Meeting Vittoria's family
Monday, September 22, 2008
I am sorry for the lack of blogging. I have had a long run of beautiful, but internet-free, hotels. Since last Tuesday, I have driven from the North of England to Italy and back, via France Switzerland, Germany and now France again. I am still "on the road", having stopped off in Paris for a business meeting.
The purpose of the trip was to take part in a driving course in Italy organised by Maserati. After visiting the factory in Modena to see where my car was "born", I spent two days on a track under the supervision of experienced race and rally drivers; learning what such a car can do. I have a new respect for her. She is not just "male jewellery;" she is an automotive athlete. At several points I was so scared by what she (or her sisters I was driving on track) could do, that I seriously considered selling her and buying a boring Audi. The moments passed.
I enjoyed the theory classes and the exercises more than the track time. Spinning a Gransport around on a makeshift skid pan put a big childish grin on my face. I was more interested in maximising the spin than in learning how to steer/power my way out of it. I also enjoyed the emergency braking exercises on a wet track.
The competitive side of it all was a problem though. I have always been a very bad loser ("Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser" is my motto). I thought I had matured out of that, but I was wrong and, sadly, a fair amount of losing was involved on my part. I came 7th out of 8 in the time trials. Had one nice lady in our group not decided to skip them, I might well have been 8th. I just could not overcome the habits of 34 years driving on public roads. All my instincts were against flooring the pedal as the pros do. They were even more against braking as sharply as they do - and that at the last possible millisecond. I was really upset by my performance at the time, but on reflection I am glad I put myself through it. I think I am a better, more confident (but still cautious) driver for it.
It all became real during the last hour when our course leader, a Formula One test driver, slammed me around the now-familiar track in the passenger seat of a Maserati Trofeo. At first, each time his braking slammed my ample frame into the harness, I thought I was breathing my last. By the end of the second lap, I believed in his considerable abilities and said "yes" when he offered me a third. It was superb.
I almost missed the best part. When I read the ferocious disclaimer I had to sign to take my own car out on the circuit, I hesitated. I gritted my teeth and signed, telling myself I would pootle around safely. Then I realised I was being led out by an instructor in a GranSport, which was going to be my "pace car." They actually expected me to slam my beloved toy around the track as I had been taught. I hesitated again, uttered some Anglo-Saxon and went for it. In consequence, when I nosed her back onto the drab reality of the public highway, any urge to "see what she can do" was gone. I know what she can do.
Yes, I was the fastest thing on the autobahn as I left Germany this morning, but I was not tempted to go for her top speed of 177mph. I contented myself with a speed suited to the circumstances (slightly wet, lots of traffic) and didn't even come close to my previous fastest. Then, as I entered speed-restricted France, I settled into my still-unfamiliar new driving position and thoroughly enjoyed her Continent-devouring abilities. A French boy racer in an underpowered Audi sniggered past me at one point. I smiled cheerily and waved.
[The cars in the pictures are Maserati's own GranSports and GranTurismos on the track, except for the last one, which is my Granturismo, "Vittoria," looking moody in the Black Forest]