A VISIT TO STEVE & ROGER’S PLACE by bill orth
Whenever Ferrari releases a new model a training session is scheduled to acquaint dealership salespeople with the car’s technology and to provide a hands-on opportunity to track-drive the new car. This year’s introduction of both the 612 Scaglietti and the F430 led to a double-header field session. Coincidentally, during the time that development was being done on these cars over the past several years, a fantabulous new Ferrari dealership was being planned in Las Vegas by Roger Penske and Steve Wynn. Mr. Wynn is a hugely successful gambling resort visionary who, I understand, produced the popular Bellagio and Treasure Island theme hotels. Never one to slow down, he cooked up an idea to build an even larger, even more extravagant showplace that would—literally—look down on all of Vegas’ other famous dens of inequity. The 50-story, modestly-named, Wynn Las Vegas opened last month and is a surprisingly tasteful, cleanly designed rectilinear building that wasbuilt in a gentle curve. It towers over all the other nearby top-drawer casino/hotels and is truly spectacular.
You all know who Roger Penske is, and in addition to his many other auto-related enterprises, dealerships and racing teams, he owns two Ferrari dealerships in the US and a few more in Europe. Mr. Wynn wanted to attach a shopping esplanade to his resort that featured stores representing the finest brands in the world in jewelry, fashion, fragrances and other necessities of finer life styles. He also happens to like Ferraris and felt this brand should be featured prominently as well. The end result was a collaboration of these two giants wherein an opulent Ferrari/Maserati dealership is part of Wynn’s new hotel and is operated by Penske’s United Auto Group.
Since Las Vegas happens to have a pretty decent race track facility, Ferrari felt it would be neighborly to have the 612 and 430 training sessions there and also give everyone an opportunity to experience how the other half lives. And so it came to pass that I found myself on an economy Ted flight to Vegas last week, but with a reservation at Steve’s new hotel.
The 612, although quite a large car by Ferrari standards, is amazingly agile on the track. It is just one more example of how a Ferrari’s breeding and expertise goes all the way down to the very DNA of the car. Even though its intended purpose is long-distance high-speed touring, the chassis was designed to cope admirably with sudden curves or other unexpected conditions that would dangerously upset many other ultra-high-end autos. Indeed, during our lead-follow track exercises, while driving an F-1 430 with racing brakes, I had to work hard to keep up with an instructor driving a 612. The Vegas sports car track is inside the 2-mile oval of their NASCAR bowl and is consequently rather tight and more favorable to the shorter and lighter 430, but someone who knows what he’s doing can really make the 612 fly, even when out of its element.
Apart from the well-publicized larger engine, a further-developed F-1 shifting system and other incremental improvements over the 360, I found the new traction-assist technology most interesting. The “E-Diff” is essentially an electronically-programmed limited slip unit whose internal multi-disc clutch uses oil pressure to direct power to whichever wheel has the most grip. (Ferrari is one of the only companies that has an oil pump within the transaxle to pressure-feed the gears, synchros and bearings—usually only a race-car practice—and they’ve used it since the 308!!). The other half of the traction control system is similar to what most other manufacturers employ, and involves sensors at each rear wheel to detect spin and then either light brake application or throttle intervention is employed to limit the wheelspin. This is all activated and controlled automatically through a sophisticated ECU.
Ferrari’s new development on this system is to tie it into the steering rack! If the front wheels are something other than pointed straight ahead when spin is detected, intervention occurs which will help a driver from getting even more out-of-shape through injudicious throttle application. This could be felt when exiting a turn under power and would keep an inexperienced driver from oversteering himself into trouble. Once pointed straight again, you can feel full power resume. Of course, there remains a switch to completely turn off the assist system so that a very competent (and brave) driver can slide the car around corners.
After thrashing the cars all day, fortunately no metal was bent and only the Pirellis were (much) worse for wear. Returning to the hotel, I took some time to visit Mr. Penske’s masterpiece dealership. The only way into the showroom is by a long walk trough the hotel lobby and casino whereupon you encounter the line waiting to enter the showroom ($10.00 admission). As a couple of people leave, two more are admitted to keep the throng manageable. Mostly its vacationers who want to gawk and take photos of themselves standing in front of Mr. Wynn’s Enzo or Roger’s F-50 rotating on their elevated turntables. There is another larger showroom downstairs that houses most of their inventory…but accesses is limited to those under accompaniment by a salesperson. The service shop is also on a lower floor; it is very nicely appointed and looks better than many dealers’ showrooms. The overall ambiance throughout the facility is very elegant and well staffed, as only an unlimited budget can accomplish. I did find one aspect of their marketing of interest, however. None of the cars’ labels mention a price, and not only in the large Ferrari boutique, but also in every one of the other fancy fashion stores on the property not a price tag is to be seen. I guess if you have to ask……
-- Bill Orth --