Our international correspondent, Gautam Sharma was invited to sample the Ferrari 488 Pista prototype in Italy. He shares his thoughts with us here.
It’s sheer violence. But not as in a herd of elephants trampling over a marauding lion. This is a strike of surgical precision. It’s Muhammad Ali dismantling George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. An Exocet locking onto its target and relentlessly hunting it down.
Ferrari’s 488 Pista is the ultimate embodiment of Maranello’s 488 GTB mid-engined V8 supercar, and it’s devouring the company’s Fiorano test track at a rate that scarcely seems imaginable in a road car. I’m riding shotgun with Ferrari test and development driver Raffaele de Simone, and he’s got the Ferrari 488 Pista prototype dancing at all sorts of laugh-out-loud angles across the short yet highly technical track.
Soon after, I’m strapped into the four-point harness behind the wheel of the Ferrari 488 Pista prototype, and blasting out of the pits, the first impression is of the monumental oomph of the 3,9-litre twin-turbo V8. I’ll get into all the nitty-gritty of the powerplant shortly, but for now just take in these numbers: 0-100 km/h in 2,85 sec and 0-200 km/h in 7,6 sec. That’s within sniffing distance of the ridiculously rapid Bugatti Chiron (0-200 km/h in 6,5 sec), which has more than double the power and costs more than eight times as much. Staggering.
The Pista’s straight-line grunt is plain gobsmacking (it would leave a Lambo Huracan Performante for dead in a drag. Read my review of that car by clicking here), but this is only one small facet of a car that has been honed to the nth degree to shave every last tenth off its lap times. Yet, the Pista does all this without sacrificing everyday drivability at pootling speeds on normal roads – this becomes evident on a 30-minute loop out of Fiorano Modenese and into the nearby hills, where the tarmac is narrow and bumpy.
A limited-edition weapon
The 488 Pista follows in the wheel tracks of the limited-edition 458 Speciale, 430 Scuderia and 360 Challenge Stradale and, as per its predecessors, it’s the elite athlete of the range, having been tweaked and fettled in every department – drivetrain, chassis, brakes and aero. It’s also been on a strict diet, shedding 90 kg for a lithe dry weight of 1 280 kg. The latest Ferrari a veritable weapon, but I still don’t like the name. Incidentally, Pista means ‘Track’ in Italian.
The newbie incorporates much of the know-how from Ferrari’s 488 Challenge and 488 GTE race cars, and upgrades such as its lightweight titanium conrods, carbon-fibre intake plenums and rearward raked radiators are more or less straight transplants from the Challenge. Meanwhile, the car’s comprehensive aero package was inspired by the 488 GTE and Ferrari’s F1 program, allegedly boosting efficiency by 20 per cent compared to the 488 GTB.
Other tech highlights include a lithium-ion battery (from the 488 Challenge) and carbon-fibre wheel rims, both of which contribute to the Pista’s substantial weight reduction. But while sizzling lap times are the car’s USP, test driver de Simone stresses that a key focus in developing the Pista was to ensure its prodigious performance was accessible to all drivers, not just hardened racers who spend all day pounding around circuits.
That said, the Ferrari 488 Pista prototype does initially seem a tad overwhelming as you begin to unleash the full potential of its 567 kW/770 N.m twin-turbocharged V8. It may well miss out on the operatic vocals of its naturally aspirated ancestors, but the Pista’s engine (designated F154 CD) is a mighty powerplant that has almost no trace of turbo lag. Such is its titanic grunt that the motor’s gargantuan torque has to be electronically regulated in the lower gears to prevent it from being an unruly tyre-shredding monster. This means the peak torque quota of 770 N.m is available only in seventh gear. The 488 GTB is already an eye-wateringly quick car, but the Pista’s 38 kW power hike, sharper throttle response and 90 kg weight saving elevates its performance to an altogether different plane. It’s plain bonkers.
It’s a lot louder than the 488 GTB, too, and this is mainly down to the carbon-fibre intake plenum and bespoke Iconel exhaust manifold that’s derived from the 488 Challenge racer. Start wringing the Pista’s neck and you’ll notice there’s a pronounced turbo whistle that’s audible both in and out of the car, along with a more muffled “whoosh” soundtrack than the screaming V8s in the 458 Speciale, 430 Scuderia and 360 Challenge Stradale.
