both engines have plenty of torque of tap, but I found these naturally-aspirated, rear mid-engine monsters really have to be revved up high to squeeze all the juice out. At W.O.T. (wide open throttle) the sound of the Audi all-aluminum V8 was wonderful, but it doesn’t match the sheer scream of the Ferrari’s V8, but was certainly satisfying.

The V8 in my R8 was mated with the optional six-speed R-Tronic automatic transmission. And, as I quickly realized the combination of the V8, R-Tronic tranny and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system was a perfect combination of the tight, twisty corners of the autocross track. This was the first all-wheel drive vehicle I had even driven and I was smitten with just how good Audi’s quattro system really was. Behind the wheel I felt confident as I made my way around the course. The feeling of the all-wheel drive transferring power from one wheel to another depending on the situation presented. The transmission was in fully-automatic mode (not my choice), and while I didn’t get to test out the paddle shifters to maximize the power of the engine it performed well nonetheless. The biggest qualm I had with the R-Tronic was that upon applying full load the transmission took long than expected to kick down to the proper gear before launching the car forward.

The Ferrari was very similar in many ways to the Audi, with the main difference being it was a spyder (convertible). It performed well, but it had recently rained so the track was wet. Because of this I was unable to push the Ferrari as hard as I had with the R8, and thus it affected the test. It featured a high-revving V-8 that was only one-tenth of a liter larger (4.3-liter) than the R8. The F430 had a 53 horsepower and 27 lb-ft on the R8, but the difference was minimal considering the Ferrari was rear-wheel drive and the R8’s all-wheel setup allowed for less wheel spin and greater traction. Although in rain-mode the F1 transmission was much quicker and more razor-sharp than the R8’s R-Tronic box.

When thinking of the final verdict on these two cars it was hard to come up with a solid conclusion, especially because of the major difference it weather that had a large impact on the drive. I enjoyed the all-wheel drive of the R8 and the engine and transmission of the F430. The interior of the R8 was far superior to the F430, which had a ton of tan leather, but lacked the stylistic design of the R8 and felt almost plain. While the engine sound and transmission was better in the Ferrari, when I put all the pieces together I found myself drawn to the Audi. I attribute this to the style and setup of the track and the stark differences in New England weather. If the sky had cooperated and the venue had been large and more spread out with room to stretch the cars legs the outcome very well might have been different. I guess I just have to spend some more time in these wonderful machines.

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Imagine Lifestyles Autocross Review

16 Sep

Many dream about driving or owning an exotic car. The aggressive looks, powerful engines and legendary names like Ferrari and Lamborghini are all something car nuts want. But unless you’re friends with the rich kid in the neighborhood or have plenty of disposable income your chance of getting into ones of these machines is slim at best. Unless of course you take part in something such as Imagine Lifestyles autocross event at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

THE COMPANY

Imagine Lifestyles is a luxury rental and charter company based out of multiple major metropolitan locations throughout the United States; including Miami, New York and Chicago. Their website states they offer everything from exotic car and yacht rentals to private jet charter and concierge services. However, for this review we’ll stick to the automotive driving events, or as Imagine Lifestyles calls them “Ultimate Driving Experiences.”

What is Autocross?

For those who are unfamiliar with what autocross is, it consists of a series of cones that are set up in a relatively tight configuration. At autocross competition the goal is to navigate the course in the fastest time without hitting any of the cones. Imagine Lifestyles isn’t exactly like that. Yes, there are still cones and they are set up to form a course, but you’re not racing either the track or anyone else.

The Venue

The Imagine Lifestyles Boston autocross event was held at Gillette Stadium, a place known more for New England Patriots football than automotive events. Ideally the event would be held at a slightly larger open area in the area, such as the United States Army base at Fort Devens in Ayer, Mass., a site for many autocrosses throughout the summer and fall months. However, since Devens is a popular location it was probably easier to rent out one of the large lots surrounding Gillette. I have taken part in Imagine Lifestyles’ autocross events twice, once in June and on Saturday. In both cases the track was set up in lot number 10, directly across from the main entrance from Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium.

The Cars

This is why you come to events like this, so they better be up to par. Thankfully all of the cars Imagine Lifestyle had at both events were what they should be. While walking to the entrance I even noticed a mobile detailing company cleaning one of the cars before it was set to take to the track. That’s a good thing because track time, from the bits of rubber from tires and other factors can do a number on a vehicle. All of the cars were in excellent working order and performed as expected. In addition to maintaining their vehicles they also had a decent lineup of different models and manufacturers to choose from. The event on Saturday only offered Ferraris and Lamborghinis, but among them was a Ferrari 599 GTB, two F430’s (one coupe and one spyder) and a F430 Scuderia. The Lamborghinis consisted of Gallardos, both hard and soft top. The one disappointing things was the fact that the Scuderia sat parked in the corner of the lot. I was hoping to drive it, and later learned that the vehicle was used later in the day when the weather improved. At the event in June there was a larger selection of manufacturers to choose from including an Audi R8, Mercedes SLS AMG in addition to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

The Driving Instructors

While you navigate the course you have a driving instructor in the passengers seat. Both instructors I drove with were both knowledgeable and knew what they were doing. Some of the staff claimed that the instructors are “professionals.” This title is somewhat misleading. You won’t find Michael Shumacher, Walter Rohrl or Tony Stewart giving you driving tips. They aren’t so much professional drivers as they as very experienced drivers who have been taking part in autocross and other high performance driving events for years. Professional might be a little stretch, but the instructors are all fully qualified for the job and provide useful information for getting around the track fast, safely and efficiently.

The Staff and Event

All of the individuals working at the Boston event were polite and performed well. There were plenty of “please” “thank you”  and “how was your ride.” The lines were relatively short and moved at a decent pace. On the Imagine Lifestyles website it says to allow adequate time (2-3 hours) from the time you arrive until you leave. The amount of time you wait will depend on what time you sign up for and what car you want to drive (Lamborghinis and Ferraris are popular). I have never waited even an hour and a half for the entire process. Sadly, the amount of time you spend driving the car all boils down to a couple minutes at most. The track isn’t very long and if you drive at a good pace the three laps goes by very quickly. You can purchase an additional three laps ($89), but even six laps doesn’t last long. The event takes place rain or shine, so if it pours (Saturday) then you just have to make the best of it.

The Cost

When you purchase the package on a daily deal website such as GroupOn it says $500 value. It’s not worth that, nor would I recommend anyone pay that to take part in an event such as this. Prices vary. The first event in June cost $159, but that isn’t the only thing you have to pay for. Autocross track insurance is required for anyone who is going to drive. Cost ranges from $49, which gives you $50,000 in coverage with a $5,000 deductible, up to $99 that covers you for the entire cost of the vehicle ($250,000) and only has a $1,000 deductible. If this freaks you out don’t despair. There is really no need to buy anything except the basic $49 insurance. The only thing you can hit are rubber cones, a chain link fence and a few light poles (you would have to have thing go very wrong to hit the latter two.)

The Verdict

If you’re looking to get a special birthday, graduation or other unique gift for the car-crazed person in your life then this would be a good thing to get them. The cost, while not cheap is not going to break the bank either. The Boston location at Gillette Stadium is a good location due to its generally located in the state and isn’t overly far from the North Shore, South Shore, Cape Cod or Metro Boston. The cars are fun to drive and you leave with a satisfied feeling that makes you want to drive more. On a scale of one to 10 I’d give the Imagine Lifestyles autocross event a 7.5/10, with the main downsides being it cost some $$ and it doesn’t last long.

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