Xtreme Xperience Kick Off Event At NOLA
The event started off with rain. But when rain is measured in feet rather than inches, you have to some times reschedule. And unfortunately that was the case for the original kick off event date planned in March. Fast forward to April 1st and it seemed like a bit of deja vu.
I arrived the Thursday before the rescheduled kick off event and the clouds were ominous. Forecast was calling for more rain and thunderstorms. It figures. Up until this point, the weather had been relatively dry and sunny for weeks. Talking with Nola Motorsports Park’s Director of Operations, Scott Foremaster, everyone was diligently watching the weather predictions for the next 24 hours.
“It was supposed to rain today and it has held off so far.” said Scott. “We are hoping that most of the rain happens during the night.”
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. But weather be damned, the show went on! I met up with the Xtreme Xperience crew prior to the grand opening on April 1. They showed me around the new HQ they built for the cars and staff that would be calling Nola their home from now on. Mark Olalde, Director of Operations for the New Orleans location, along with Alyssa Marie, Communications Coordinator, and Christian “Mental” Ward, Chief Driving Instructor, would make up the staff whom would be staying full time at the NOLA location.
When I asked Adam Olalde , CEO of Xtreme Xperience, about the main differences between how this venue would be in comparison to the original Xtreme Xperience (the program that is on the road going from racetrack to racetrack around the country with their fleet of supercars). He responded that it gave them a chance to slow down and enjoy the other side of being a car enthusiast. There is much more one on one time with the client. Both before and after the driving event, which is the main attraction, the clients can come up into the loft sitting area, talk shop, and relax. Enjoying the comradery amongst our fellow enthusiasts. Something that the normal tour doesn’t always allow for due to time constraints and obligations.
Here they have the luxury of always being in the same location for people to come to them and still enjoy driving one of four different supercars either on the main track in a 1.8 mile configuration or on the Sprint Circuit, a custom 0.6 mile course configured right next to their HQ.
The rain held off for most of the morning, but as the clouds darkened, the decision was made to move the cars over to the main tent before the celebrations, and the rain, started. Everyone arrived and mingled about as the steady drum of rain could be heard on the covered paddock area, with an ever increasing tempo. A short while later, speeches were made from Adam Olalde, CEO of Xtreme Xperience, as well as several people from NOLA, including owner Laney Chouest. See the video below for details.
Video footage courtesy of Story Block Media
Not long after the last speech was made, the official opening of Xtreme Xperience and the ribbon cutting ceremony took place. Then in full New Orleans style the sounds of the Treme Brass Band filled the air and the dancing commenced. Everyone seemed a little more relaxed now that the official opening was over and worrying about the weather seemed futile. All four supercars were on display and free for people to get inside, start up, and give a few revs. Everyone seemed eager to oblige. After all, it’s not every day people get to sit in a six figure car. Some costing more than an average home.
The rain seemed to be playing mind games with us. Lessening to the point of raising our hopes for a clear afternoon. To the extent that the maintenance crew were out cleaning up any standing water that had collected on course. It seemed we may yet get a chance to get behind the wheel of one of these supercars. One look at the radar soon crushed those hopes. One saving grace though was we were able to go out for hot laps in the rain. We didn’t know how many times we would be able to go out with the incoming cells of rain so we tried to get as many laps in as many cars as we could.
I was able to go out in three of the four cars. The Porsche GT3, Ferrari 458 italia, and the Nissan GTR. Now, the Nissan had amazing grip, to be expected with all wheel drive as well as a very advanced traction control system. What really surprised me was how much mechanical grip both the GT3 and 458 had. Especially with the amount of rain that was now coming down. It was to the point that I could physically see the puddles growing larger in between each lap.
It was at this point that I decided I better grab my camera and get some photos before they stop running the cars all together. I had the privilege of being chauffeured around the course in the Ferrari. Even though it was a deluge, things could be worse.
As the weather continued, the day’s activities began to wind down. People went their separate ways, but Xtreme made it known to me that they were beyond disappointed to have me come all this way and be unable to drive some of their cars. Looking at the forecast on Saturday, it was scheduled to be a beautiful sunny day. They offered for me to come back and drive some of their cars on the Sprint Circuit. (As the main track was rented out that particular weekend to a bike racing event.) I was more than happy to agree. The Sprint Circuit looked like a lot of fun.
The next morning left me waking up early. My flight was later in the afternoon and I wanted to get the most out of the time I had prior to boarding that plane. Plus, I have a 18 month old at home that doesn’t like to sleep more than a couple hours consecutively at a time, so the full, uninterrupted nights rest left we wide awake at the crack of dawn to say the least.
I made my way down to the Sprint Circuit but they were still getting things ready and I didn’t want to rush them, so I continued over to the control tower per Scott Foremaster’s suggestion to watch some of the qualifying for WERA motorcycle road racing event.
As the bikes ripped by on the front straight I received a call from Christian, aka”Mental” to his friends and colleagues. They were ready and I could head over when ever.
I make it over to the Spring Circuit and find Christian finishing up placing some final cones that had blown around from yesterdays storm. I hop into his Mercedes and he shows me a lap for reference. We go back and grab the Ferrari 458. I have Christian do a few laps so I can get some photos of the car on course. I later do the same for the GT3. This also gives me a chance to see a little more of the track set up and orientation.
Then it is my turn behind the wheel in Ferrari. This is my first time driving a Ferrari of any sort. First impressions is the engine loves to sing and the transmission is on point. There was no manual shifting on the paddles as there was no need. The shifting algorithms were so good I never doubted it would downshift at the correct time. Handling is good, but it is not something I can fully appreciate in only a few laps. The car’s dynamics become more apparent with each consecutive lap. I am enjoying myself most thoroughly. Even if we were given the chance to go on course yesterday in the rain, we wouldn’t of been able to really experience what the cars were capable of. This was much better.
Next was the Porsche GT3. Now this car immediately felt more familiar. More at home. I felt more confident and predictable in the Porsche. And the brakes. Oh so good. And for not being on the course before, Christian was very good at getting the most out of each lap and fine tuning the areas where I could improve. I know a lot of people are in love with the Ferrari but my preference, hands down, was the Porsche. Don’t get me wrong, they are both very capable and engaging drives, but the Porsche just felt more natural to me. It could be I am more familiar with them than, say, the Ferrari. But what you want to feel when driving a car, especially at speed, is confidence. The more confident you are, the faster you will be and the more fun you will have. You gain confidence by predictability and feedback. Both things the Porsche has in spades. The Ferrari is very good as well, but I just didn’t have the same level of confidence in the Ferrari. Considering that the Ferrari 458 italia was the bench mark for supercars for some time and the fact that manufacturers seem to keep raising the bar so quickly, to almost unprecedented levels for street cars, is simply amazing. A true testament to how far technology has come in a relatively short amount of time. This is where the trickle down effect from these companies motorsports programs really helps.
Life could be much worse when you are trying to explain the minor differences between to icons of the automotive world.
I know, first world problems.
All and all it was a great time. I want to take a moment and thank everyone at NOLA Motorsports Park, as well as Xtreme Xperience. I know this wasn’t the kick off event you were looking for, but you all were so accommodating and helpful in making this an enjoyable event. I was assured many times that it doesn’t always rain like this in New Orleans. But that is the nice thing about being able to drive a supercar with Xtreme at NOLA. It is no longer only a couple days of the year. You can now go almost any day of the week. So if you needed or wanted to reschedule, it’s not that big a deal to do so. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for both these companies. Do yourself a favor and check them out.
Below you can find more photos from my time down in the Big Easy.