It is a fine day indeed when you can drive $1 million worth of exotic automobiles before lunch.
And that is just what I did on September 6, 2007. I was at West Baden Springs Resort in French Lick, Indiana for the inaugural World Class Driving Festival.
Chief Executive Officer Alan Rae and COO Jean Paul Libert have created a dream experience for aficionados of high performance cars. They have been running one day events in Europe and more lately the U.S., but this multi-day event provided an opportunity to drive a number of cars from a stable worth $12 million.
I had signed up for the one day event to be held in Sturgis planning to ride my Harley to the event and enjoy the best of both auto and motorcycle worlds. That event was cancelled and World Class Driving upgraded me to the weekend event in Baden Springs, a gesture that more than compensated me for the change in plans and need to fly into either Louisville or Indianapolis.
West Baden Springs Resort is a world-class hotel in the literal middle of nowhere. 2 hours from Indy and 90 minutes from Louisville, it rises in spectacular fashion from the plains of rural Indiana. The original property burned down in 1901 and was rebuilt as “the eight wonder of the world.” You might think that hyperbolic, but with the six story 200 foot dome, it really is fantastic. It was built to rival the great spas of Europe and after many years of use and abuse was renovated and returned to service as a luxury resort in May of 2007.
Motor Trend and Spyker were among the primary sponsors of this event, and the atrium area was filled with a plethora of collector automobiles that brought spectators from throughout Indiana. A Maserati MC12 was one of my favorites, along with an F40 Ferrari and Calloway Speedster.
World Class Driving had me met at the airport in Louisville and driven to the resort where I signed up for three groups of three cars. Driving periods occurred throughout the day so it was easy to schedule my drives for my convenience.
If you’re not into cars, skip this section. But if you love exotics and supercars, here’s what I drove: a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, a Lamborghini Superleggera, a Spyker C8 Lavioletta, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster, a Porsche GT3, an Audi R8, a Ferrari F430 Spyder, a Mercedes Benz SL 65 AMG and, the most pedestrian of the group, a Maserati Quattroporte (a fine automobile but decidedly a high-end sedan and not a performer).
Groups of three cars left together with a Chrysler 300 pace car (and the staff that piloted the pace cars knew how to drive). The Spyker required a passenger coach of sorts given the progressive brakes, no traction control and unusual manual shifting. It is a driver’s car and a handful, but by far the most unusual car that I drove.
My first drive was a 7:00 a.m. and proved to be the best in terms of open road and limited traffic. You must follow the pace car and stay in order within your group, but if you’re wondering, that doesn’t mean driving slow.
Understand: traffic laws are to be obeyed and safety is paramount. World Class Driving prudently invites local law enforcement officers in for a complimentary ride prior to the event, so some empathy is created (and yes, a few participants did get tickets, but not yours truly).
Having said all that, the roads we drove were either spacious (for obtaining very high speeds, theoretically of course) and/or twisty (for enjoying the handling of these great cars).
The most usual complaint from locals was noise: a screaming Ferrari or Lamborghini in the early dawn is not a sound most people are familiar with (but what a sound they make).
The hotel was fabulous: rooms, service, food and amenities.
But what impressed me most was Jean Paul. I encountered him frequently and he was always asking, “How is everything?” It wasn’t a gratuitous question; he really wanted to know so that he could assure he was delivering on what participants paid for and more.
The staff were all car people (I met an open wheel race team owner, for instance, who was working as a staffer) and knowledgeable. As participants we smiled so much our faces hurt.
In short, World Class Diving offers exactly the kind of customer experience that any great company can and should aspire to.
And if you’re interested in checking out one of the many events held throughout the U.S. visit World Class Driving. Tell them I sent you.