The Ferrari Australasia family invited me to spend four days with them in Bathurst sampling their cars, their racing team and their overwhelming hospitality; I have now started my adoption process.
We arrived early; actually VERY early; at the Elizabeth Street Showroom in Sydney for vehicle allocation and departure to Bathurst. Even with limited sleep, I felt wide awake. For me, the anticipation for what was in store for the next few days was high enough to negate the need for coffee. While we waited for a final few to arrive and last minute preparations we had a chance to do a quick tour of the showroom with F12’s and two new 488GTB’s on display. We also ducked into the personalization room – a place that gives you the chance to do things like chose your car colour, feel the fine leather that is on offer, steering wheel options, Alloys etc plus it has a big screen TV that shows a 360 degree interactive view of the personalized car you are looking to purchase.
I was presented with the keys to a pure White California T with Blue and Black leather interior, not something that happens every day (unfortunately) but I have been behind the wheel of one of these ‘everyday’ cars before (hark at me) so I thought I knew what was in store – a modern Ferrari sportscar – However the drive up to the Blue Mountains managed to impress me further. The Cali T feels good under foot and has a ‘duel personality’ engine, drive sensibly or around town and it’s quiet and almost tame but kick her a little and her true heritage calls out.
We pulled up to our home for the next few days; the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains but with a busy schedule of events ahead of us there was no time to check in. We dumped our bags and grabbed a takeaway coffee; quickly hitting the road for Bathurst. We had managed to pick up several other Ferrari’s at the Hotel and it was quite the spectacle as a cavalcade of Ferrari’s took the hour or so drive along the heavily policed (and even heavier road-worked) mountain tarmac. Picture a line of F12’s, 458’s, California T’s, 360’s, 430’s a 488GTB and even an old Dino; driving all in a row with the Blue Mountains as a back drop – are you salivating yet?
A Ferrari ‘paddock’ had been fenced off for us at the track and we were carefully guided into our spots. The paddock was a place for Bathurst visitors to get up close and personal with arguably one of the world’s most desirable Marques and almost immediately the sight of our arrival (ok it was the cars not the occupants) drew a crowd and out came the cameras – and in truth ours did too! Several snaps later and it was off to the hospitality Suite.
The Ferrari Suite was in one of the ViP lounges that overlooked the Bathurst start/finish line and had both of the Ferrari GT3 racing teams directly below us in the Pits. A warm welcome greeted us; together with coffee, pastries and the gift of a Ferrari baseball cap. The room was a sea of Rosso Red, White and Black, with enlarged photos of Ferrari racing teams in action decorating the wall and centerpieces of handpicked red and white roses decorating the tables. With the sound of the cars roaring down the straight outside; the effect walked the fine line between motorsport and prestigious hospitality.
The drivers brief was at mid morning and although it was a serious matter including things like ‘This drive is being treated as a normal road not a racetrack so ‘town’ speed restrictions are in place and the police will be there to issue tickets if not obeyed’ my smile was almost uncontrollable – this was my first time at Bathurst, the sun was shining and I was going to be let out for an enjoy ride on the tarmac.
We were split into three groups and it was a follow the leader affair with the lead car instructor (via radio) talking us through the track as if we were racing. Where to brake, which line to take, where to look, all those sort of things. Yes I’ve done this before on other tracks but never before on Mount Panorama and never in a Ferrari! The Dipper (even at our sedate speed) is a formidable experience and if you’re in Bathurst and you get the chance; I urge you to drive the course (it’s probably already on your ‘thing’s to do’ list anyway).
With the cars back safe and sound in the paddock, it was back to the Suite for lunch and more fine Ferrari hospitality. Even on this pre, pre race day, the track was in continual use, V8’s, GT3’s and pre-production cars of all ages roared down the home straight – it was quite the sight and of course sound.
The afternoon consisted of a Pit (which in fact we access to at anytime) and trailer tour. The ‘behind the scenes’ look at the racing teams in the garage is something I could watch for hours. With minute adjustments often making the difference between win or lose, they are continually tinkering and re-evaluating the car. The trailer is something else too, it’s a neon lit haven that most of us would be proud to call home.
With the first day’s festivities over we headed back to the Hydro Majestic to check in, freshen up and eat dinner. It’s a grand old dame of a place that is fixed in the 1920’s. It has an amazing and eyebrow raising past and a décor that just oozes character. I seriously doubt that since it originally broke ground in 1901, there isn’t one nook or cranny of the building that doesn’t have a story to tell.
In what I can now say seems to be true Ferrari Australasia norm; there was a gift pack of things like chocolates and a key fob waiting for me in my room but more than this, there was personally written welcome letter from the Australasian CEO Herbert Appleroth – it really was a great touch.
