Living the dream at full throttle

19:26, Nov 14 2012

Sitting in a pit garage converted into a lounge room, it's easy to forget we're at one of the world's most picturesque racetracks.

As Maserati's spirited Italian trainers give us a crash course in not crashing - and ensuring we have as much fun as possible in the Ferrari-engined two-doors sitting metres away - the realisation that we're about to hurtle around the Australia's Phillip Island racetrack in $300,000-plus Italian sports cars takes hold.

The day began with a helicopter ride from the centre of Melbourne, after a night in a five-star hotel. It's all about living the lifestyle, even if it's one I'm never likely to experience outside work hours.

The driver briefing is a serious affair, however, with instructors touching on everything from where to grip the steering wheel to cornering and braking techniques. There is also plenty on vehicle stability at speed, how the car reacts and what lines to take through corners.

But it's on the track where most learning takes place. The trio of Maserati Gran Turismos that are our rides for the day are standard, right down to the 20-inch Pirelli road tyres and snarling V8. With 338kW of power and the ability to dart to 100km/h in less than five seconds, their high-revving, 4.7-litre V8 engines are well suited to what lies ahead, as I discover ambling out of the pits.

Flooring the throttle in second gear gives the sonorous engine a chance to move its deep burble into a higher pitch - and ferocity. Grabbing the shift paddle to slot into third sends a mild jolt through the stylish body, as the car continues to gather pace with an intensity matched only by the aural drama emanating from the twin exhausts.

The instructors soon make it clear they're the ones calling the shots, giving tips on exactly where to position the car, when to floor the throttle, and when to dive on the brakes. There will be no lairing around the track, which is understandable given the cheapest car I'll drive today eclipses A$300,000. There was, after all, a disclaimer we were asked to sign that mentioned something about damage and having to pay for it.

If I'm going to own a Maserati, I'd prefer it looked as good as it did the day it rolled off the production line, rather than pre-loved and dragged out of a tyre barrier.

We're also running with stability control switched on. Depending on the model and selection of program - we drove the Gran Turismo MC Shift and Gran Turismo MC Stradale - this kicks in with differing levels of assistance. Squeeze the throttle too early and a dash light flickers as the electronics take over, helping control a slide.

For a car that is so comfortable and effortless on long cruises - hence its name - the Gran Turismo is well suited to the fast, undulating and always challenging track at Phillip Island.

Grip from the Pirelli tyres is impressive, and the Maseratis hold their line through the faster bends while quickly settling after a punch of the brakes for the tighter hairpin corners. At 1.8 tonnes, though, they're not light and there's a tendency for the front wheels to slide wide once you reach the limits. But it's all progressive and the car keeps you informed of what's going on, all the time demanding maximum concentration.

The fun doesn't last long, though, and after lunch it's back on the choppers for the trip home - a brief glimpse into the lives of the rich before being brought back to reality. Don't go lining up for a spot on the grid, though, unless you're in the market for a Maserati. While the car company offers more extensive pay-to-drive ''Master Maserati Driving Courses'' in China, Europe and the US, the half-day course we took part in is for people in the market for a car or, no doubt, some who've just bought one.

And how many of those prospects go on to buy the car?

''The majority,'' says a spokesman for Maserati.

It could be the fastest they ever get to drive in a Maserati.

-Fairfax News Australia