Ferrari's four Pilota driving courses teach clients how to master their machines and have some serious fun
Belted into the driver's seat of a 488 GTB, you hit the accelerator, hear the whine of the V-8 engine as it revs up and zoom off around the racetrack: welcome to Corso Pilota, the driving courses offered by Ferrari to those of its clients who have serious driving ambitions. There are four levels: Sport, Advanced, Evolution and Challenge and each one imparts crucial driving techniques - taught through track activities, including car control exercises on a low grip skid surface - that help you get an accurate feel for the true performance of your Ferrari.
Each course requires mastering content and driving skills that are increasingly technical and complex and is open only to those clients who have completed the previous level. The dedicated instruction team is made up of highly qualified, expert drivers with professional training in high performance car driving who drive professionally themselves. Among their many skills, instructors speak different languages - which is no small detail, considering the very international background of the participants. The latest Sport course - the 'entry-level' Corso Pilota, held in Maranello on April 23-24 - included 27 Ferrari owners from eight countries, including the UK, Hungary, Australia and Hong Kong.
Generally the language of instruction is English, explains Maurizio Mediani, one of the directors and a driver-instructor of the course, who adds, smiling: "We know the word 'brake' in all the languages of the world." The intensity of instruction increases in tandem with the course level, with the student-teacher ratio decreasing; for Challenge - which, as the highest-level course prepares Ferrari owners to participate in the Challenge race series - it's practically one-to-one. A typical day of the Sport course starts at the Fiorano track, at around 8:30.
Before getting behind the wheel, 'students' get half an hour of theory, when they learn about the correct driving position, how to use the steering wheel, how to accelerate and what to do when they're in a curve. Then it's to the track - behind the wheel of one of the nine 488 GTB and four 812 Superfast course cars - for driving and exercises, with the instructor sitting in the passenger seat. Lap times are not used, even in the one telemetry session, towards the end of the course (more advanced courses offer more telemetry data and lap-times are shared), but drivers get access to crucial data like the position of the steering wheel and the pressure they apply to the accelerator and brakes.
"Many of the participants are not regular Ferrari drivers," Mediani says, adding that the course also imparts important everyday driving skills. "We teach driving techniques that are valid for all types of cars," he explains. "Participants benefit in terms of learning how to control the vehicle, find the correct driving position and how to anticipate what's happening to the car. We insist that drivers look well ahead of where they are so they know what's coming up because when you drive fast, the distances shorten and reaction times are crucial. This is fundamental in everyday driving."
"Normally clients are very, very pleased with the course," Mediani says. "The client feels that we are not doing this only as a job but because we are passionate about it." Most participants are men, between 80 and 90 per cent, according to Mediani. In order not to force its driving course clients to leave their companions at home Ferrari has developed a guest program: the five companions of the latest Sport course could choose to be whisked away to Modena for tours and personal shopping, as well as enjoy specially-devised spa treatments and massages. Included in the package were also dinners and lunches and - of course - as much access to the racetrack (as a spectator, not a driver) as desired.
Guests could also take rides around the track in one of the course cars, with an instructor driving. In the end, while it's certainly fun for participants, the drivers-instructors enjoy their work, also. "Sitting tied into a passenger seat, wearing a helmet and driving around the track at 300 km/h all day isn't something you do unless you enjoy it," Mediani says, smiling. Each course ends with a friendly 'competition', capped off by an awards ceremony with prizes for the winners. 'Graduates' of the Sport course can then take some laps in their own Ferraris around the track at Fiorano.