‘How far is it to the test track from here?’ asked my driving companion for the day, as we pulled over on a remote Italian mountainside in Ferrari’s latest supercar, the 488 Pista.
‘About an hour,’ I ventured, looking at the time and distance details on the sat-nav.
‘How long have we got if we’re to make our slot?’ ventured my wingman.
‘About an hour. If we get a move on. Now. Right now. And miss lunch,’ I intoned looking at my watch.
Some wag with a sense of humour at Ferrari had clearly thought it would be a wheeze to pair up yours truly – not exactly the fastest performance car driver in the parish – with ‘Captain Slow’, aka James May, formerly of BBC’s Top Gear and now the Grand Tour for Amazon Prime.
Ferrari teamed up Ray Massey, right, with Grand Tour and ex-Top Gear star James May, left, to test drive the new 488 Pista
James had taken a break from shooting to have a spin in the new 488 Pista, before heading off to Detroit – the US motor industry’s original Motown.
He and his colleagues Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond are currently filming the third series of the Grand Tour. Will it be the last? He was diplomatically tight-lipped on that.
Our own miniature grand tour on winding Italian roads proved to be a rather fun, entertaining and quite leisurely cruise, before we both rather nervously returned for a blood-and-guts drive around Ferrari’s famous Fiorano race-track test circuit.
This is the track opposite the firm’s factory in Maranello, in northern Italy, where all civilian and F1 cars are put through their paces.
And this would be after hours of dilly-dallying in a car starting at a cool £250,000 that will sprint to 62mph in under three seconds.
So we got a move on. Sort of. But sadly we did miss lunch – a near criminal offence in Italy.
How far away is it and how long have we got? With neither renowned for their speed, Ray Massey, left, and James May, right, found themselves running out of time to get to the track
What rubbed salt into the wound was that it was at Ferrari’s legendary works canteen – the Cavallino restaurant near the factory gates in Maranello and the Fiorano test-track circuit from which we’d set off.
Named after Ferrari’s prancing horse logo and festooned with memorabilia, this near shrine to food and Ferrari is where the firm’s founder Enzo Ferrari ate and where employees, drivers, executives and fans still go today.
But I was in good company. Engaging Mr May – the ‘nice one’ of the Top Gear trio – is already the owner- after much self-confessed wavering – of a £250,000 limited edition Ferrari 458 Speciale.
He secured the very last one. Or rather Ferrari built an extra one for him.
He bought it just as what he calls the infamous ‘punchgate’ affair led to the canning of their much-loved version of the BBC Top Gear programme, after Clarkson got into an altercation with a producer over a steak dinner.
So May sold a few motor bikes at auction to help keep his finances in balance, before Amazon Prime waved some large cheques in the trio’s direction to recreate their on-screen chemistry with the lavishly filmed Grand Tour.
Now he is pondering whether to trade in his 458 Speciale, which is growing in value as a collectors’ car, for the new and improved 488 Pista.
His nickname from fellow presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond is Captain Slow, but James May is not really a slouch behind the wheel, says Ray Massey
The Pista is not a limited edition, though bosses told me the first two years’ production run of around 2,000 cars is already sold out to largely long-standing Ferrari customers.
It would be ungentlemanly and churlish to apportion any blame for our tardy progress.
This involved a fair bit of faffing about, including: looking for a licensed tobacco shops for my chain-smoking companion, stopping for a well-earned coffee in a rather cool motor bike themed café, shooting the breeze about life and everything from Lego to Zeppelins, and getting ‘lost’ down some beautiful if diverting Italian country lanes when the sat-nav threw a bit off a wobbly and took us ‘off pista’.
The 488 Pista is pretty phenomenal to drive, says Ray, especially for a self-confessed ‘ordinary driver’ for whom it makes light work of piloting a supercar
Stopping en route for that espresso at a roadside bikers’ café, we parked next to a tiny but similarly red liveried Piaggio mini-van and caused a mini-sensation. Italians male and female of every age and shape busied around the Ferrari, debating the 488 Pista’s finer points, taking photographs and engaging in heated debate as we looked on. Such passion. About a car.
Ferrari is at pains to point out that this phenomenally high performance car with racing pedigree is designed to be as easy and fulfilling to drive on the road by ‘drivers of all types’, whether race-track pros or high net-worth petrolheads.
And you will need deep pockets, of course. The price for a 488 Pista starts at £252,765 before you add any of the potentially very expensive extras. That includes £2,112 for the four-point harness, £8,640 for the go faster racing stripe, and £14,208 for the carbon-fibre wheels alone.
The new supercar’s Pista name means track and Ferrari claims it can be both a racer out there and civilised for the road
The new supercar’s Pista name may not translate so well into English from the Italian, but simply means track. When you arrive at the circuit you see above you in giant letters alongside a prancing horse on a Ferrari red banner the words Pista di Fiorano.
