It’s not often that I write here about some of the cars I drive in my line of work, but this one is a superb piece of engineering that deserves a mention. OK, I’ll be the first to admit, my Ferrari relationship has been a love / hate one. Sometimes, they can make the most beautiful cars that you’d want to fall in love with.
Elegant curves that no-one else can create, the most stunning engine noise to die for. Icons like the 288GTO and amazingly practical daily drivers like the 456GT. Then they make some less desirables like the 512TR, the 348 and I have to say, until I see an FF in the flesh, I’m reserving judgment.
My favourite Ferrari as a kid was the 365 Daytona and I’ve been a front engined Ferrari fan ever since. Even though I loved watching Tom Selleck leave a big black line in his 308GTS, when I first drove one years later, I thought it wasn’t a patch on a 911.
One of those never meet your heroes moments, I guess.
I never really got the whole vibe of ‘yes but they’re really challenging to drive‘ Sorry, personally, I think a good car should help you go faster, not try and stick you into the scenery. Porsche 911 every time, thank you.
Nothing hateful against Ferrari, mind you, they’re just not my bag.
Successive Ferraris have hammered this viewpoint into me. Ferrari 348? You know what I’m going to say. And look at the 512TR vs 456GT – no contest on looks and I knew several 456 owners in the day that had them as daily drivers. Not a chance with the 512, unless your name was Sunny Crocket. Sorry, but if the engine’s down the back end, it’s a Porsche 911 for me.
That’s until I was busy working for Simon George’s 6th Gear at Elvington this weekend and I get a text saying he’s just got the keys to their new 456 Italia and that I’m going to love instructing in it. He’s right…. Not being one of the meticulously selected global few chosen for Ferrari press launches, I’ve had to wait until a friend has got one.
First impressions in the looks department are that it’s got far more curves and interesting design details in the 3D metal than in all the photography I’ve seen, particularly the lovely curves over the rear arches that funnel air into what look like twin radiators or something (you can tell I’ve never read any press info…) Monster carbon brakes that look like they’re going to do a good job on track, plus lovely sharp front end styling leaves me wondering why I never paid it much attention before.
End of the day on Sunday, I’m finished for the day in the big, reliable Lamborghini LP640 and Simon’s offering me a quick few laps of Elvington in the 458 before we pack up for home. No need to ask twice.
I jump in and fire it up, leaving all the modes set to default, in deference to the newness of the engine and the fact that Race seems to give you a full race exhaust. We were very close to the evening curfew on track, so best not upset the neighbours too much just yet.
The next three short laps brought home to me that for the first time ever, here was a mid engined Ferrari I really, really want to own. I’d not read any road test reports, didn’t really know anything about it other than what Simon had told me, which should be a hanging offence for someone working in this industry, but that’s my Porsche 911 GT3RS allegiance showing through.
Based on those three laps, it’s quite simply the bollocks.
The twin clutch, seven speed box is telepathic on it’s shifts and feels just like the frame rate of the Canon 1D Mk4, so fast that mid-corner changes are a non-event, something that even the F430 couldn’t manage when you’re pressing on with things a little on track, the monetary weight shift always a worry.
In fact, it actually feels like it’s gaining speed as it shifts the gears, such is the speed of the twin clutch system.
We’re revving just to 6k to put a few more miles on for Simon and the chassis is absolutely brilliant, enabling me to carry speed deep into corners totally safely on the brakes in ways I’d never do in a 360 Stradale for example, using the carbon brakes to pin down the front end all the way to the corner apex, down the totally seamless gearbox before blending off the left foot and picking up on the throttle all the way out on the power, firing the shifts home in a super fast way that makes you want to start laughing.
It took real self control, plus the fact that most other instructors were watching, together with Simon of course, to stop me hanging 9,000rpm on it, such is the sharp throttle response and the smoothness of the power delivery.
This car is really bad news for me, totally addictive in a way I’ve not felt in a long time and it’s a good thing that I’ll probably drive very, very few miles in it as a road car, as I couldn’t be trusted. If I owned one, I’d either have to live on the Isle of Man or have ten driving licences and a bag full of credit cards.
“We’re out of milk, honey, I’ll just go get some…. From France…”