SOMETIMES you get the feeling the world has an alternate plan, as if things just arenít meant to be. On-paper promise doesnít always come to fruition. Such melancholy juxtaposes whatís in front of me, a pre-production Ferrari 488 Pista Ė the lighter, faster and more focused version of the 488 GTB.
Yet, the spiritual successor to the 458 Speciale isnít donning the traditional Rosso Corsa hue. Instead itís dressed in a sea of disguising shrink wrap despite already being revealed at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. Whatís worse is that inclement weather has descended on Fiorano, drenching the lowlands and sugar-coating the surrounding hills with confidenceeroding precipitation.
For those who donít know, the Pista is the famous Italian marqueís latest go-fast special. The 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 now produces 530kW and 770Nm, a rise of 38kW and 10Nm respectively. However, the changes donít stop there as weight is down 90kg overall (including 18kg taken out of the revised engine) thanks to a stripped cabin, optional carbon-fibre wheels and a smaller battery. In addition to the amazing forward thrust, the Pista comes with an extra helping of Ferrari flair in the shape of additional fairings, diffusers, splitters, ducts and spoilers. Yours for $645,000 Ė driveaway, mind you.
Facts and figures aside, this must be the first Ferrari drive where the object of affection is forced off sticky tyres. Due to the less-than-balmy conditions, Pirelli SottoZeros are called to action. Assembled in the three-room pit garage, warming their hands while still shaking with cold, Ferrari personnel are sticking their heads together for a rather long time. Using all the radar apps everyone can muster, one member of the group ascertains that the sun may soon make an appearance. Another receives a message stating that the Autostrada is backing up near Bologna and that weíre running out of time.
ďVai provareĒ (go try), says chief test driver Raffaele de Simone before heading towards the Pista, which sits ticking away on idle. With brooding, low-hanging black clouds swarming, the man everyone calls Raffa gingerly takes to Circuito di Fiorano. Itís just as well, because when you follow the speckled 488 on the numerous overhead monitors lined up in the command centre, the track looks more like a lake than a proving ground. Recurrent obstacles include large puddles of standing water with the odd river crossing the circuit and ripple strips as slippery as ice. Raffa is constantly short-shifting to keep the revs low and quell wheelspin. The pace increases a notch or two for the second lap, and soon the man who calls the Nordschleife his second home is comfortable behind the wheel.
ďItís okay, we can stay here.Ē Off comes the helmet and out comes the index finger. ďYou can go first, Georg.Ē In that moment thereís no better way to kick the heart rate to redline. The XL bucket seat must have shrunk since my last visit to Maranello (at least thatís my story), and the four-point harness almost runs out of belt material before being pulled tight. Strapped in, it makes reaching for the much-needed demister switch an effort.
The Pistaís cockpit looks familiar, but itís actually quite different. The glovebox has gone, the widespread Alcantara dash barely stops short of the windscreen and there are plenty of red accents to remind everyone of its status within the range. While the key rests in its own recess below the climate controls, you must still press the steering wheel-mounted red starter button to uncage the 3.9-litre, twin-turbo V8.
Like the professional before me, I decide that caution is the better part of valour Ė especially with 530kW sitting directly behind the sculpted pews. Lap one is simply a recce run with upshifts carried out at 4500rpm. The Manettino dial is firmly locked in Sport, while a conservative line and early braking seems the right plan of attack in this $645,000 future classic. The rain is unrelenting, but after a few more circulations the worst aquaplaning spots are computed to the memory bank. Staying off slippery kerbs is also, understandably, paramount.
Despite the inclement conditions, the need to experience 8000rpm and Race mode is too great to ignore. However, thatís not going to be engaged just yet, because thereís too much sliding initially, and not enough poise and precision. A switch in mindset is needed, and deciding to work with the Pirellis, rather than fighting against them, promptly changes the balance from latent snap oversteer to something more controllable. Yet, itís still hard to decipher real dynamic characteristics with the winter tyres and soaked tarmac.
Itís time for a break, which means another chat and another coffee Ė weíre in Italy after all. Myriad hand gestures and two espressos later, we finally receive the okay to take the Pista out onto public roads. ďWe only have these two mulesĒ is a stern reminder of the rarity about to be experienced. Itís also a warning to be very careful, especially when assimilating with the chaotic Italian traffic that seems to swallow the camouflaged Ferrari. Even in these conditions, the claimed fuel consumption of 9.6L/100km seems fancifully unrealistic. Ultimately itís a case of fighting a losing battle. One filled with sludge, snow and crushing congestion. Even the snow plough barely pulls through; a clear sign that cutting losses is the ultimate gain. The red ensemble is understandably relieved when their pride and joy returns unscathed to the garage. Deep breaths... can we go back on track now, please?
