Varano de’ Melegari, Italy - According to Maserati spokesmen, words are not always enough to describe certain special experiences. Like a hot lap in the iconic MC12 Versione Corse with a world champion at the wheel. Or getting into the stripped-down, race-ready cockpit of the GranTurismo GT4 before pushing its limits on the track. Or blasting through an Italian countryside rally course in the Levante SQ4.
In the small communal town of Varano de’ Melegari in the Province of Parma in the Italian region Emilia-Romagna, located about 110 kilometres west of Bologna and about 30 kilometres southwest of Parma, awaits these experiences that words cannot describe.
The town is home to a medieval castle, Castello Pallavicino, but most importantly it’s also home to a motorsport circuit, the Autodromo Riccardo Paletti, which Maserati uses to host customers at what it calls Master Maserati.
Master Maserati is a driving programme that enables Maserati owners to learn and explore the true potential of Trident-badged vehicles in the safety of a controlled environment, under the guidance of former circuit and rally racing professionals.
I travelled to Autodromo Riccardo Paletti last week to see if the hype that Maserati puts into the the premium driving programme is actually worth it, and the good news is that if you drive a Maserati, it’s worth every penny.
I participated in the Rally Shakedown programme, which is conducted in the Maserati Levante SQ4 (with V6 twin-turbo petrol engine and all-wheel drive).
At first glance, it doesn’t look like the kind of car that would survive bashing through a rally stage, but to my surprise and delight it soaked up the bumps, ramped over the yumps and stayed in one piece.
We spent two hours on the rally stage, powering up and down the Italian countryside without any sign of overheating, or any broken suspension components. To be honest, I would never put my own Levante through these sorts of paces, but it was extremely satisfying to see the big, burly SUV do things that bespoke off-roaders do in the dirt.
I tried not to leave any bumpers or underbody skid plates behind on the stage, and managed to get the tail out on a couple of occasions through easy-to-predict lift-off oversteer. The Levante is so smooth in its responses and its steering system so fast to react that there’s always confidence in reserve. The driving instructors were also encouraging, coaxing us on to apply more power in places that were tight, narrow and bumpy as heck.
Like most advanced driving courses, we had spent a good hour in the driver training room where senior driving instructors ran through the basics of driving; hands at 9:15 on the steering wheel, seat position, etc. It’s a decent amount of theory, which gives you a good idea of obstacles to avoid and how to use the Levante’s Hill Descent Control in trickier situations.
The Rally Shakedown programme also allows participants to experience the Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans on the roads that snake through Varano. It’s simply an awesome experience that enables you to stretch the legs of the cars with an instructor at your side. Driving through Italian villages can become quite hair-raising because the streets are narrow and the turns are quite sharp. Sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car (all test cars were left-hand drive) also takes some getting used to. After a few kilometres, though, the cars grow around you, giving you confidence to push on where the roads permit.
As nice surprise upon my return from the road drive was the opportunity to take a sedan around the Autodromo. I chose the Ghibli, for its short wheelbase (compared to the Quattroporte), and my instructor and I managed a couple of laps before the tyres and brakes needed cooling.
To make a booking and experience the Rally Shakedown course for yourself, you need to get in touch with Maserati’s South African head office. They will then assist you in making all the necesary arrangements to fly to Italy and partake in the Master Maserati programme.
There are also numerous road car and racing car courses that you can partake in:
Put yourself in the driving seat. With this course, you’ll learn the fundamentals of track driving while safely exploring the performance limits of the full Maserati range - Quattroporte, Ghibli, Levante, GranTurismo and GranCabrio. It’s a half-day programme on the Autodromo, which includes theoretical and dynamic sessions with expert instructors. On completion, you’ll be perfectly prepared for Maserati’s full-day Qualifying course.
With this course, you’ll learn more about the art of speed and discover how applying it can dramatically improve your lap times. And it’s not just about pure speed. This full-day involves driving sessions focused on sharpening your all-round technique in every current Maserati model. At this level, instructors also introduce detailed video analysis and vital insights from racing telemetry that will help you fine-tune your skills.
It’s time to race. If you’ve mastered the Practice and Qualifying sessions, you’re ready to experience the excitement and adrenalin of being a Maserati racing driver. First, you’ll get to know the Maserati GranTurismo GT4 race car inside and out. Then, following one-to-one, on-board coaching, you’ll take your place in the body-hugging bucket racing seat, strap in to the six-point harness and take full charge of the 358kW GT4 competition vehicle out on the track. As with professional motor sport, you will be supported by an expert team, from seasoned mechanics to telemetry experts.
Maserati calls this one the masterclass of motorsport. This exclusive two-day programme helps you perfect your style as you push the performance boundaries. You won’t just drive the GT4 Maserati race car, you’ll also experience hot laps in the legendary MC12 Versione Corse. Your driver will be none other than Andrea Bertolini - four-time world champion in this magnificent and iconic car. Bertolini is very much at home in this 560kW-plus and he’ll do his best to make sure you feel the same way, Maserati spokesmen say.
RALLY POWER STAGE
This is your chance to experience the best that Maserati offers in almost any driving situation. You’ll learn how the Levante keeps you in full control and on the move through deep mud, broken surfaces and uneven, slippery ground. Soon after, you’ll push dynamic boundaries on track in the Levante, GranTurismo and GranCabrio. You will also, receive support and guidance from Maserati’s drivers and support team.
Tailor-made for you (and your team), drive some of the world’s most desirable performance cars on a race track in the heart of the Italian countryside. These experiences, and many more - including the sights and spine-tingling sounds of Maserati vehicles - are offered by the Master Maserati Incentive programme where they tailor any course to exactly suit the interests and aims of your business, team or VIP clients. Driving can also be combined with cultural programmes and activities, including a private visit to the Panini Motor Museum in Modena, culinary tours and a Maserati factory tour.
Overall, Master Maserati is an amazing experience and if you can afford to make the journey, it’s definitely a must. Courses start at 650 Euro and extend up to 6300 Euro, excluding flights and accommodation. Visit www.maserati.com and navigate to the Master Maserati tab to see when the next courses are scheduled to take place.