The latest attraction at Walt Disney World isn’t based on a cartoon character, nor is it made of animatronics. It will, however, bring out the kid in you – in an adult sort of way. And the best part? It’s shiny, Italian and can go 200 mph.
OK, so you don’t actually go 200 mph, but piloting an exotic sports car on a race track will easily have you testing the car’s capabilities – not to mention your own.
Designed as the ultimate attraction for adults at Disney, the Exotic Driving Experience can get you behind the wheel of a pricey German or Italian sports car starting at as little as just $199. The “ride” is an addition to the long-standing Richard Petty Driving Experience, and is held at the Walt Disney World Speedway – though only makes partial use of the banked tri-oval. Using one of those banked bends, the rest of the course makes use of a large-scale, though rather technical, slalom running through the track’s infield.
Unlike most rides, you’re an active participant here and not just a bystander strapped in a passenger seat – that’s the terrifying job of the instructors. And for that reason you can’t just hop pit wall and burn some expensive rubber.
Given the full treatment, I started my day with a group of other journalists, given a simple overview of the course and cautioned against shenanigans – like rapid acceleration in the pits. Of note, each car is fitted with an engine control device with a dial on it, allowing the instructor next to you to adjust how much of the engine’s power you’re allowed to use. My instructor informs me that everyone is given 100 percent to start, which in the case of a car like the Lamborghini Gallardo is 560 hp. You’ll only find yourself limited if you’re caught not listening to the instructor, I’m told.
Helmet on, I approach my Audi R8 and slide comfortably into the soft leather seats, running my hand along the carbon fiber interior. It might not be Italian, but this German machine is a true exotic. The R8 wasn’t my choice, the Ferrari 458 Italia would have been, but for this media drive we pull car names from a helmet. Paying customers will have their choice, but it comes at a cost.
The entry $169 price will get you behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera S. An excellent sports car, yes, but no exotic. You’ll have to add on $70 to get to the Audi R8 – the big dog version with a 520-hp V10 – I should point out. It’s a performer on par with the Lambo and Ferrari, but if you’ve come all this way, do you really want to tell your friends you just drove an Audi? Absolutely not. So for an extra $60 (we’re up to $299 here), you can hop in a Lamborghini Gallardo – which is exactly what I’d suggest as your minimum. For $389 there’s a Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, powered by the same engine but weighing several hundred pounds less. If you’re willing and able, $419 will get you into the 458 Italia and I’ll guarantee you’ll never forget driving a Ferrari.
All of the cars in the fleet come equipped with paddle shift gearboxes, so you don’t need to know how to drive stick. Many can also be operated in a strict automatic mode, which will handle all the shifts for you. I strongly suggest slapping the paddles yourself, however, as these high-tech gearboxes are a treat to operate and part of the experience. Besides, the track is designed to simplify the experience with the complex series of slalom turns all run in second gear.
Leaving pit road the adrenaline begins to pump, and I’m a spoiled auto journalist who isn’t new to high-performance vehicles or the track. We park on an unused section of the course and wait. Only three cars are allowed on track at a time and I’m fourth in a group, meaning I have to wait for car number one to complete its six laps of speed – fast cars have never seemed so slow.
Finally, it’s go time, although my instructor wisely cautions to take my time and feel out the course. I acquiesce, and after a cautious run on the one mile track, am told to lay on the power as we leave the slalom section. It’s thrilling, yes, and not just the raw acceleration.
Hearing the massive V10 engine climb, slapping the paddles and then pushing hard on the brakes at the end of the long straight is a Disney experience to rival all others. Then hit the slalom section. Push hard enough and hear those tires scream under the incredible power of a true exotic. And repeat!
The six laps goes by fast… too fast. To be fair, in my professional opinion, no amount of time, an hour, a day, or a week, in one of the world’s most amazing cars, is long enough.
The entire experience is, of course, a double edged sword. The faster you go the more fun you’re having. But the faster you go, the quicker your ride is over.
And end it does, as I pull into the pits, adrenaline pumping, an instructor pleased to arrive back safe again.
What makes the Exotic Driving Experience so unique is that it is designed to offer the supercar experience for those who would otherwise never have a chance to. Many other programs, with a day worth of driving numerous exotics, claim the same, but at prices in the several thousand dollar range, they’re really only an option for the upper middle class and are arguably even better suited to those who can actually afford a six-figure car. Still, the Richard Petty experience is certainly a lot more expensive than a trip to the movies.
It’s also an experience that more than just you can enjoy. With the NASCAR drive event being held at the same venue, just after my drive I notice a family waiting outside the pits. The father, clad in a racing suit grins as the lopey-idle V8 stock cars rolled out. His wife close by, his two daughters jumping and screaming with excitement, telling anyone who would listen that their dad was going to drive a race car.
Have older kids (14 and up)? They can get a thrill-ride, sitting shotgun while an instructor takes them for a hot lap.
Plus, once you’ve completed your ride, you can purchase photos and video of the experience to share with everyone back home. As an added feature, the cars are equipped with complete telemetry systems, tracking braking, acceleration and lateral g-forces, which can be overlaid on the video. This is particularly important as the speedometer on each model is blacked out, a feature designed to not only promote safety, but also to improve driving performance as it’s one less distraction.
In some cases, it’ll even push you to drive faster. Pro racer Christian Fittipaldi, who helped design the course and who was on hand during the drive, was asked by a timid local TV reporter if she should do anything in particular out on the track, first confessing that she only planned to go 60 mph. “My advice,” said Fittipaldi, “is to definitely go faster than 60 mph.”
Designed to attract a new type of clientele to the Walt Disney World Speedway, it’s not hard to think it will. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to drive a Ferrari?
Driving your dream car most certainly is Disney for adults. Like other Disney memories, it’s one you won’t forget. Unlike other Disney rides, it’s one that puts you in control.
GALLERY: Walt Disney Exotic Driving Experience
Find out more at www.exoticdriving.com