What is it?
There are two sports cars they just don’t get wrong. Most manufacturers, even these ones, occasionally turn out a duffer, but in the case of two vehicles – the GT3 RS version of a Porsche 911, and the special series version of Ferrari’s mid-engined V8 – they don’t miss a trick.
This is, I suspect, because they’re engineers’ cars. Purists’ cars. The first 911 GT3 RS in 2003 only came about because Porsche needed to homologate two suspension links for racing. And the first mid-engined Ferrari special, the 360 Challenge Stradale, also of 2003, helped justify the Challenge race series. Throughout their iterations since, they haven’t missed a beat.
This, then, is Ferrari’s latest, the 488 Pista. Pista means track, or, apparently, ‘get out of the way!’, but I suppose either is appropriate enough. The requisite link to motorsport is there, anyway. The Pista’s engine is – like a GT3 RS’s – effectively a race car motor, here from the 488 Challenge car.
It was always in the plan that way: develop an engine that makes 50bhp more than the standard 488 GTB, prove it in the one-make racing series car, and eventually drop it into the ‘special’ variant. Special doesn’t mean totally limited in production number; it’ll join the rest of the 488 range while that’s still on sale, albeit at relatively low volume.
It retains a 3.9-litre V8 but now makes 710bhp at the same 8000rpm rev-limiter, and 568lb ft at 3000rpm, but only in seventh gear – torque is limited in lower gears to make what, since its launch, has been the best sporty turbocharged engine in the world feel less turbocharged, more naturally-aspirated.
It drives the rear wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Remember when these were first launched, and they told us that upshifts were, effectively, instant, because one clutch would engage while another disengaged?
Well, they’re still tweaking them: while the time between clutch activation isn’t being reduced much (there’s not much to reduce), there’s now an overboost on upshifts, and in the appropriate aggressive drive mode – a dial on the steering wheel scrolls through them – it punches downshifts in racier fashion, with more engine braking than before.
Specify the right options – including carbonfibre wheels at over £10,000 – and the Pista can weigh as little as 1358kg (kerb, not dry), up to 90kg less than a GTB. McLaren reckons a 675 LT is 1320kg at the kerb which, having a carbon fibre tub rather than an aluminium structure, sounds about right.
The Pista does get carbon fibre, though: for the bonnet, bumpers, intake plenum and rear spoiler; part of a raft of weight-saving additions that include an Inconel exhaust, lighter flywheel, a lithium battery and titanium conrods.
Among the bodywork modifications, which have shades of Ford GT – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that’s a car entirely developed for endurance racing – there’s an S-duct at the front and a higher, longer wing at the back.
The result is 20% more downforce than a 488 GTB, 240kg at 124mph, with only a 2% increase in drag. The weight and the power and the aero and a newly-developed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyre (which leaves rubber on the road in rather more places than you’d realistically expect, so Lord knows how soft they are) mean that the Pista is lighter, faster and more aggressive than the 488 GTB everywhere.
But it is not, says Ferrari’s leading GT engineer, Raffaele de Simone, any more difficult to drive. This is not a car like the F12 Tdf or the 599 GTO, which you might kindly describe as a right old handful.
It’s meant to be just as playful and accommodating as a regular 488 GTB, says de Simone, which, given the GTB has 661bhp and is almost as docile a Toyota GT86, would be quite an achievement given its power output now starts with a seven.
But, well, turns out he’s right. This car. Chuffing hell.
What is it like?
But it does not take long to realise that the Pista is no more frightening than a GTB, but merely faster, everywhere. The steering rack, ratio, everything, is the same as a GTB’s. Anti-roll bars are unchanged and while there is a stiffening of springs, it’s minor and only comes with a marginal decrease in ride height.
The GTB’s friendly nature, then, is largely intact. In fact, because of the new tyres, which have stiffer sidewalls, steering response – Ferraris use a really quick, light, 2.0-turn rack, and McLaren and Porsche usually do it better – is if anything less nervous, more stable.
So it is just as accessible, but way, way, faster. The reduction in kerb weight means that a car that was already willing to turn is even more agile.
Ferrari uses an e-differential and Ferrari’s latest-generation ‘side slip control’ program involves even more software, so if you turn-in sensibly, the diff stays relatively unwound, the Pista rotates beautifully and, as you come back on the power, it drives the Pista brilliantly, breaking traction easily if you have traction control off, but with the side-slip control system allowing a lovely degree of adjustability.
Turn everything off and the Pista’s character is still docile. Peak torque – and there’s 568lb ft of it – comes in at just 3000rpm, the car revs to the same 8000rpm as the GTB and throttle response is better than any other turbocharged car’s, of that I’m pretty certain. So it’s just brilliantly adjustable and responsive.
What’s perhaps more remarkable is that this comes without any huge detriment to the experience on the road.
Well, to the ride, at least: there’s a lot of road noise, owing to a lack of carpet and other sound proofing, so along with tyre road you can hear stones being flicked up and chattering into the body, while the air-conditioning struggles on anything except its most shouty setting and the extended front and rear body addenda give you more than usual to think about on slopes and speed ramps.
But the dampers retain two settings and, even on the firmer one, the Pista is far from unsettled on twisty hillside roads. On the softer ‘bumpy road’ setting it’s remarkably compliant, yet controlled.
The roads we drove the 488 Pista on are part of Ferrari’s development driver’s test route, so you can see why the steering ends up being so fast – you seldom need to take your hands off the wheel on hairpins – but it also explains why Ferrari likes using an e-differential.
That, while heavier than a pure mechanical differential, or an open one (like a McLaren), unlocks to ease tight corner entry, locks-up to provide brilliant exit-straightening.
These roads would really expose some laggy, harshly sprung track specials, but the Pista is brilliant here, riding with deftness, cornering with composure and loads of feel and finesse. It’ll understeer if you’re clumsy, spin its wheels more than you expect if you’re lead-footed, but generally it’s more approachable and playful than its competitors.
And while its engine – which revs to 8000rpm – is less intoxicating, to my ears, than Porsche’s naturally aspirated 9000rpm GT3 RS unit and the Lamborghini Huracan Performante’s V10, it has the measure of the 911 GT2 RS and any current McLaren.
More than that, though, it helps exploit one of the greatest chassis in the business.
Should I buy one?
The chassis of the 488 Pista doesn’t feel night-and-day different to the regular GTB, which is a car that, for me, anyway, is still preferable to a McLaren 720S (though I’m in a minority on this website). This feels like GTB +20%, rather than a different animal. Put carpets and inertia-reel belts rather than harnesses in it and could even just be the next 488, rather than a motorsport-derived special.
That, though, is important to those who buy them. V8 Ferrari owners, even track special V8 Ferrari owners, do not tend to live on race tracks like owners of, say, GT3 RS Porsches. They’ll go once or twice, just to remind themselves they’ve made the right decision. I imagine that won’t take long.
About three corners ought to do it.
Ferrari 488 Pista
Where Modena, Italy Price £252,765; On sale now; Engine V8, 3902cc, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power 710bhp at 8000rpm; Torque 568lb ft at 3000rpm (7th gear); Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1385kg; Top speed 211mph; 0-62mph 2.9sec; Fuel economy 24.6mpg; CO2 263g/km; Rivals Lamborghini Huracan Performante, Porsche 911 GT2 RS