I pull up to the infield access gate and the silence of a Texas morning. Only to be shattered by the unmistakable sound of a Ferrari Formula One twelve cylinder engine. Nothing I've ever heard or will ever hear sounds quite so good. I park my car and walk over to the Ferrari of Houston transporter and to my surprise I find Mauro Baldi sitting in a 1989 Ferrari 640 Formula One race car.
Ferrari technicians in their white shirts and black pants cluster around the car as Mauro Baldi checks to see that all is well. Then the car moves and heads toward the pit lane and ultimately enters the infield road section. The rise and fall of the exhaust marks Baldi's progress through the infield road section. And finally the rising note of the exhaust tells everyone that he has just taken the last left hander of the road section and has begun his approach to the front straight. The exhaust note getting stronger and more intense until a flash of red flies past, accompanied by a flurry of sparks from the underside of the Ferrari making contact with the track. A few laps later it's all over and the engine is silent and sitting under the awning of Ferrari of Houston's transporter. I had forgotten the fury and power of Formula One cars. One can only imagine what it's like in the driver's seat.
A wonderful beginning to what is shaping up to be a wonderful day. More people arrive and still more Ferraris appear. First I noticed the Ferrari 640 and then Fermin Velez's 333SP sitting next to it under the awning. Out in the open, a 275 GTB in spectacular condition, Ferrari Daytona, 288GTO, F40, F355 Berlinetta and Spyder, and just to round everything out a 456 GT and an F512M. I look over in the preparation area and there are numerous 348 Challenge cars, and a few new F355 Challenge cars for the 1996 season. And a particular Ferrari model I'd never even heard of -- a 348GT Competezione. A look under the engine cover and I notice that the engine is significantly different from the 348 Challenge cars. Also the presence of a large adjustable wing on the tail tells me that this is truly something different. It appears to be quite a bit faster than the 348 Challenge cars and is quite a bit louder (not necessarily bad).
I wander around taking pictures to post on my internet web page (http://www.distinctauto.com) and then it happens. I'm standing by the Ferrari of Houston transporter looking at the 333SP when Fermin Velez walks up and I offer a bon giorno and he responds in kind almost shyly. We exchange small talk for a few moments (I wish I could speak Italian) and then he's called away by one of the Ferrari North America personnel.
Not only am I surrounded by some of the most beautiful cars in the world but everyone in attendance had the opportunity to take a ride in the current Ferrari models and even the Challenge cars. (Credit to Ferrari of Houston for supplying many of the cars in attendance). Not only being driven around Texas World Speedway in an F355 Challenge car but by the president of Ferrari North America, Gian Luigi Buitoni.
Il Presidente asked me if I was participating as a Challenge driver-unfortunately I was not. Il Presidente asked me if I owned a Ferrari-unfortunately I had to inform him that most of my experience was with German sports cars -- and his response? "It's boring-no? Not boring really but kind of sterile -- no passion." To this<