After our recent 100|OCT Club Drive, LovedPet's Principal, JHR, one of our participants, approached me with an odd request: drive his Ferrari F12 to its top speed to verify that the dealer properly fixed its top end issue.
JHR is a regular at the Mojave Mile and has posted consistent speeds of 201-203 mph with his Rosso Maranello beast, but when he went last month, it would only get to 185 mph and plateau there. So after taking it to Ferrari San Francisco for diagnosis and fixing, he wanted a neutral and respected party to verify and validate. Or maybe he just wanted someone crazy enough to do this on a remote yet closer to home country road. Anyway, he was apparently impressed with how I muscled that Aston Martin Vantage V12 S around on the 100|OCT Club Drive and trusted me to do the job without hurting the car or myself.
So we made the proper arrangements. We found the right road, organized for a couple spotters to close the road for us, and got on our way on a gorgeous crisp and sunny Fall morning last week.
Before I go any further, I have to admit a couple of things:
1/ though I have driven many an exotic, I have never driven a Ferrari F12.
2/ I have never been 200 mph in a car, let alone driven a car 200 mph.
So basically, I have no idea what to expect.
My recent previous experience with a front engine V12 car has made me wary about going full throttle. At 3/4 throttle in the Vantage V12 S, you can feel the rear wheels work really hard to put power to the ground and try to get ahead of the front wheels. It constantly reminds you that it *will* bite you if you don't pay attention. So I was worried that the F12, with that much more power, would be even more so.
Well, it wasn't. The F12 has a way to transfer power to the ground that the Vantage V12 S can only dream of. It is SMOOTH. And yet it is faster. Is it down to better traction control software? Is it down to bigger rear tires? Or better weight distribution? I don't know, but it sure works!
So after verifying that this wouldn't be a problem, I enjoy the drive from the meeting point to the closed road. Quick pulls from stop signs reassure me. Twisty sections confirm that the steering is very similar to the Ferrari 458 Speciale driven to and from Monterey Car Week.
JHR warns me though: at high speed, the steering is very sensitive, so make sure not to make too many corrections. "Let it figure it out."
We get to the closed stretch. It is a very very long straight so that's good. But it's in the countryside and it's not exactly flat. It's got a couple rather steep hills in the middle. And it's got two kinds of asphalt, one smooth, one quite rough and bumpy, so my passenger (a very brave photographer) and I start strategizing. Where do we start? Is it better to start on bad asphalt and finish on better asphalt? Can we use the hills to gain speed or slow us down when we need to?
We decide that starting on the bad asphalt and finishing on the better one is the way to go. This way, we won't have to go too fast on a bumpy stretch and then we can get to our top speed when it's smoother.
So we start from behind a hill on the bad section, get to about 150 mph by the transition between surfaces and try to get to 200 mph on the better asphalt.
After 3-4 tries, we have to come to the conclusion that we won't be able to go any faster than 196 mph this way. We basically run out of room on the good asphalt before we get to that left hander at the end. And what appeared to be a flat section with a crest before going down before the turn is actually a slight uphill before cresting to flat. And that slight uphill means that the numbers are only crawling up. 185 ... ... 190 ... ... ... ... 195 ... and we have to slow down for the turn.
So we decide to try this in reverse...
We'll get to 110-120 exiting the turn, speed up on the flat straight section, crest, speed up some more downhill for a bit and hopefully get to 200 before the transition to the worse asphalt.
So we both take a deep breath and go for it.
We exit the turn at about 125, keep going to 150 by the crest, get to about 190 by the asphalt juncture and decide not to lift...
At that speed, la macchina rossa seems to want to become an airplane. The front gets very light and I feel like I'm losing control. And we're on a section that is a lot bumpier. I feel the car being moved around from one bump to the next, from one side to the other. I try to control and correct and I am NOT liking the results. I get the car into what I can only describe as reverse fishtailing. It is like a dog hunting with his snout on the ground, going from side to side a handful of times. Then I remember JHR's wise words: "let it figure it out." So I release the death grip on the steering wheel and I let it hunt. My white knuckles get some blood circulation again and the car stabilizes on its own. Yes, it's still getting bumped around, but it's going mostly straight without me having to do anything. And I can see the numbers creeping up.
195 ... 197 ... 199 ...
When I finally see a 2 on the left of the speedo reading for a split second, I let off the gas. Gently. Very gently. You do not want to upset the balance of the car at that speed. And the fast approaching hill helps us with slowing down and stabilizing the car at the same time.
We get to JHR and his friend Richard - waiting by a beautiful black on black Ferrari 612 Scaglietti - with all thumbs up. Mission accomplished. My passenger is already scrolling through the video to find the frame that shows the top speed. JHR and I are chatting. All smiles.
And we get interrupted: "203! We went 203!" And the camera gets passed around to show us the reading from the video.
The fastest I had ever gone before was 175 mph. The fastest my photographer friend had was 125 mph.
Mission accomplished indeed. The Ferrari F12 is an amazing machine that can put the power down and really translate it into high numbers, and when you know that it will do most of the work for you and you let it happen, it is actually pretty safe too!
This was an experience like no other. It was scary, exhilarating and rewarding.
It's ok if I never do it again though.
I'd like to thank JHR for trusting me with his car and with this task. JHR is the principal at Loved Pet, a pet cemetery and funeral services company in Watsonville. He is an amazing person who will take great care of you when your loved pet passes away.