When you think of a Transformers film, what's the first thing you think of? If you answered explosions, pretty women, and cars then you're definitely on the right track. Out of those three, perhaps the safest (physically and emotionally) and most exciting real life experience would be to actually get behind the wheel of an absurdly fast and extremely gorgeous automobile. As it so happens, that's exactly what I got to experience two weeks ago, when Paramount Pictures flew myself and a small group of other movie journalists out to Las Vegas for what I thought was going to be a standard press junket. I was wrong.
The guest of honor was Michael Bay's summer uber-blockbuster Transformers: Age Of Extinction (which is now available on Blu Ray combo pack and Digital HD,) and our venue was the luxury racing facility known as Exotics Racing. With a track dubbed "The Playground" that sits across the way from the full blown Las Vegas Speedway, Exotics Racing provides an experience that you literally only get to see in the movies, as the have cars featured in such films as Iron Man, the James Bond series, and of course the Transformers films on the menu.
The best part about the whole deal is that for the price you pay to gain access to these cars, you are the one that gets to redline them around the track, with a trained racing specialist to guide you. (Which came as a shock to me, as I thought I was just going to be driven around the track.) It was a day full of fun at high speeds and sharp turns, as well as a lot of learning about just what makes Michael Bay's Transformers work as, if nothing else, an instrument of precision and clockwork timing. Here now are six things I learned while driving Ferraris in close proximity to Optimus Prime himself
If You Want To Drive For Transformers, Having Fast And Furious Experience Helps.I previously reported about an interview that I had with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime himself since 1984, but during my time at the press event I also had the chance to interview Sli Lewis – a professional stunt driver/performer with some pretty impressive credentials. Lewis has driven in such films as 2 Fast and 2 Furious and Miami Vice, as well as performed stunts in Fast Five – for which he won his first Taurus World Stunt Award).
Lewis believes that his work on the Fast And Furious franchise is what got him the gig for Transformers: Age Of Extinction, and it's all thanks to one man: Mike Gunther, stunt coordinator at 5150 Action. Gunther was the stunt coordinator for both Fast Five and Transformers: Age Of Extinction, and Lewis told me that when Michael Bay put the call out for the "creme de la creme" of stunt performers/drivers, he was one of the names that Gunther suggested. Just like Peter Cullen before him, Lewis had nothing but praises to sing for Michael Bay, as he pegged him as being, "...very unique, but he also knows exactly what he wants. […] He's like the Midas of directors."
They Don't Call It The Playground For NothingWhen we began our driving experience, the team at Exotics Racing gave us a quick but thorough safety and technique briefing about the task ahead. We were instructed that our professional driving instructors would be keeping an eye out for us in the rear view and side mirrors, and all we had to do was look forward, shift when they told us to, and open our engines as fast as we cared to. After all, it's kind of a waste to get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and drive it along a race track at 50 mph.
It turns out that the name for the location, "The Playground," was rather apt. While stunt driving or any sort of intense driving experience is dependent on a lot of skill and detail, it's also a ton of fun once you get used to it. During my first driving experience of the day, I was nervous as anything and it showed in the onboard video that was taken, but by time I got to my drift lap with the Corvette, I was ready to jump behind the wheel again and take it to the pavement.
Yes, A Porsche Cayenne GTS Can Drift Without Tipping OverAfter our "classroom" experience, we were asked to take a seat on the bleachers in the middle of the waiting area and anticipate what they call the "Discovery" lap. A Discovery Lap is basically a guided tour around the track that you're about to be tearing ass around, with a professional driver at the wheel of a Porsche Cayenne GTS. With three journalists to a vehicle, I wasn't the only nervous passenger when my time came to board the luxury SUV and learn a thing or two about going fast the right way.
With our driver at the wheel, we took things a little slow in the beginning as the driver signaled all of the signs we needed to pay attention to in order to maximize our driving experience. Everything from the double orange cones signaling the driver to break into the turn to the red and white lines signaling where you should be aiming for with said turn was pointed out. Of course, once the details were out of the way, our driver thrilled us with turn after turn at high speeds, showing us how well a Porsche Cayenne GTS could handle, as well as drilling the most important lesson into our heads: "trust the car."
The Ferrari F430 F1 Is Perfect For StartersOnce we were finished with our Discovery Lap, we were immediately asked to select our two cars for the day's driving experience. Exotics Racing has a full spread of cars that accommodate the novice and the nervous, as well as the self-assured and speedy. For my first lap around The Playground, I decided that the Ferrari F430 F1 would be a good vehicle to break myself into the world where driving like a madman was not only encouraged, but required.
With a top speed of 198 mph (a mark that I sadly I didn't even come close to hitting), the Ferrari F430 F1 is a prime driving experience. While the handling is a little looser than the vehicle I would drive later, the F430 F1 was a wonderful "starter car." The Ferrari takes a little more of your foot on the gas to get going, but when it does it sails right through the streets. By the second lap, I was getting bolder with my driving skills and I was ready for a car that I could really drive the hell out of. That car for me, and many others, was none other than the Audi R8.
Everyone Loves The Audi R8If you talked to anyone who drove the Audi R8 that day, and asked them to compare the Audi to the other car that they drove, you would have been as surprised as I was that the Audi R8 was the favorite option in almost all of the scenarios. It's not that any of the other cars were "bad" cars, per se, but they are in fact luxury models and can come off quite intimidating when you get behind the wheel. This was definitely not the case with the Audi R8.
There's a reason that the Audi R8 is a personal favorite of Iron Man's Tony Stark, and I happen to share that same reasoning. The Audi R8 is a car that looks and feels like a luxury car, but helps even the most novice drivers feel welcome and ready to kick some ass. Chalk it up to my newly found driving experience, or even the fact that I was sitting in such a revered sports car that a personal hero of mine has driven, but my time in the Audi R8 was even more fun than my time in the Ferrari. Corners bowed to my will, speed was my friend, and I felt like a real professional driver.
Corvettes Were Made For DriftingOf course, what fun would the day had been if I peaked in the beginning and worked my way down? Just I was about to call it a day, one of the staff members at Exotics Racing asked if I wanted to take part in a ride along lap with the Corvette Z06. Before I even had a chance to think about it, one of the other staffers didn't even think twice as they chided me on with one simple but encouraging utterance of those famous last words, "Do it." Sometimes, when in Vegas, you have to do as the nice people tell you.
If the drifts in the Transformers movies thrill you, then they'll absolutely stun you into silence when you get to experience one on real life. Thankfully I wasn't that stunned, but I was still at a loss for any sort of witty catchphrases. An extremely sharp turn will do that to anyone who climbs into a high performance machine with a high performance driver.