THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION
PakWheels staff plays a game of hide-and-seek with all you spotters.
Part 1: The Prelude
We at PakWheels work hard, but we’re a light-hearted bunch. Never do we let the business of being the hub for automotive media deter us from the business of playing senseless games. This week’s game was as a result of a conversation with Baber. It had resulted after his critically acclaimed review of the McLaren P1 became a huge hit with the readers.
ME: “Waisay, I can’t believe no one spotted the P1. We get kiddies taking pictures of Jhoolay Laal Mehrans, but no one noticed a P1? You took it through crowded streets and gallis!” I was thoroughly impressed the entire time. FU had even taken detailed pictures. Shahbaz Sharif was even involved.
BKK: “Bas dekh lo bhai ka kamaal. Stealth mode! I bet you’ll get spotted in that Laal Surkh LaFerrari you’re testing in the coming days.”
ME: “I buy you lunch in Lahore if I get caught.”
BKK: “Lag gayi shart? You can’t get any pictures of you on PakWheels, and you HAVE to drive in the morning.”
With that, the gauntlet was thrown. My challenge was simple: Make it from Islamabad Airport to Lahore Airport without being caught on camera and uploaded onto PakWheels. Any pictures taken between those two way-points meant I was buying lunch for Baber at Capri on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday morning started early as I was escorted onto the tarmac at Benazir Bhutto International Airport. A totally not unassuming 747 with UPS Livery was busy off-loading a totally not unassuming bright red LaFerrari. I groaned, “red? That’s totally not noticeable.” As I scanned the tarmac for anyone with a camera phone, a short Italian man in a black Ferrari pullover came over and shook my hand.
Ferrari had sent their finest test driver, Raffaele de Simone alongside their fastest production vehicle to help me with the specifics of the drive. “We have tested the car at Fiorano with both our F1 pilots, I drove it over Europe, in the snow, but not in your country of Pakistan.” He folded his Ray Bans into his pocket, “You will be test driver for us in Pakistan.” Several laptops hooked into the car as the engineers checked the ERS, diagnostics, fiddled with A/F ratios for our Pak Sar Zameen’s fuel and air quality, and 4 new Pirellis were bolted on and each tire and precisely filled to 35 psi. I got into the car and Raffaele moved the pedal box and steering to my ideal position. I sat low, and my view was almost panoramic. I felt bolted almost into the center of the cabin, and the long-slung side view mirrors were at eye-level. In front of me was a steering wheel with squared edges, with the letters ‘F-150’ embossed into the bottom.
As I settled into the hyper car, I felt the waft of idling thrust from an airliner parking a few yards away. Amongst the 100 or so off boarding passengers was my Karachi-based handler, known formally as FU. He clicked a few pictures as he walked to the car (the rules allowed for US to take pictures) and we began planning our route. We figured we’d be unable to take the Ferrari through heavy traffic, exposed to every camera within a 10 kilometer radius. The plan was to drive to Dhamial Air Base, wind through onto Chakri Road, test the Ferrari’s ability to navigate twisty back-roads and formidable herds of cows, and finally hit the M2 (hopefully) unspotted. As we buckled in, an untimely SMS from Baber reminded me of what was at stake: “On my way. Order me a Qorma. Thx.”
The drive from the Airport to Chaklala through Pindi onto Mall Road was uneventful. We kept clear of heavy traffic, with no spotters out hunting early in the morning. It was once we hit the parameter walls of Dhamial that I ran into a problem: the LaFerrari was taking up the whole road. Cyclists were passing us on the left since I had to crawl to avoid potholes, motorcycles, and pedestrians. And if that experience wasn’t nerve wracking enough, it was nothing compared to the narrow Chakri Road itself. The plan to kick the LaFerrari into Sport mode was optimistic, because this old back-road was slippery, had sudden dips, and was entirely too archaic to let the car cross anything over 60 clicks. I had to thread the needle for an eternity till we finally hit the entry to the motorway.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead and FU let out a sigh of relief. I armed our ValentineOne radar detector, and prepared for the short blast to Lahore. At motorway speeds with the gearbox in “D”, the LaFerrari was no more intimidating than a Honda Civic. The view in front of you is clear, you get a digital readout of your full telemetry, GPS… which doesn’t work in Pakistan, and you get a USB charger to fight over with FU who forgot to charge his phone before leaving Karachi. We were using no more than 50 horsepower while keeping the LaFerrari at 120 kph, barely turning over the quiet V12. FU kept calling my mardaangi into question as he dared me to hit the loud pedal, and insisted that not doing so was irresponsible journalism.
