The Ferrari 488 GTB is a wonderful car. The chassis melds supple poise with intense agility, it has an innate balance and despite its sky-high limits it feels accessible and easy to control even right at the limit. And the 3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine (the F154 CB for those of us who care about such things) is almost unbelievable. Not just in the sheer performance it offers up, but in terms of how Ferrari has seemingly eradicated the phenomena previously known as turbo lag.
But for all that, it can’t hit the heights of its immediate predecessor, the absurdly noisy, completely uncompromising and deeply wonderful 458 Speciale. That car had real magic. The sort that’s hard to quantify but easy to understand. About two minutes as a passenger or driver and you’ll love it forever (although admittedly, spend four or five hours on a motorway in one and you’ll want a period of separation for a few weeks. And possibly some paracetamol). Of course the Speciale isn’t a regular Ferrari, but one of the limited and extremely hardcore models. Maybe it isn’t fair to compare a 488 GTB to such a focussed iteration. Even so it’s a valuable reminder that more performance, more efficiency, more aero and more tech doesn’t necessarily equate to more fun.
However, I still find myself sitting here and drooling over the new 488 Challenge and wondering what might be… We all know a Speciale-type 488 is coming, so this is a tantalising look at what happens when Ferrari turns its mid-engined supercar up to 11 without the restrictions of GT3 regulations. Interestingly the engine still puts out 661bhp, but it has much shorter gearing (they claim it’ll get from zero to the limiter in 4th gear in six seconds). The Challenge also retains much of the road car’s technology, including Side Slip Control, the e-diff and the DCT gearbox – albeit with a more aggressive shift actuation.
Drivers of the 488 Challenge will also have more sophisticated control over these devices with three manettinos instead of the usual single rotary dial. One deals with braking bias, whilst the other two control the SSC and E-Diff3. The right-hand manettino (TC1) controls the point of intervention, and TC2 controls the degree and intensity of the torque reduction. Ferrari claim this approach leads to perfect optimisation of traction and at a reference corner at Monza leads to an improvement in acceleration by 11.6 percent. Of course you could argue that the driver should have a greater influence over this figure than the black magic of the electronics, but in the road cars at least, Ferrari’s millions of acronyms generally manage to be almost invisible and enhance rather than detract from the fun.
There are also huge gains found in the aerodynamics of the car, with a new front bumper, new bonnet, dive planes and a bigger rear spoiler to balance the downforce. As well as ramping up grip levels, it also looks completely sensational. For reference it does a 1:15.5 lap around Fiorano – a second quicker than the old 458 Challenge and 4.2 seconds quicker than a LaFerrari. Hilariously, in 2004 Michael Schumacher lapped Fiorano in the F2004 F1 car in 55.99 seconds. Which sort of tells you quite how extraordinary F1 cars are.
Anyway, it’s a pretty tasty look at what might make it onto the special series 488 – a car that I’m looking forward to greatly. I hope it has some of the craziness of the F12 TDF but combines it with the driveability of the 458 Speciale. I have no doubt the chassis will be absolutely killer and that all the brain-frying tech will work to dazzling effect. The biggest challenge ahead? Making that incredibly powerful turbocharged engine mirror the reach and excitement of the old Speciale motor. If anyone can do that, Ferrari can. But it’s some task.