Dinner was a chance to get to know some of the Ferrari clients that had been invited to attend the weekend. It was an eclectic mix of people that you wouldn’t normally expect to see in the same room but within the first few moments of talking with them you instantly know why they were there – their passion for the brand is strong. They were achievers from a variety of trades and backgrounds that have lusted after the Ferrari Marque for years and once they were in a financial position to be able to; they didn’t hesitate to move from ‘poster on the wall’ to car (and often cars) in their garage.
Up early the next day and as if I didn’t have enough to celebrate – It was my birthday too! With a bit of car and car seat rotation amongst the group it was off to the track again; but this time with an even bigger thrill in store.
Outside the Ferrari Suite the GT3 teams were starting to get serious. The pace had been lifted as had the decibels. We all lined the balcony as the teams tore down the home straight and sped past our corporate box window looking to get the best qualifying time; it really is a mesmerizing sight, nigh on hypnotic. With a small break in the proceedings we grabbed the keys to a couple of Ferrari’s and went out for some photo ops (or so we said), we actually just wanted to spend a little more time behind the wheel – C’mon, so would you.
Back at the Suite, my hosts had a birthday surprise for me; I was to get to drive Bathurst in a Ferrari again but this time at pace! I donned a helmet and headed for the paddock. Again it was ‘follow the leader’ style but this time in smaller groups and at ‘foot to the floor’ (in places) speed. We entered the home straight at a relatively subdued pace (to clear the rocks from our tyres) but immediately after rounding Hell Corner we planted our feet down hard and headed off up Mountain Straight – getting into the 160kph’s in the blink of an eye. Reasonably hard on the brakes as we turned in at the Quarry the instructor on the radio was urging us to make good use of the track width (but stay off the ripple strips). Next up was Mountain and Skyline territory. The Dipper is obviously more daunting at speed (and we were going a fraction of the rate that the GT3’s go) but once free; you hit Forrests elbow and of course all the fun of Conrod Straight. The first couple of laps I edged a shade over 200 but with my confidence and adrenaline up I got in a fraction below 250.
Needless to say, at the end of the ten lap session my smile and excitement was off the chart. We all got back safely and then ‘car shuffled’ again for the drive back to the Hotel. I managed to get into the passenger seat of the new 488 GTB with the main man Herbert. I won’t go into too much detail about this car right now (as I hope to be getting to review it soon) but it is Exceptional. With its more traditional styling; this turbo mid-engined Ferrari looks and sounds the part but more to the point – it IS the part. It’s fast and I mean really fast, it sticks to the road like it’s been superglued there and I have to say Herbert made it sing (and dance a little).
Dinner and drinks that night was more like a family meal, we had all got a little more comfortable with each other and the jokes flowed as easily as the conversation. As desert started to come out, the lights dimmed and a small candlelit cake came out with the entire group singing Happy birthday – and what an amazing birthday it had been.
It was a case of up early for the next morning for the main event, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 hour. Some of the ‘family’ were up at 3.30am to walk the grid and watch the sunrise – I unfortunately was not one of them – it was a case of breakfast and a slightly more moderate start for me – 7am. By the time we got to the track one of the Ferrari teams (Maranello Motorsport) had hit a lambo and was back in the garage, while the other (Team Vicious Rumors) was several laps behind – not the best day at the races for the boys downstairs. However they did take it all in their stride and most of the drivers came up to the suite to spend some time with us.
We went up the mountain for some photo ops and flitted around the paddock and the pits for the majority of the day while spending a lot of time flooding social media with pictures and videos. With the race over (and Ferrari unfortunately not on the podium) we shared a drink with the drivers and then hit the Bathurst countryside for an enthusiastic and spritely drive back – with (of course) more photo opportunities.
It really was an action packed few days and aside from getting to see some behind the scenes racing, getting on to the Bathurst track and driving not once but twice, getting ViP treatment in the Suite, getting numerous photo ops from the top of the Mountain to the Ferrari paddock and getting a birthday cake – what I really got to see was the care and responsibility that goes into maintaining the aura that surrounds such an iconic and desirable Marque. It’s not all about these amazing cars; in fact it seems that for Ferrari Australasia it is more about their clients and their ‘partners’ – essentially the people that drive them. If you’re up for it; they want you to be fully immersed in the brand and ‘live’ it as much as they do, they really want you to enjoy your car and be confident enough to use it. It is a brand brings joy to people wherever it goes, it turns heads and strangers can’t seem to help but show the Prancing Horse a twinkle of admiration.
This exceptional trackside experience showed me much more than just how to drive fast on a track, it showed me the comradery that surrounds the Ferrari brand and what makes it so ultimately lust worthy. But , if you are prepared to get out there on a track and push down hard on the Ferrari’s accelerator…all I have to say is Holy-Moly.
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