Quick as f…
But while the Pista misses out on the aural drama of its naturally aspirated forerunners, it absolutely annihilates them with its eyelid-peeling acceleration. It’s that massive wall of torque that does it, launching the car out of corners with a ferocity that causes the tail to squirm or kick out more violently if you overdo it in ‘Race’ or ‘CT Off’ modes, knocking some of the wind out of your lungs in the process. There’s simply no let-up in the bewildering forward thrust as you bang up through the ratios. Gearshifts, too, are faster and more brutal than in the 488 GTB.
Let’s be clear, though, you need to be a skillful pilot to extract the best from the Pista. It may well be a beautifully balanced, scalpel-sharp device, but it’s nowhere near as benign as the Huracan Performante, which is a more forgiving car in every respect. For starters, the Lambo V10 generates its power and torque in a much more linear progression that is the case with Ferrari’s muscle-bound blown V8. Plus, there’s the fact that the Performante channels drive to all four wheels – rather than just the rears – making it far easier to rocket out of second-, third- and fourth-gear corners. With the Pista, you need to be a bit more patient and measured in your inputs, otherwise it lights up the back tyres and gets sideways on corner exits.
Slip sliding away
That said, provided you drive it with an ounce of finesse, the Pista rewards with staggering cornering grip, thanks in no small part to the bespoke Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres, while the latest-gen Side Slip Control System (SSC 6.0) lets you have a bit of slip-slide fun even in Race mode without being intrusive. Unlike other stability-control systems, SSC 6.0 actually helps you go faster, rather than being a metaphoric ball-and-chain.
Having completed four frenetic laps of Fiorano that seemed to be over far too quickly, I have time to briefly process the overload of information I’ve just gathered via my eyes, ears, fingertips and seat of my pants. The first takeaway is that the Pista is more than likely the fastest road car I’ve ever driven on a racetrack (the Huracan Performante would probably be the closest thing to it).
The other overriding impression is of how crisp and sharp all its responses are to steering, throttle and braking inputs. There’s a great sense of connection to the car. Yes, it’s a fearsome beast that keeps you on your toes, but its mid-engined layout and ultra-low kerb weight means it’s a faster and more manageable weapon around Fiorano than even the ballistic 812 Superfast I punted at the same venue around eight months earlier.
On the road
Once my pulse rate has descended from high triple-figures, it’s time to hit the road in the Ferrari 488 Pista prototype. In this case, it means getting out of the urban confines of Fiorano Modenese and up into the foothills of the nearby Apennine mountains. The Pista proves a doddle around town – there’s no histrionics from the engine or shunting from the gearbox – and all-round visibility is decent without being outstanding.
Once we’re up into the hills, it’s clear the Pista is no less rapid in real-world conditions than it is on track. Even the bumpy roads we’re on don’t unsettle the car or jar the spine. Most road-surface imperfections are soaked up by the recalibrated SCM-E dampers, so it’s by no means a one-dimensional bone-crusher. You could conceivably drive it every day – as long as you don’t have more than one passenger or lots of cargo to cart around.
The most obvious giveaways to the Pista’s identity are the stripes that run from stem to stern across the centre of the car, but Prancing Horse aficionados may also pick up on the weight-saving 20-inch carbon-fibre rims (the Pista is the first Ferrari so equipped). Also prominent is the novel ‘S-Duct’, which is basically a large slot between the front fascia and bonnet, and this channels air sucked in by the front intake across the top of the bonnet, creating grip-enhancing downforce over the front axle.
Other notable aero-related changes to the exterior include revised side vents that now channel air only to the intercooler (in the 488 GTB the partitioned vents serve air to both the intercooler and engine). In the Pista, the engine is fed by air intakes housed adjacent to the bespoke carbon-fibre rear spoiler. Ferrari claims this boosts power by reducing fluid-dynamic load losses. There are several other aero tweaks all around the car, but delving into all of them will put you into a coma, so I’ll spare you.
The Pista is a wonderful, visceral piece of engineering. Mind-numbingly quick and engaging it may be, but I’m still not loving that name. Perhaps it’s just me.
Click here for more info on the Ferrari 488 Pista.
Model: Ferrari 488 Pista
Engine: 3,9-litre twin-turbo V8
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, RWD
Max power: 567 kW
Max torque: 770 N.m
Top speed: 340 km/h+
0-100kph: 2,85 sec
Weight: 1 280 kg