Weekends: Rally For Kids With Cancer

Los Angeles is a flavour that lingers on the palate long after the main course is finished. On this particular day, the sights and sounds of a classic California morning were in full swing as we approached West Hollywood from The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica. Like it or not, you never leave this town with anything less than a full plate of memories.

But even for a big city such as L.A., filled as it is with “beautiful people” and the regular cast of characters, lifelong friend Thom Braun and I had every reason to believe today would be something truly special.

Our home away from home was located one block from the beach and Third Street Promenade shopping district in Santa Monica. Here, the Huntley Santa Monica Beach hotel reigns as a tour de force of stylish design in the city of angels. Featuring 209 guest rooms including 20 suites, all showcase amenities such as 42” plasma TV’s, pillow-top beds with 100% Egyptian Cotton Matteo Linens and wireless internet access.

The view from my 11th floor suite looked out towards Santa Monica beach and the Pacific Ocean. Decorated in muted tones reflective of the So Cal setting, a dark chocolate framed king-size bed dazzled center stage. Separated by a short entrance hall, the simplistic marble countertop and oversized glass shower added a touch of class to a bright and airy bathroom.

Arriving on one of three elevators to the top floor, we enjoyed a truly unique experience at The Penthouse restaurant. Here chic is the order of the day and night. Looking for something casual? A grand circular bar seats guests’ content with their favorite drink and conversation. For those seeking first-class dining, seating cubicles surrounded with sheer curtains or tables for two or four are available with excellent views in all directions. The evening had passed quickly as city lights glistened below and we anticipated the next day’s events.

Jeff Voth as a chauffeur

Peering out from behind the wheel of the Maserati GranTurismo S on this day, brilliant sunshine glistened off the lens of my Serengeti’s. Sporting a black Ed Hardy T-shirt by Christian Audigier, I casually rested my left arm on the open-windowed door sill and allowed this “James Dean” moment to sink in.

Placing two hands firmly on the 3-spoke steering wheel, the 4.7L V8 underfoot assured an incredible day of driving.

The hottest version yet in a series of wet-sump engines developed by Ferrari, it produces 433 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 361 lb.-ft of torque at 4750 rpm. Bore and stroke have increased significantly as compared to the GranTurismo. The front mid-engine “S” model takes full advantage of the added power by mating it to a 6-speed electro-actuated gearbox.

Weight distribution is exemplary; 47-53% front to rear. Housed in a rigid tube, the driveshaft transfers power to the rear located transmission and drive wheels. Within the transmission lies the secret strength of the GranTurismo S and one of the reasons why it is so easy to drive fast.

Steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters activate the race-ready transmission. In normal driving, each gear change is accomplished sequentially in minimal time. Pressing buttons on the dash allows the driver to toggle between Auto and Sport.

A second push of the Auto button reveals the true beast hidden beneath. What Maserati refers to as MC-Shift causes every gear change to slightly overlap. Above 5500 rpm, shift time is reduced to an astonishing 100 milliseconds, with single gearshifts achieved in a scant 40 ms.

Jeff and Jacob
Jeff Voth and Jacob Vargas

The overall effect affords performance previously attainable only on selected Ferrari models and F1 race cars. Pull the paddle shifter towards you and the resplendent “pop bang” sound of a new gear was sure to send a chill down your spine. Featured in rich Blue Nettuno with creamy “Sabbia” leather and Alcantara interior accents, this was one Hollywood hero destined for glory.

Jeff and Jacob perform for the kids

Topping off the experience, Jacob Vargas, star of Death Race 2008, Jarhead and numerous other movies and TV episodes sat next to me as my celebrity co-pilot in the “Rally For Kids With Cancer”. The previous night’s gala event had us paired together in support of this important cause.

Our mission today was to finish the rally, finding each checkpoint, completing a series of challenges and answering various skill-testing questions. The prize was first place and bragging rights for a year.

Celebrity events such as this require red carpets, expensive cars, willing A-Listers and a dedicated team to put it all together. Canadian based “Solutions With Impact” accepted the challenge, having showcased the necessary expertise by organizing similar events in Toronto over the past several years.

Flag Hostess Eva Longoria

Here in Los Angeles, Eva Longoria, Roselyn Sanchez, Adam Rodriguez, Gene Simmons and my aforementioned co-pilot were just some of the celebrated attendees to work alongside staff members and volunteers.

Checkered flags waved as we left the parking lot at full speed only to meet the other reality of driving in L.A. – traffic. Sitting impatiently at a stoplight, a casual blip of the throttle turned the head of a nearby police officer. Finding his target, he returned my impromptu performance with a slight scowl as if to say “Quiet on the set!” I waved awkwardly, remembering just how loud a Ferrari-built engine could be.

The Maserati GranTurismo S embodies all that is beautiful about Italian made automobiles. So much so, I had numerous other celebrities inquiring to ride along or take it for a spin during the rally. There is a special resonance with a Maserati coupe that even the most potent star is drawn to its magical powers.

Possessing sufficient space for up to four people, the GranTurismo S impresses with excellent seats, superb dash layout, a comfortable yet sporty ride and sexy exterior shape.

Zero to 100 km/h is achieved in a mere 4.9 seconds with top speed rated at 183 mph. Acceleration is heart pounding and the temptation to step on it can be overwhelming. Stops are equally rapid and controlled thanks to 6-piston caliper front, 4-piston caliper rear disc brakes.

Returning late in the day to The Huntley Hotel, our task complete and exhausted from solving the challenge of a seven stage car rally, the full force of what we had experienced hit me anew. Driving a magnificent sports coupe was certainly a thrill to be savored. So too was living the life of a celebrity for a day. But having the chance to participate in the fight against cancer, especially as it impacts the lives of children, was indeed the sweetest of all.

2009 Maserati GranTurismo S
Engine/Transmission: 4.7L V8/ 6-speed automatic/manual shift
Power/Torque: 433 hp/361 lb-ft
Steering: Power rack and pinion
Brakes: 4-wheel Brembo disc
MSRP: $135,000

Related links:

Rally For Kids With Cancer (Toronto)
Huntley Santa Monica Beach 

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