The 1st of the "Epic Drives"

Over the past decade, my brother and I, along with a few close friends, have organized annual multiday road trips over some of Europe’s great driving roads. These “Epic Drives” all have three core deliverables, great roads, great hotels, and great restaurants. Over the years we have had Ferraris, Maseratis, McLarens, Moslers, and Lambrghinis on these trips. The article that follows is from the 1stof the adventures.

For me, the Epic Drive started officially at the airport when I picked up my brother in a newly acquired Maserati Gransport. He had flown in from the US for 5 days of driving nirvana. The first day was spent on the track at Donington flogging the life out of a poor Ferrari 360 Challenge followed by 1,400 miles on some of Europe’s best driving roads.

Day 1: The Road towards Reims

With a train to catch, we had to get off to an early start on Day 1. Today we needed to cover both a far bit of the UK followed by a good chunk of France. After a quick couple of cups of coffee, all the bags went into the 2 cars and off we headed. I started out driving the Ferrari 360 Modena with my brother in the Maserati Gransport. The trip down to the Eurotunnel terminal was both quick and uneventful. After a short wait we were loaded on the train with the brilliant roads of France now only a half hour away. At this point, one of our friends who would be joining us on the trip called and it appeared that we would be intersecting shortly after our arrival in France. We agreed the meeting point and thus our little convoy of two would shortly grow to three.

While in the tunnel, we agreed to switch cars and planned the route to the hotel. As it was still quite a distance, we agreed to a combination of both highways and country roads which would give us an arrival time well before dinner. Arrival in France went smoothly and within minutes, we were back on the highway pointed towards the meeting spot with our friend in his Ferrari 365BB.

As our friend had been caught in a bit of traffic, we arrived a few minutes ahead which allowed us time to get something to drink and stretch our legs. As we had parked around the corner from the filling station at the rest stop, we heard the 365 BB well before it was visually spotted. Fond memories (and a dollop of jealously) immediately flooded back. This 365BB was in terrific condition, sounded marvelous, and was impressive to watch as it carved up the highway. A quick round of greetings was exchanged before it was back to business. Off we roared towards the hotel where we would be meeting up with the other two members of our little group and their Ferrari 430 Scuderia & Ferrari 550 Maranello.

After another hour on the highway, it was time to head into the country and the “D” roads of France. These are truly the roads Ferraris are built for, smooth, beautiful, and challenging. The initial bit went very smoothly until all of a sudden I noticed a distinct lack of Ferraris filling my rearview mirror. After finding a safe spot to pull over, I quickly called my brother only to find out that our friend’s 365BB had “failed to proceed” at the last intersection in the small town that we had just passed through.

A quick U-turn and it was back to see if there was anything we could do to help. As it turned out the problem was the alternator had given up the ghost leading to a very dead battery. We were able to use the Maserati to get enough of a change into the battery to get the 365BB back up and running. With limited time and electricity, off we set at a very smart clip for the hotel. Fortunately the 365BB was able to make it without any further drama.

I guess our arrival at the hotel was slightly less than stealthy as our friends were well on his way to the parking lot when we arrived. We all checked in and agreed to meet up for dinner. Dinner was excellent and over not to late despite the long debate between the Europeans and Americans over the wine list and later the cheese platter.

Day 2: Chasing the Scud

My alarm clock for Day 3 was the 365BB. Our European friends had gotten an early start on the day and were trying to see if we could get the 365BB sorted so that it could continue on the trip. Unfortunately it was not to be The unfortunate owner had to have his brother and father come down in another Ferrari 550 Maranello to rescue and escort the stricken 365BB back home using multiple battery swaps between the two cars.

The remainder of the group then set off in the general direction of Tours. We left the routing a bit up in the air with the only caveat being to avoid the highways and stay on the D roads cutting through the countryside. We agreed to 1st head south before turning west and to stop in one of the larger towns to pick up food for a picnic somewhere along the route. During the brief stop, a local classics group pulled up to admire our little group. We had a vibrant conversation utilizing broken parts of about six different languages before heading back off. The scenery in this part of France is beautiful and just a pleasure to drive thought. Keeping pace with the 430 Scuderia in the hands of a very skilled driver presented a continued challenge, just adding to the overall great experience. Watching the Scuderia move up behind traffic before accelerating coolly past in the blink of an eye reminded me of watching a great white shark toy with its prey. The 430 Scuderia was in a very different league from everything else we encountered on the road this trip. Not only is acceleration stupendous, the engine braking is phenomenal to watch.

After a few hours we stopped for a quick lunch in one of the great parks north of Orleans. As per Day 2, my brother and I took the opportunity to switch cars at the break. We agreed on the driving order with the 550 Maranello riding tail to keep the group moving smartly along. Settling into the Maserati, the question in my mind was could the Gransport keep pace with the Scuderia. Hope lay in the 4.2 liter Ferrari sourced engine and the sports settings. This would be a good test as to the Gransports true abilities.

Fifteen minutes into the afternoon’s drive, I was impressed with the Gransport. While the regular setting is fairly useless, hit the “Sports” button and Gransport transforms into a proper sports car. While it requires a lot more work and constant concentration to keep pace, push it hard, and it responds. The balance of the drive went smoothly and included a short stop at the Chateau de Chambord before a sprint across the Loire River to the hotel. As per Day 1, dinner was excellent and over not to late despite the long debate, again, over the wine list and later the cheese platter.

Day 3: Being Chased by the Scud

We got an early start on Day 3 as we had a significant amount of distance to cover. Within minutes of hitting the road we ran into a local bike group out for their Sunday morning ride. We got very lucky as at the 1st intersection, they went left and we turned right. Past experience indicates that most of these bike clubs seem to think they own the road and can be a major pain to get around. It would be much easier for all if they would just ride in a single file on the right hand side of the road vs. 3 across down the middle.

The first stint of the day was down the highway south towards Bordeaux. Shortly after clearing Tours we approached the first set of toll booths. Standing in front of the booths were a group of the ever friendly Gendarmerie. I was not particularly concerned as I believed we had been driving not too far off the 130 kph posted speed limit. Turns out I was wrong. As I passed through the tolls, I was waved over to the right hand side of the plaza and informed that they had clocked me doing 137 kph in a 110 kph zone. When I told them I thought it was a 130 kph zone, I was informed that it had been, but had been very recently changed. Seems that the rumored French Ferrari and/or driving with British plates tax was very much in force. After making a Euro 90 donation to the French Treasury, off we went again. The good news for the rest of the groups was that they had only gotten me in the lead car with the radar gun, so the others got off.

It was another hour on the highway before we turned off onto the smaller freeway. The freeway section ran for about 120 kilometers and was fairly unexciting. After the freeway it was back into the countryside. Here we found some brilliant roads and the pressure was on to set a pace that would not put the rest of the group to sleep. The narrow valleys served as the perfect sound stage for the 360’s tubi and the Scuderia. Using just the sound track between the two cars, it was possible to match gear changes and braking points. The next two hours were some of the best, most enjoyable driving I can remember. The type of drive you just don’t want to end.

Sadly, we finally reached the hotel. After a short walk around town, we meet up for a final brilliant dinner. As per each of the preceding evenings, the food was excellent and the debate over the wine list was far too long. The evening finished with all of us agreeing that we definitely needed to plan another Epic Drive in the Spring.

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April 2018

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