PanAm Express
Two Ferrari 599s, five chase vehicles, a party in Vegas, but no kissing
by Robert Hallstrom

By the time it was my turn to get behind the wheel of the most technologically advanced Ferrari road car ever, the 599s and their entourage had covered more than 8000 miles over some of the most rugged and barren terrain imaginable. Considering the relentless abuse from such roads (or lack of them), the cars look surprisingly intact. No dented rockers or cracked windshields, just a few undercarriage mementos.

I've been invited to drive the North American leg from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, and it should be a breeze in comparison to Alistair's South American saga, on well-paved homeland highways with only a minor detour over a sandy washboard road through part of the Mojave National Preserve.

I take the keys to the Tour De France Blue car (the other is Rossa Corso Red), the same one Alistair drove just a few weeks earlier. In front of a crowd of onlookers, I push the 'engine start' button and goose the throttle for effect. The Enzo-derived V12 screams to a near-deafening roar at 8000 rpm. A cheer erupts and my American leg of this epic adventure is underway.

I wish I could say the next part is as thrilling, but we leave LA in early morning commuter traffic. It takes a while before I can revisit the higher rev range. The 599 is comfortable, at least: plenty of leg and headroom for my lanky frame-key ingredients for grand tourer. It's got a surprising amount of trunk, too, easily swallowing two large bags, camera gear and a tripod.

I'm particularly surprised by the suspension. Even though it's been raised for rough Third World roads, it still has a sharpness and precision. The open desert highway beckons, enticing me to blast toward the horizon, but the Ferrari support crew keeps a fairly tight rein on us. I can't really blame them. The company has a lot riding on this event; even a minor incident could have disastrous consequences. Having my right foot so near the 599's floor, but not being able to fully flex it, is like having your lips just a fraction of an inch from Angelina Jolie's, but not being able to kiss them. Frustration is an ingredient of lust.

Despite this, the trip is over all too soon as we arrive in Vegas, in time for a welcome party at the Penske Wynn Ferrari dealer at the Wynn Hotel. Although this has been just one brief leg of the 15-stage, three-month adventure, taking part is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I would never have dreamed of missing. While crossing terrain most people wouldn't consider driving a rental car over, let alone a Ferrari, the point of this long and grueling tour was not to set any speed records (that would be a cinch), but to introduce the world to a new state-of-the-art car, more stylish and capable than any previous Ferrari.

If you're as sold on the 599 GTB Fiorano as I am, get in line. There's already a four-year waiting list.

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