There are two sports cars they just don’t get wrong. Most manufacturers, even these ones, occasionally turn out a duffer, but in the case of two vehicles – the GT3 RS version of a Porsche 911 and the special series version of Ferrari’s mid-engined V8 – they simply don’t miss a trick.
This is, I suspect, because they’re engineers’ cars. Purists’ cars. The first 911 GT3 RS, of 2003, only came about because Porsche needed to homologate two suspension links for racing. And the first mid-engined Ferrari special, the 360 Challenge Stradale, also of 2003, helped justify the Challenge race series.
This, then, is Ferrari’s latest, the 488 Pista. The requisite link to motorsport is there, anyway. The Pista’s engine is, like a GT3 RS’s, effectively a racecar motor, here from the 488 Challenge car with an extra 38kW.
It retains a 3.9-litre V8, but it now makes 530kW at the same 8000rpm and 770Nm at 3000rpm (in seventh gear); torque is limited in lower gears to make what, since its launch, has been the best sporty turbocharged engine in the world feel less turbocharged, more naturally aspirated.
It drives the Pista’s rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. While the time between clutch activations isn’t being reduced much (there’s not much to reduce), there’s now an overboost on upshifts, and in the appropriate aggressive drive mode it punches downshifts in a racier fashion, with increased engine braking.
Specify the right options – including carbon-fibre wheels – and the Pista can weigh as little as 1358kg (kerb, not dry). That’s up to 90kg less than the 488 GTB. The Pista does feature carbon fibre for its bonnet, bumpers, intake plenum and rear spoiler. This is part of a raft of weight-saving additions that include an Inconel exhaust, a lighter flywheel, a lithium battery and titanium conrods.
Bodywork modifications include an S-duct at the front and a higher, longer wing at the back. The result is 20 per cent more downforce than that generated by the 488 GTB: 240kg at 200km/h, with only a two per cent increase in drag.
The Pista’s weight, power and aero, plus a newly developed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyre (which leaves rubber on the road in rather more places than you’d realistically expect, so Lord knows how soft they are) mean that it’s lighter, faster and more aggressive than the 488 GTB everywhere.
But it’s not, says Ferrari’s leading GT engineer, Raffaele de Simone, any more difficult to drive. The Pista’s meant to be just as playful and accommodating as the regular GTB, which given it has 492kW and is almost as docile as the Toyota 86, would be an achievement.
MOTOR review: Pre-production 488 Pista
But bloody hell, it turns out he’s right.
Our first go around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track with the Pista didn’t go to plan – the weather Gods weren’t on our side. However, this time around, Italy is back to its balmy self. The Pista is said to be two seconds faster than the 458 Speciale around here.
The Pista is in a different performance stratosphere from the Speciale: 0-100km/h takes 2.85sec and 7.6sec to 200km/h, compared with 3.0sec and 9.1sec for the Speciale.
It doesn’t take long to realise that the Pista is no more frightening than the GTB, but merely faster, everywhere. The steering rack, ratio, everything, is the same as the GTB’s. Anti-roll bars are unchanged, and while there is a stiffening of springs, it’s minor and only comes with a marginal decrease in ride height. The GTB’s friendly nature, then, is largely intact.
Ferrari uses an e-differential, and its latest ‘side-slip control’ program involves even more software, so if you turn in sensibly the diff stays relatively unwound, the Pista rotates beautifully and, as you come back on the power, it drives the car brilliantly. The side-slip control allows for a lot of adjustability.
Turn everything off and the Pista’s character is still docile. Peak torque comes in at just 3000rpm and the throttle response is better than any other turbocharged car’s.
What’s perhaps more remarkable is that this comes without any huge detriment to the experience on the road. Well, to the ride, at least: there’s a lot of road noise, owing to a lack of carpet and other soundproofing, so along with tyre roar you can hear stones being flicked up and chattering into the body, while the air-conditioning struggles on anything except its most shouty setting.
But the dampers retain two settings and, even on the firmer one, the Pista is far from unsettled. On the softer ‘bumpy road’ setting it’s remarkably compliant, yet controlled. These roads would really expose some laggy, harshly sprung track specials, but the Pista is brilliant here, riding with deftness and cornering with composure and loads of feel and finesse.
They also happen to form part of Ferrari’s development drivers’ test route, so you can see why the steering ends up being so fast, but it also explains why Ferrari likes using an e-differential. It, while heavier than a pure mechanical differential or an open one, unlocks to ease tight corner entry and locks up to provide brilliant exit-straightening. It’ll understeer if you’re clumsy and spin its wheels more than you expect if you’re lead-footed, but it’s generally more approachable and playful than its competitors.
And while its engine is less intoxicating than Porsche’s naturally aspirated GT3 RS unit and the Lamborghini Huracan Performante’s V10, it has the measure of the 911 GT2 RS and any current McLaren.
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More than that, though, it helps exploit one of the greatest chassis in the business. It doesn’t feel night-and-day different from that of the regular GTB. It feels like the ‘base’ car plus 20 per cent rather than a different animal. Put carpets and inertia-reel belts rather than harnesses in it and it could even just be the next 488.
That, though, is important to those who buy them. V8 Ferrari-owners, even track-special owners, don’t tend to live on racetracks like owners of GT3 RS Porsches. They’ll go a few times to remind themselves they’ve made the right decision. And it won’t take long. About three corners ought to do it.
3.8-litre twin-turbo flat-6, RWD, 515kW/750Nm, 0-100km/h 2.8sec
Its list of credentials, not to mention a production-car ’Ring record, is staggering. The GT2 RS has so much power, torque and handling prowess that it’ll be tough to beat. Game on.
2018 FERRARI 488 PISTA SPECS
Engine: 3902cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 530kW @ 8000rpm
Torque: 770Nm @ 3000rpm 0-100km/h 2.85sec (claimed)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Like: More grunt and grip in an accessible package, atmo-like power delivery, chassis talent
Dislike: Some still won’t agree with the soundtrack, getting your hands on one