Happiness is mid-engined

There is a point, at around 3000rpm, where the baffles on the exhaust of a Ferrari F430 open fully. As you accelerate, the bassy V8’s note yelps from a gritty, rough tone to a progressively higher wail. You can almost sense the car’s relief as a result: now unburdened by low revs, it’s so much eager to rev. It is an aural event that few will be lucky to hear, and even fewer will be fortunate enough to hear it from inside the cockpit of the baby Ferrari.

I had planned my visit to Crail Raceway’s Supercars Scotland trackday for months, hoping that the weather would play ball. I arrived at the ex-RAF base greeted by blue skies and blazing sunshine. The runways had been fashioned into a course shaped like a plus sign, with cones and tyre walls marking out the chicanes and extremities built into and around it.

What would I be driving? The choice was vast, constituting some of the most important supercars of the last seven years. I plumped for the Ferrari F430 F1 coupe and the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder e-gear, as the allure of the manufacturers’ rivalry proved too strong for me to resist. Nevertheless, there were notable others which I narrowly turned down, such as a manual Audi R8 V8, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a white Porsche 911 Turbo (997) and – somewhat surprisingly – a white Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Performante.

Crail Raceway - Lamborghini - Porsche - Aston Martin - Scotland | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Your carriage awaits

Crail Raceway - Scotland - Scottish Supercars | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Even the weather was Need for Speedesque

I elected to drive the F430 first of all. Before I even dropped myself down into the cabin, I had to move the seat into position. The wait whilst the electric motor moved the seat into place took forever. Down, arse-first into the seat, and then swing your legs over the sill (I had a brief reminder of my old, coilovered Polo at this point). Door shuts. Grab the black belt. I was at the perfect height for the road ahead.

The sculpted dashboard of the F430 and switches on the steering wheel were immediately familiar to me thanks to my love of Gran Turismo. The manettino was in Sport mode; best not to disturb that. A firm click of the slim, smooth right-hand paddle behind the steering wheel put me into first. Release the handbrake and push the obligingly-weighted throttle. I stopped ten seconds later for traffic. The carbon-ceramic brakes were in perfect working order and, as I had expected, lived up to their grabby reputation.

My second take was a much better affair. What a noise! Feeling and hearing that V8 behind me was a perfect lesson in momentum and weight distribution. Whilst I learnt the layout of the track, I talked to my instructor, persuading him to let me take it out of fully-automatic mode. I was soon following the racing line and banging in shifts before each corner and straight. The ride was impressively damped over the coarsely-worn areas of the track, with the flat-bottomed wheel transmitting just the right amount of information to my hands. By my second lap, I was changing up without consulting the yellow-backed rev counter.

Crail Raceway - Scotland - Scottish Supercars | www.motormessenger.co.uk

Shifting gears without having to take my foot off the throttle was a strange sensation – made even stranger still by the F430 being the first car I’d ever driven with a paddleshift gearbox. With the nose tucked keenly into the apex of a sweeping left-hander on my second lap, I got braver with the throttle. There was a slight sensation of sideways motion before the car composed itself and continued forward; even my instructor cracked a smile. My three laps were enough to get an idea of the car, but I climbed out instantly craving more. The rush of power that accompanied the increase in noise post-3000rpm has to be experienced to be believed.

Crail Raceway - Scotland - Scottish Supercars | www.motormessenger.co.uk
‘Don’t think about the excess…’

It was onto the Lambo next. Sure, the Gallardo’s chassis has been around since 2003, but this spyder must’ve had a very hard life. I folded into a well-worn cabin, with a shiny steering wheel, chipped leather door cards and an engine management light on the dashboard all doing their best to offset my excitement. Under the excessively draconian warnings of my instructor, I wasn’t allowed to take it out of automatic. I compensated by driving this car much more aggressively from the off.

Unlike the Ferrari’s generous visibility around the A-pillar, the Gallardo’s sloped windscreen positioned me far away from the front of the car. It was also somewhat surreal hearing full-bore upshifts whilst being surrounded by switchgear seen in a previous-generation Audi A3. Despite these limitations, the convertible Gallardo offered an appreciably different experience from the Ferrari. The 5.0-litre V10 felt noticeably torquier than the F430’s 4.3-litre offering, but even on a dry day the inherent neutrality of the car’s 4WD system was apparent. I suspect the traction control had been left fully on, however.

Once up and running, the scuttle shake was clear. Where the F430 smoothed out imperfections in the road surface, the Gallardo’s steering wheel fidgeted in my hands and the driver’s mirror rattled. This fighting bull was more of an aged cattle, yet it still retained its ability to pile on speed effortlessly. After the composure of the F430, the Gallardo’s rock-hard ride and general lack of maintenance left me slightly crestfallen. I fully believe that this particular Gallardo was a bit of a dog, though – perhaps I’ll get a chance to compare it with another Gallardo someday.

On one very special Friday afternoon, though, I’d driven these two back-to-back around a track in perfect weather conditions. That’s always going to be a cool memory, even if my next experience of these two will only be in Gran Turismo 6.

Crail Raceway - Scotland - Scottish Supercars | www.motormessenger.co.uk
Strapped into the Gallardo
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