This past weekend my husband and I were in Las Vegas to spend time with a group of friends. Through the travel agent of a friend, we got a pretty good rate for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, located next to the Aria. I did not know this was a casino-free, nonsmoking hotel, but boy did it make a huge difference with the comfort of my trip, as well as the comfort of my sinuses and eyes.
My husband and I had a few plans of our own in addition to plans with the group. An activity I was really looking forward to was the chance to drive a supercar around a race track (yes, they have this in Vegas). Taken from their website – Exotics Racing is the premiere supercar track driving experience that offers the world’s largest fleet of exotic cars. Drivers can choose from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi R8 V10, Nissan GT-R, Mercedes AMG GTS, McLaren 570s, Aston Martin, Chevrolet Corvette C7 Z06, among other cars.
Being an unapologetic Audi snob, I chose the Audi R8 (Iron Man/Tony Stark’s car). Being a Bond fan, Michael was going to choose the Aston Martin, but it had been retired, so he was able to choose one of their other R8’s. The R8 boasts a 5.2L V10 engine, 525 horsepower with a top speed of 196 mph and 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. It also has a price tag of around $170,000.00 Audi also has a pretty legendary racing pedigree, winning multiple World Rally Championships, as well as winning 12 of the last 14 years of Le Mans (a famous France 24 hour endurance race).
We were picked up at the Aria hotel by the Exotics shuttle, and drove about 30 minutes to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. First, all drivers attend a safety briefing. Then in groups of 3 you rode in a Porsche Cayenne as one of the instructors drove the track, outlining the 7 turns, the 1,800 foot main straightaway, as well as when to shift, break and throttle (gas). It was a tad like a rollercoaster during the second lap, as he drove an example of how you’d be driving. Fast and hard!
I was fearless up until the moment I sat behind the wheel, helmet clad, waiting for my driving coach to adjust the seat and steering wheel properly to my body. My driving coach, Ben then sat next to me in the passenger side and tried to engage me in some small talk as well as going over some additional things to think about. Passing is allowed but only at the discretion of your instructor and only after certain safely steps are taken. Yes, other cars are on the track with you.
We agreed that I’d give paddle shifting a go, and if I didn’t like it we could switch the car into automatic at any moment. I pulled out of the bay and made my way to the track. My mouth was as dry as sand and my heart was beating out of my chest. It’s not everyday that you not only drive a $100,000.00 car that can go nearly 200 mph, but get to race it around a track.
I’m happy I purchased 7 laps each (base price includes 5 laps) because it went by in a heartbeat. The first few laps you are really getting to know the track, the car, and how to take a corner properly going 100 mph. It’s a steep learning curve. There are certain ways to drive a race car around a corner, it’s not at all like going to the super market (well, not any more). Approaching a curve or turn you break gently then more as you get closer to the apex. You also approach the curve wide. After initially breaking, you steer tight towards the apex, hugging the turn and accelerating. Coming out of the apex, you smooth out the line of the car and go wide again, now accelerating hard. All that is in a matter of seconds. Keep in mind, you may be shifting as well during that time.
There is simply nothing like it. No rollercoaster or amusement park ride can prepare you for how this is going to feel. (Perhaps being in a fighter jet or on the back of a cheetah?) When you (with the help of your coach) are hugging the edge of a corner and pushing the throttle hard, the car feels like it’s on the razors edge of control. My coach would gently poke my right knee when he wanted me to hit the gas. He also said different things like Trust me. Trust the car. Breathe. Look ahead, where you want to go, not down at the turn you are on. On my second or third lap, I was lapped by the other R8 (another driver, not Michael). My competitive nature showed and I voiced the disappointment in myself. Take it easy Jedi, you’ll get there, he said.
By the fifth, sixth and seventh laps, I was just getting the hang of it. Each lap Ben pushed me harder and farther. Sexy fast car scenes look one way on TV and in the movies, but to be in the drivers seat, flying by the seat of your pants, is all together different. To feel the sheer power of the vehicle’s lightning acceleration on the straightaway and the thrill of tight cornering at 100 mph, is beyond a rush. A few times I felt the car truly gripping the pavement and fighting for control through speed and cornering. My body felt thrown backward during acceleration, my core and leg muscles would contract while breaking and an allover contorted pressure from cornering. It was a really unique experience to manipulate something with that much power. Learning to work with it in unison, not taming it, but wielding it.
I also thought it was interesting that I was one of only two female drivers in my group and there were only a handful of women throughout the day. Even when chatting about it with friends afterwards, the response was always, You drove?!? Or Did you drive?!? Why wouldn’t I? Of course I bloody well drove! It was my idea. Gird up your loins ladies, let’s GO!!
Towards the end of my driving, I believe I gave a few whoops and giggles of elation. I was higher than a kite exiting the car and for several hours afterwards. Michael was on the track as I finished and I was able to video a few of his laps. He was just as euphoric when he finished, so much so, we both promptly wanted to do it again.
We also ate some pretty amazing meals while in Las Vegas also. My husbands favorite meal was at Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in the Cosmopolitan. This was an amazing meal! We started off with appetizers of Raw Yellowtail sashimi with pickled red onion as well as Mediterranean Octopus with cici beans and a smoked paprika emulsion. Both of us wanted pasta as our main entree, so our server suggested we share and split one of the dishes into two plates and we ate from the second plate family style. The Duck and Foie Gras Ravioli with marsala reduction was rich but damn heavenly. The Pici (pasta) with Lobster, tarragon, almond, and chili pesto was also to die for.
My favorite meal was the 9 course omakase (chef’s tasting menu) at Nobu in Caesars Palace. This visually stunning meal was pretty tremendous. I must confess it contained Blue Fin Tuna, both a tail section and the torro or belly. I did not know this at the time of ordering, as it’s chef’s choice. Please do not hate me, but I did not send it back, I did indeed eat it. I figured, it’s on my plate, I paid for it and it’s my duty as a diner to responsibility consume it as it had already been harvested. I did however, ask our server what Chef Nobu’s view on sustainability was and I felt his response was a little song and dance. But the tuna was pretty spectacular. Our menu also contained Wagyu Beef, which was also damn amazing.
All in all it was a pretty great weekend with minor complaints, like the heat. I think it will be a while before we visit Las Vegas again, but if we haven’t found other ways to get our need for speed fix, we’ll certainly be going to Exotics Racing again.