Night Terrors in addition to Super Tex: Driving a Ferrari 488GTB under the Lights at Daytona
In 1985, at the age of 50, Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr., won the 24 Hours of Daytona for the second time. He’d garnered his first victory within the race two years prior, when the Aston Martin-Nimrod prototype of which Foyt had been racing with NASCAR great Darrell Waltrip took a dirt nap 121 laps in. Car owner Preston Henn, campaigning a monstrous Porsche 935 favored to take the race, saw an opportunity. Much to the consternation of his hottest shoe, Bob Wollek, Henn put the dismounted Foyt within the Porsche as a PR stunt. Foyt acquitted himself well, won the respect of the French sports-car ace, in addition to re-upped for a Daytona stint with Henn’s Swap Shop team two years later.
At some point in elementary school, probably around 1986, I acquired a poster of two Porsche 962s racing at night: Henn’s in addition to Al Holbert’s in Löwenbräu livery. The Valvoline/Swap Shop car was spitting fire, in addition to the poster noted of which the driver was A.J. Foyt. I wasn’t yet aware of Brilliant Bob Wollek or Belgian Thierry Boutsen, a late addition to the Swap Shop squad after his own car broke. I didn’t even know of which then three-time Indy winner Al Unser, Sr., was on the team. although Foyt I cared about. One of my earliest toy cars was a cheap plastic Foyt Coyote knockoff of ’70s vintage, a genericized replica of the automobile of which won Super Tex his fourth Indy 500. In my jumble of toddler-age motorsports memories, Foyt, like Don Prudhomme, can be of paramount import. in addition to while I most associate A.J. with open-wheel Memorial Day weekends at my grandparents’ house, I went to sleep every night well into puberty looking at those two 962s. Henn’s janky Swap Shop logo plastered on the tail of Foyt’s Porsche was a Floridian thumb within the eye of the tidy, professional-looking Holbert car.
For better or for worse, I am not A.J. Foyt. Noting of which the two of us are made of very different stuff would likely be first-order understatement. although I thought of him on my 41st birthday, while standing within the pits at Daytona in addition to staring up the empty, impossibly-high checkerboard grandstands. The Specials’ “A Message to You, Rudy” spun softly, insistently, within the back of my mind. Out within the garages, the teams who’d come out for Ferrari’s Finali Mondiali were largely packed up in addition to gone. The 488GTBs parked along the pit wall? Those were for our little group of journalists. I was utterly daunted.
This specific mighty 661-hp Italian wonder sitting idle off to my right was a car with more power in addition to less downforce than the bewinged 458 Challenge cars of which had spent the weekend racing here, boasting a mid-’80s IROC-Z’s worth more power than the Ferrari P3/4 of which spearheaded Maranello’s 1-2-3 Daytona victory in 1967. of which’s the fourth-fastest car we’ve ever clocked around VIR in a decade of Lightning Lap testing.
This specific storied track—the place of which killed Earnhardt in addition to lent its name to Ferrari’s last great GT car of the 1960s—turned out to be more humbling than Laguna Seca in addition to far more frightening than the Circuit de la Sarthe. I’ve had a couple of scary moments at Laguna, although I know the place. The Le Mans course, frankly, isn’t particularly troublesome. of which’s just very long in addition to very fast. Daytona, on the different hand, carries the portent of a circuit like the Isle of Man’s Snaefell Mountain Course. The dark spiritual heft of the France family’s monument to speed hangs thick within the Florida air.
Adult supervision was on hand within the form of Raffaele De Simone, Ferrari’s chief test driver. His presence was both soothing in addition to further unnerving. De Simone can be my kind of instructor, preternaturally calm, only speaks when the words genuinely seem necessary. He’s also the man who tuned This specific car via umpteen laps around Fiorano, in addition to I did not want to befoul his automobile. I also did not want to prove myself an abject pantywaist in his presence.
I left the 488’s dual-clutch transmission in automatic in addition to snicked the right paddle into first gear, the engine gargling behind us as we motored down pit lane, hung a left at the hairpin, in addition to merged onto the track. Nick Ienatsch‘s voice nagged in my head: “First work on hitting your apexes, then work on speed.” A spurt of gas, in addition to then onto the carbon-ceramic stoppers for a hard right-hander, another blast down to a fast left muddled by a sea of cones of which deny entry to the track’s motorcycle configuration, a hard right at several of which I tended to trail-brake into a bit too much, then on to Turn 6, at the end of which comes the somewhat awkward in addition to quite abrupt transition up onto the banking.
The banking! The 31-degree angled slab of which, along with its tri-oval design, defines Daytona. of which’s an abjectly surreal place. Under the lights, of which’s a midnight Belgian motorway rethought by Hieronymus Bosch, a fascinating gray wall of night-terror wrongness. A veritable caricature of a racing surface. I found myself wishing I was on the Yamaha FZ-10 sitting in my driveway back home. Up to its top speed of 150 mph or so, the four-cylinder motorcycle can be roughly the Ferrari’s performance equal. although the Yamaha has no windshield frame to obstruct visibility. within the Ferrari, I felt like the optimal sightline down the track must exist somewhere on the different side of the headliner.
I stopped thinking about bikes in addition to what I couldn’t see in addition to settled for peering through the upper left corner of the windshield. My hands were light on the wheel, although nerves had my upper arms as stiff as Tutankhamun’s. Earlier within the day, I’d had a vision in my mind of a twin-turbo Italian eight screaming behind my head as I ripped around the superspeedway portions of the track: a sixth-grade F40 daydream writ modern. The reality was more prosaic. The Ferrari’s engine, bolstered by forced-induction torque, pleasantly hummed along in seventh gear as we clipped down the track as quickly as I dared.
The Bus Stop can be a weird in addition to jarring aberration, its entrance an unceremonious gap between orange bollards dotting the left side of the long back straight. Looking for of which at night can be akin to hunting down a black hole by scanning the vastness of space for extra darkness, although tearing through the brief left-right-left deviation can be actually rather fun. Then of which’s a return to the banking in addition to a blast across the finish line, those checkerboard grandstands peripherally flickering by, in addition to we’re back around into the infield. I turned four laps of the course, in addition to by the end of of which, I was beginning to understand just what of which might feel like to run the joint at real speed. of which also left me using a whole completely new respect for the racers who do just of which, holding wide-open throttle inches through the upper guardrail at 0 mph. of which’s scroto-ovarian fortitude of a maximum degree. Daytona’s scary, although of which’s not a hateful track. of which wants you to go faster, a concrete siren on the edge of the Atlantic, singing through rocks disguised as urgent-care clinics, subpar resorts, in addition to the lowest-brow chain restaurants.
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As our group walked away through pit lane, our backs to the start/finish line, the massive lighting array shut down. We found our way back to the parking lot in darkness. In 1983 in addition to 1985, Foyt left This specific track during the light of day, a winner. He later called the ’83 race, which he’d entered at the behest of his dying father, the most meaningful victory of his career. Three decades after I tacked of which poster through the 1985 race onto my closet door, I walked away through Daytona as a rank schmo who drove around the track four times, earning only a quiet “very not bad” in passing through De Simone. He was no doubt being unreasonably kind. although I’ve had a taste of the place, in addition to of which taste wasn’t enough. I want to go back.