World Class Driving Offers Public Chance to Drive Exotic Sports Cars; U.S. Tour Includes Five-Day Festival At French Lick, Ind. Sept. 3-7

FRENCH LICK, Ind., June 19 - Have you ever eased down onto the tan Italian leather seat of a rare Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, red of course, and fired her up?

Did your daydreams ever include the doors of a silver Mercedes Benz McLaren SLR sliding down to envelop you into its cockpit?

Have you ever experienced the thrill of driving an orange Lamborghini Gallardo SuperLeggera, which can go from zero to 62 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds?

What would it be like to take a tight turn on a country road in a silver Audi R8, or have two whitetail deer suddenly appear in front of its unique headlights?

How would it feel to pull up to a gas-station pump in a canary yellow Callaway C16 Speedster Corvette?

There's a company called World Class Driving (WCD) that gives the public the chance to spend a morning or afternoon test-driving all five of these cars.

If you're a little shaky on your paddle shifting or apprehensive about driving five exotic sports cars that together are valued at more than $1.5 million, don't worry. There's experienced personnel on hand, often including a two-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona. You'll have one of the most memorable experiences of your life if you follow their common-sense guidelines detailed in a pre-session briefing.

Participants in several sold-out sessions of WCD experienced all of that and more last weekend at the beautifully restored French Lick Resort and Casino and West Baden Springs Hotel. The Southern Indiana resort was just one stop on WCD's 2008 U.S. Tour. The company will return for an even bigger program there in September.

All of WCD's cars are new. The company trades them in for something newer after they reach about 20,000 miles. Four of the five cars offered at French Lick last weekend carry a top speed of 200 miles per hour or more. (The top speed of the Audi is "only" 187 mph.)

Following the leader, which last weekend was Didier Theys, that two-time Rolex 24 winner mentioned earlier, each participant gets to drive one of the five cars for approximately 20-30 minutes, following the speed limit. Then the whole group pulls to the side of the road, and the participants exchange cars. Further stops and driver changes are conducted until everyone has driven each car.

Exotic sports cars are low to the ground, so the drivers are cautioned to watch out for bumps and low curbs.

"Small mistakes can mean a big price tag," explained a note in some of the pre-driving literature. "For example, replacing a scratched or bent Ferrari wheel costs around $3,000."

Perhaps the most succinct advice was delivered very calmly, backed up by more than 30 years of experience. "Be careful of what you ask the car to do, because it will respond immediately," Theys pointed out.

"World Class Driving is not a driving school," emphasized its founder, businessman and ex-race car driver Jean-Paul Libert, over lunch on a side verandah at West Baden after last Friday's morning session. "We are an automotive entertainment company.

"At a car show, show-goers usually have to just look at cars that are roped off," he added. "It's a look-but-don't-touch atmosphere. With our program, they can look, touch, and even drive them."

Car aficionados can check the company's schedule on-line at worldclassdriving.com or call 1-877-597-6403 to see when the tour will reach their area. The bulk of those who attended the French Lick sessions last weekend were from Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati or Chicago.

Some attendees drive great distances or fly to other locations throughout the country that they enjoy for their sessions. The tour along the Pacific Coast in California is very popular, as is the one near Seattle that skirts glaciers close to the Canadian border. Most of the locations chosen are in rural areas, which offer the least-crowded roads.

"If you want to experience a Ferrari 599, you don't want to be waiting at a traffic light," explained Theys.

Although he competes in Horag Racing's Lista Office- and Lista, Making Workspace Work-sponsored Porsche RS Spyder in Europe's Le Mans Series, Theys has also been attending many WCD sessions for the last three years in his other role as the company's driving director.

Prices start at $1,495 per person. Several of last weekend's attendees had received their drives as a Father's Day present. WCD gift certificates make extremely popular birthday or Christmas gifts.

WCD will return to French Lick Sept. 3-7 for a special event called the World Class Driving Festival. Although many car shows have been held at the two resorts since they were built in 1901 and 1902, none gave attendees what WCD offers, and the company is going all out for the five-day festival. This time instead of five cars 30 will be offered, carrying an estimated value in excess of $12 million. Participants can customize their driving line-up to include super cars, exotic cars or exclusive cars. Environmentally friendly "green cars," including a selection of Smart cars, will also be available for test drives.

Later in September the company is also going back to its roots by conducting a two-and-a-half-day program where participants drive six different Ferraris through Italy. Starting and ending in Monaco, it includes a visit to the Ferrari factory.

Another program that jumps out on the company's schedule is a drive in Hawaii next March.

Corporate programs are a mainstay of the company's work, and can be customized.

For those who want to go even faster, WCD also offers a program called World Class Driving Xtreme, which is held at selected airports across the country. In this one, participants can find out first-hand what it's like to drive one of the company's exotic sports cars at 200 miles per hour in a supervised environment that is as safe as possible.

-credit: restart communications/wcd