Mardaangi aside, we had a bigger issue. If we were to cross the next four-hundred kilometers unnoticed, we needed a solid plan of evading all mobile phone cameras. We couldn’t have other drivers notice a bright red Ferrari with its LED’s blaring in their rear view mirror. It’d give them a chance to arm their camera apps, and we’d be history before Bhera. Speed, more than ever, was our goal. So our closing speed had to be fast, and we’d have to disappear even faster. I gave FU a pair of binoculars to keep out a watch for Motorway Police, I had a friend give us the radio frequencies the police were known to use, and my ValentineOne was in front of me. These aids would help, but I was still charged with driving the LaFerrari at break-neck speeds.
When we got an open flat stretch of road after Chakri (and as we cleared the first police Land Cruiser Prado), I started making my way down the gearbox. Gear indicator flashed, “7”, “6”, “5”, “4”, “3”, and as we hit 3rd gear, my right foot jammed the heavy throttle pedal, whacking both FU and I deep into our seats. No sooner did I hit the throttle did the transmission upshift into 4th for me. The front axle lightened up and all the weight pushed onto the Pirellis at the rear as I dialed tiny corrections into the steering. I passed a Daewoo bus and a few Civics on my left, all unsuspecting of what had flown by. Soon came 5th gear, and the V12 sent out a loud Italian wail through the Pakistani farmland. The telemetry showed that the joyride had only used 80% of the engine’s power, but it felt enough. Our plan was working well so far, and the scenery fast-forwarded past us on our 7th gear cruise.
The NVH levels you worry about in a normal super car are non-existent at high speeds in a LaFerrari. You hear a deep mechanical roar behind you reminding you that, while the V12 is at ease, it remains ready to attack when given the instruction. Indoors, you’re fully bolted-in, in control, and able to place the car perfectly through long-sweeping bends. The suspension from Chakri to Kallar Kahar was set in Comfort, and served us pretty well as we navigated bumps and thuds on the surface.
But ahead lay the revered Salt Range mountain section, and with an imposed speed limit, it would force us down to a crawl. However, I wasn’t about to give in, and I was ready to put the LaFerrari through its toughest challenge yet. FU scoured the range with the binoculars, and I clicked the Manettino dial into Sport. The throttle response sharpened, and the dampers stiffened on all 4 corners. We were going to fly through the Salt Range.
We passed cars to my left as we stayed true to the right. The brakes on the LaFerrari were magnificent, albeit exhibiting a bit of hesitation to bite on the initial touch, but still letting me brake deep into the entry of the sharp sweepers of this motorway section. The front axle bit into the road surface on the entry of every corner, and the rear stayed planted as I rolled back onto the throttle as the corner opened up. FU kept an eye out for any M2 Prados as I kept an ear out for the Valentine to blare out a radar warning.
Through the Salt Range, the LaFerrari quickly went from being docile to demanding, requiring the full concentration of its operator to not set a foot wrong. Through these mountains, the LaFerrari had the unique ability generate downforce on a hill crest and not lose traction, and it gave me the full confidence to keep the power on through the sweepers where most cars to my left had their brake lights on. The Pirellis on this car were suited to the road surface of the Salt Range on this hot day, and even with the odd squeal into corners, remained grippy as ever. FU and I were in awe the whole time.
As we descended down from the Salt Range, I dropped down into 3rd once more and hit the heavy throttle pedal to clear the big row of cars in front of me on their descent. I was busy making my way up the gearbox, and then it suddenly happened.
The ValentineOne blared out a warning that a radar gun was pointed on our red Ferrari, and I slammed on the brake pedal. The rear began hunting under braking still remaining compliant, but there was no stopping the inevitable. I saw the policeman walk out into the middle lane with the dreaded “stop” sign, right hand pointing curbside. My heart sank because I knew we’d probably set a high score on their radar units. And worse still, we’d be sitting ducks. Passersby had a clear shot at the LaFerrari.
Part 2: Will We Win?
“Sir ji! Speed check karnay ki zaroorat hi nahi pari. Humay to pichlay duss minute say saaf awaaz aa rahi thi car ki.” He called in reinforcements. I picked up my phone and called Raffaeli, who immediately laughed. Before hanging up, he offered sage advice. “Senore! You’re-a on-a your own-a!” So now our strategy was simple: admit to everything, grab the speeding ticket fast, and be back on our way. But it took 10 minutes and endless reprimands from the 4 police officers, by which time several boyzes had flown past us. I didn’t care to notice if they’d taken pictures, but I knew they most certainly had.