On this seemingly bewitched Monday, Fiorano is our only hope. At this point you, the reader, may be as frustrated as yours truly. However, there is a silver lining. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, the outlook appears more optimistic when given room to breathe Ė or when you unleash the devil inside. Moments later the Pistaís tail is hanging out for three or four seconds. And thatís in Race mode without even needing to switch to CT-OFF. Itís like the heavy mist of the day has been lifted from both car and driver by one lurid slide. Thankfully thereís still flamboyance woven into the Pistaís precision.
This thing is mega, which is a horribly unsophisticated way to explain an overly sophisticated product. The heavily revised twin-turbo V8 has shed 18kg in weight and responds even more promptly to throttle inputs (even if the naturally aspirated 458 still comes to the point fractionally faster). With the seven-speed DCT in top gear, the 530kW engine floods the differential with the full 770Nm of torque. Why only in the higher gears? Because like all boosted Ferrari engines, this one staggers its twist in accordance to the transmission ratio. Torque is dished out in smaller doses to manage traction in lower gears. In reality, the rear-wheel drive coupe feels like a jet plane just before take-off. So much so that when youíre really on it, thereís a seemingly endless supply of muscle from 3000rpm. Matched with the glorious soundtrack it results in Toblerone-sized goosebumps.
Itís almost lunchtime and the heavy rain has, at last, turned to drizzle. Against all odds, it seems there might be a ray of sunshine ahead. My heart skips a beat with excitement and my internal cheer could silence the Tifosi. Itís the last session of the day and I want to see, hear and experience 8000rpm in third gear as I blast down the start-finish straight. Like a hungry cobra pouncing out of its basket, the Pista launches out of the final left hander. Already in third with a right foot welded to the F40-style carbon-fibre floorpan, now is the time to give it some stick.
In what seems like a blink of an eye later, everyone looks up from their monitors like meerkats assessing the surroundings. They watch the Pista fly past in awe. Reckon thereís no difference between the 488 and the Pista? Oh my, quite the contrary. The dam walls donít break until youíre surging past 6000rpm, but at that point, the imaginary afterburners set in with vengeance. Theyíre pushing its four camshafts, eight cylinders and 32 valves hard to create the kind of automotive cinema an Oscar-winning drama would struggle to match.
In the Pista, flat-out upshifts are an eye-watering kick-andrush adventure. The dual-clutch íbox whets the gears through the gates without missing a beat. Rapid downshifts feel even more physical. Keep the respective paddle pulled and the cogs will count down the ratios hiccup-free Ė from seventh to first if need be. What makes all the difference compared to the standard model is the torque overboost, which maximises acceleration like a very strong headwind.
Only a bungee jump airs the pit of the stomach as thoroughly as the 2.85sec 0-100km/h acceleration figure. Only a video game makes the head spin as viciously as the blaring V8 hammering the 1385kg Pista to 200km/h in just 7.5sec from rest. Only an excursion to virtual reality conveys the full force of the in-your-face stopping power of the carbon-ceramic brakes, which need merely 31 metres to reel the car in from 100km/h. You donít have to push the Pista to the limit to relish its motorsport genes. Even at seven-tenths it feels more nimble, crisper and peppier than almost any other midengined Ferrari.
To everyoneís surprise, the track mercifully dries (almost fully) as the special-edition 488 begins to really unfurl its fruits. You have to appreciate moments and cars like these. Itís all about the positively magnetic roadholding and handling that requires sharp reflexes. Matched with the soundtrack, itís hard to find a more engrossing bit of kit. Rev it hard in manual mode and the V8 is as explosive and blatantly loud as such a sophisticated, high-revving turbocharged engine should be. However, when you stick the transmission in Drive, it can be as courteous and obliging as one of the high-output fours Mama Fiat has under her wings.
Grumbling about anything seems facetious, but you could argue that its DNA is ageing. The complex ergonomics are, for instance, second rate. The ho-hum connectivity can be hit with bouts of amnesia and the screens arenít as endowed as others found in rivals. Buyers wonít care, but some might rue the fact that thereís no all-wheel drive traction or rear-wheel steer. However, thatís just nit-picking for the sake of it.
In total, Ferrari will build around 3500 Pista units. All of them have been pre-sold. Not to common millionaires, but to collectors with a stable full of limited-edition Modenese specials. Unless you are best buddies with Sergio Marchionne, the 488 Pista is out of reach of mere mortals Ė scusi, ragazzi. But, of course, if you have deep pockets, you can afford to pay the premium that independent retailers will undoubtedly charge. Or, you can join the waiting list of sun-seeking Prancing Horse fans awaiting the release of the 488 Pista Spider, which is due next year.
Ultimately, this is a first taste of a car that needs more time behind the wheel. However, itís clear to see that the Pista is not simply a 488 GTB with more boost. Itís a surprisingly accessible, cohesive and forgiving supercar thatís utterly spellbinding and altogether complete. The world had other ideas for today, but it didnít plan on a very special Ferrari expunging all of its ills.