So what’s it actually like to drive? Pretty phenomenal, as you might expect. Especially for a self-confessed ‘ordinary driver’ for whom it makes light work of piloting a supercar.
Ferrari say the new 488 Pista builds and improves upon the earlier 488 GTB iteration and the previous 458 Speciale model, and is lighter, faster and more ‘extreme’.
It is powered by a mighty 4.0 litre (3,902cc) V8 engine developing 720 horsepower linked to a slick 7-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox with manual override, via paddles on the steering wheel.
It accelerates at blistering speed from rest to 0-62mph in just 2.85 seconds – and up to 124mph in just 7.6 seconds – reaching a potential top speed of 211mph. The vitally powerful brakes will bring you to a complete stop from 62mph in 29.6 metres.
Some comfort elements have been stripped out – such as the glovebox – in favour of open cubby holes.
Aerodynamic tweaks mean the Ferrari 488 Pista also has up to 20% more ‘downforce’ to help keep it rooted to the tarmac
Ferrari says the 488 Pista has the highest amount of transfer of racing tech to one of its roadgoing cars.
It’s 90kg lighter, about the weight of a man, than its predecessor 488 GTB, and has 50 more horsepower (and 115hp more than my driving companion’s 458 Speciale).
It also has 50 per cent more new parts in the improved engine and virtually no turbo-lag when you floor the throttle.
Aerodynamic tweaks mean the Pista also has up to 20 per cent more downforce to help keep it rooted to the tarmac. This is helped by a clever S-Duct used for the first time on a road-going car. It’s basically a gap behind the front bumper that forces air between the bumper and the bonnet and then over the front windscreen, boosting downforce over the front axle.
There are sharper gear-shifts and lashings of lightweight carbon-fibre in the functional racing-style interior.
It still had room for my hefty laptop bag in the under-the-bonnet ‘boot’. And there’s that satisfying Ferrari roar, which has been further tuned and enhanced, when you open her up.
Ferrari 488 Pista
First deliveries: September 2018
First two years’ production sold out.
Top speed: 211mph
0-62mph: 2.85 seconds
0-124mph: 7.6 seconds
Braking distance: 62mph to 0 mph: 29.6m
Engine: 3,902cc V8 twin-tubo
Power: 720 horsepower (CV)
Kerb weight: 1,385kg
Transmission: F1 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. Automatic with manual override.
Lap time around Fiorano circuit: 1 minute 21.5 seconds.
Fuel consumption: 25 mpg (11.5 litres per 100km)
CO2 emissions: 263g/km
Boot capacity: 170 litre
Instead of conventional seat-belts, Ferrari had fitted our car with a racing harness which proved a proper faff to put on.
Strapped in like a trussed up turkey or the client of some dodgy dominatrix, it then proved impossible to lean forward to adjust things like one’s seat.
The reversing chimes were louder than Big Ben, too.
The Italian supercar maker makes this bold claim: ’The Ferrari 488 Pista offers drivers of all abilities an exceptional and exhilarating experience that normally only a competition car could deliver, setting a whole new benchmark in terms of driving pleasure for the Ferrari range.’
It’s certainly managed that.
And you can forget all the insouciant on-screen clowning. Trust me, Mr May is a pretty capable driver of performance cars.
Arriving back at the Pista di Fiorano test track just in time for our allotted time slot, it was straight on with the helmet and out onto the circuit with Ferrari’s imposing chief tester Raffaele De Simone.
Compact, wiry and intensely focussed, he proved a master tutor: ‘Eez a Ferrari. You have to drive it like a Ferrari,’ he said sternly after my first lap.
Not, I took to be the implied message, like a complete wuss.
As my confidence and feel for the car grew, the succeeding laps proved better with a satisfying bit of twitch on the tight corners and much faster acceleration out of them. The new specially created Michelin Pilot Sport Cup K2 tyres – tested on a TameTire simulator and promising extra grip – and solid brakes were doing their stuff.
A run with a Ferrari test driver in full track mode was the automotive equivalent of a virtuoso violinist playing a Stradivarius, says Ray Massey
A masterclass by Raffaele behind the wheel with me strapped into the passenger seat was awesome and awe-inspiring.
In full track mode with all the safety key settings off, it was the automotive equivalent of a virtuoso violinist playing a Stradivarius.
My faffy racing harness came into its own and kept me wedded firmly to my seat during a roller-coaster ride. Few if any drivers will be able to take this car to the limit in the manner of the man who fine-tuned its performance handling.
It’s a far better car than I am a driver and I couldn’t scratch the surface of its capabilities – though Raffaela’s full-blooded no-prisoners circuits did give me a seat-of-the pants insight.
But it’s easy enough to drive for yourself if you don’t feel compelled to push it to the limit
I wonder if James May will buy one?
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