I short-shifted away from the motorway police as I stuffed the tickets into my pocket. We’d gotten two tickets: one for exceeding the posted speed limit, and the second for having unofficial license plates (Italian plates are official, we argued. They didn’t care.) “Can you check PakWheels to see if anyone’s uploaded anything?” FU checked and didn’t find a thread titled, “LAFERRARI ON MOTORWAY!!!!1”, so we weren’t dead… yet. We still had over 200 km to cover, and about 2 and a half hours of travel time till we reached Baber at Lahore Airport. I’d accepted that someone would inevitably upload the sighted Ferrari, but not for at least 2 hours. Within that time, I’d have to make up a lot of ground. So the V12 was ordered to attack once more.
The next hour or so was busy for me and FU. Between checking PakWheels, checking for radar guns, and coming up with the least conspicuous route into Lahore, we still had to play the reckless fly-by game. There were still plenty of opportunities to be caught by cameras, so we had to remain vigilant. We were also running out of fuel very quickly between runs, and had to splash-and-dash LeMans style.
We figured that the Canal/Nehr to get into Lahore would be suicide. Traffic and check posts at noon would blow our cover immediately. Also I wasn’t in any mood to explain to the police the concept a press car. “No, I don’t own this car. Here’s my California drivers license, here’s the 15 page TOS kaghazaat. Your ass isn’t large enough for me to shove them up it.” So the only option into Lahore was to jump onto GT Road from Kala Shah Kaku. And the thought of doing so immediately made me cringe. Under normal circumstances, a centuries old ‘two lane’ ‘highway’ should never be your best alternative. Therefore, using it behind the wheel of a multi-million dollar Ferrari declares you clinically insane. As we paid our astronomical motorway toll fee and speeding ticket, we had less than 30 minutes till Baber’s flight would land, and he’d check PakWheels. It was a do or die stint into Lahore. The fuel light had just turned on, and we had low tire pressure warning in the front right corner. But none of that mattered right now.
Through adversity, the human brain finds fortitude to persevere. And through these testing times, a car almost becomes an extension of man itself. A cars emotions become synonymous with its operators, and whatever feedback the car returns influences mans successive reactions. Between Kala Shah Kaku and the busy entry onto the GT Road, the Ferrari F-150 and I were one. FU and I were bolted stressed members of the machine. We felt every thud from the magnetic suspension, we felt every bark from the V12, and we were as determined as the car to make it to the airport before Baber. With 20 minutes left, we pulled onto the GT Road and flew into the mid-day Lahore hustle.
They key to driving a LaFerrari in Pakistan is not to give a shit. Seriously. Stay on the right pedal, look as far ahead as you can, anticipate incidents, and find an opening to get past every motorcycle/ khota gari/ khotay ka bacha in a GLi. With 10 minutes left till Baber’s flight landed, we were in sight of Lahore Ring Road. I merged on, and opened up the throttle and let all 900 horses loose. The Ferrari must have flown past about 20 cars while I kept my foot down, hopefully none of them got the chance to get out their phones. Soon enough, I signaled right as I turned into Lahore Airport. The gates flew open for us as we headed towards the runway. Our aim was now to beat Baber’s flight to the tarmac. Standing off to the corner in a hangar was Raffaele, and his friends with laptops were scattered around the UPS Livery 747. I pulled up to a stop into the hangar and unbuckled the latches with my sweaty palms. We’d made it ahead of Baber with 3 minutes to spare.
The men with laptops plugged into their V12 lab rat and immediately pulled up at least a dozen errors in every system. Baber’s flight had landed and he was brought into the hangar in the back of a black Maserati Ghibli with Italian plates (Ferrari is the automotive equivalent of a benevolent mafia). I delayed the debrief with Raffaele in favor of browsing PakWheels on my phone. “There must be damning evidence of a red LaFerrari in Pakistan today”, I thought. “Someone had to have caught us.”
But there was nothing. Fazal Wahab had a great piece on Tesla, there was something about Top Gear, and Namak Mirchi Club was trending. But no LaFerrari. No one had spotted our LaFerrari!
“Wow. I think bach gaye hain. Kuch nahi nazar aa raha.” FU thumbed through PakWheels one last time, and I breathed a sigh of relief. One of the Ferrari mechanics got into the car and began loading the LaFerrari back onto the 747.
“Told you I could do it,” I laughed back.
Honestly, I can’t believe no one at PakWheels spotted FU and I in the Ferrari. We were in plain sight for over 5 hours. We must have crossed paths with at least 200 cars, none of whom had the gall to take out a camera and snap a picture! I always thought PakWheels spotters were eagle-eyed, but I’m beginning to think we may have found a way to outsmart them with 900 horsepower and a bright red Ferrari.
As we got into a taxi from the terminal, I looked over to Baber.
“I like this game. We should play more often.”
Illustrations: Fahad Ullah (FU)