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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Sign up to test-drive a Ferrari California at Ferrari World

We get behind the wheel of a souped-up sports cars as part of a new driving experience at Yas Island's Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.
Rob Garratt, left, drives a Ferrari California convertible. Christopher Pike / The National
Rob Garratt, left, drives a Ferrari California convertible. Christopher Pike / The National

“Don’t make me angry,” scowled my instructor, the third time he felt it necessary to slam his foot on the safety brake in the passenger footwell of the Ferrari California I was driving.

But really, what did he expect? It was my first time in a sports car – I’m not the kind of guy that gets handed the keys to a Ferrari every day, and I was going to make the most of it.

“Sometimes I fear for my life,” he confided later, seemingly without a hint of irony.

I’m at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi to try out a new test-drive experience. Launched in May, it is a world-first for the brand, offering everyday folk like me the chance to tootle round Yas Island (not the racetrack, the island – on real roads) in a supercharged convertible capable of reaching speeds of 100kph in less than four seconds, and worth more than my home.

Sitting behind the wheel, I feel a strange mix of excitement and fear. It felt a bit like going to interview a very famous person – I was excited about the experience ahead, but scared of embarrassing myself under the pressure. But, mainly, I just wanted to skip forward half an hour to the bit where I can say I’ve done it (and possibly post a selfie).

First, however, I sat down for a briefing, delivered by Italian test drive supervisor Marco Cavigioli. A veteran racing driver who won the Intercontinental Rally Challenge 2WD in 2008, Cavigioli has worked for Ferrari since 1998 and arrived in Abu Dhabi just weeks ago to launch the test drives.

He reels off an incomprehensible list of numbers, specs and acronyms, while waving a wand at an electronic screen detailing hairpin turns and “visual targets”. He uses the phrase “fluid and progressive” a lot.

To me, it all meant about as much as a tour of the Starship Enterprise, but from my notes (and some help from Wikipedia) I can tell you – with only limited confidence – that I drove a 2012 Ferrari California, with a V8 direct-injection, 4.3 litre engine and a horsepower of 490 (four times that of my car).

What does all that mean? That the car can go really, really fast – reaching speeds of 312kph.

“But we’re only going to 300kph,” says Cavigioli. I’m relieved when the laughter around me confirms this is a joke.

Within a few seconds of hitting the highway, I got my first telling off – I was doing 170kph. Just like that. The power of this car was ­phenomenal.

And an idiot could drive it. It’s an automatic – kind of. Using the snazzy Formula One-style pads on the steering wheel I could change the gears manually – but only if the inbuilt computer thought it was a good idea. Oh, and there’s no need for a clutch. It’s this combination of power and ease of use that makes sports cars so sought after – and so ­dangerous.

My instructor – a Spanish pro named Jorge Clara, who has been racing since he was 10 – leads me along a pre-planned route, which takes a little more than 20 minutes to navigate. Midway through, Clara switches up from the “comfort” to the “sport” mode, unlocking more of the car’s power and toning down the inbuilt idiot-proof electronics. Next, we enter an empty, single-lane tarmac where I’m invited to floor it from zero. The needle spiked just below 200kph – barely halfway around the dial.

Coming back into land, a crowd of young women begin waving and taking photos of the car – and us. The appeal of such a vehicle is becoming ever ­clearer.

Stepping out, my hair pointing at angles that defied the laws of physics, I approach the pros for some feedback.

“You like to go fast and you were good at looking in the right direction,” says Clara angrily. “But you wanted more to drive than to listen to what I was ­saying.”

But really, as I said all along – if you give the keys to a Ferrari to someone like me, just what do you expect?

• The Driving Experience costs Dh600, plus Dh100 for an extra guest in the car and general park entry from Dh250. Find out more from www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com

rgarratt@thenational.ae