Italy: Testing a Ferrari at "God's Racetrack"
With everything that is going on in the world, it's been a challenge to keep up with this blog - especially when (understandably) racing has largely taken a hiatus around the world. I am now, with my family, keeping to the social distancing precautions and attending university remotely. This is the new reality of the world at the moment.
As you might well know, the Coronavirus pandemic has particularly affected the country of Italy. During my Christmas break, I had the opportunity to visit there and find what I consider to be a place that truly feels like a second home. Let me share with you some racing-related experiences, and in a little way make you think of happier things...
At the famous Galeria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan
They say Italy is "God's racetrack," and after my trip I know there's definitely truth in that statement. After visiting Rome and Florence, we stopped at the birthplace of Ferrari itself, the town of Maranello in the Emilia-Romagna region. Of course, as good car people, we made the pilgrimage to the Ferrari factory and museum.
Have I made it...?
The above picture is the old Scuderia Ferarri shop, where the factory and team moved from its original location, at Enzo Ferrari's hometown of Modena. It was a bit emotional, standing here right where some true legends of motorsports checked in to go to work. I am obviously too young to really know much about them, but their influence is not lost on me. In many ways, this is like a center of Maranello pride.
The Ferrari museum was a fantastic experience, an exposition of art, engineering, history and passion. I was very impressed by this beautiful display of Ferrari Driver's Championship winning cars, from Ascari to Räikkönen . Just thinking of the people that sat in these cars...Michael, Gilles, Niki...was something quite special.
At the Ferrari museum I had the opportunity to try one of the factory's F1 driving simulators, designed by the same people that put together the sims for the F1 team. These state-of-the-art rigs feature a very advanced motion-control system, which uses telemetry based on the actual 2019 F1 car, the SF90. This is the closest one can get to the actual car, if your last name isn't Vettel or LeClerc:
Getting into the simulator required an orientation by one of the sim personnel, including a high-level explanation of the wheel controls and sim parameters. You are strapped into it the exact way you would in the real car. One small detail, though: I had not anticipated this sim run, so I wasn't wearing my racing shoes - I had to go barefoot!
On the approach to Les Fagnes corner at Spa
Ferrari uses a "proprietary" (meaning custom-made) version of the Asetto Corsa software, produced by Kunos software in Rome. The rig itself is made by a company named Evotek, and it's their top of the line Sym 027 model. Piston and actuators simulate chassis activity while driving (pitch, roll, yaw, etc.), giving a surprisingly realistic experience - seat belt actuators help to convey some of the braking and acceleration G-Forces. I'm happy to say I posted very competitive times at Spa for 2019.
From the title of this blog entry you've probably guessed what comes next, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test a Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione car at the Autodromo di Modena. This was an opportunity to put an honest to goodness racing Ferrari through its paces at a track that has its share of history.
Autodromo di Modena is famous for being Ferrari's original test track before the Pista di Fiorano (the team's private test track) opened in the early 70s. Other makers such as Maserati and Alfa Romeo used it to test their racing cars. My test came courtesy of a company called Motorsports Maranello in Modena, with a special dispensation for my being an experienced racer - this means "all the revs" were available to me (I could push the car) and they kindly let me use their "fast" configuration - eliminating the loop at the beginning of the back straight, making it a much faster sector of track.
Strapping into the 458 Challenge Evoluzione
I would have a co-driver with me all the time, which a bit strange, since it would be the first time I've driven in anger with a passenger! Nevertheless, this was all understandable, as this is an extremely expensive piece of machinery - every precaution was forgiven.
The Ferrari 458 Challenge Evoluzione is powered by a 4.5 liter V8 engine making 562 bhp (at 9000 rpm). Zero to 60mph takes a little under 3.4 seconds, with a 201mph top speed. While Modena is normally not one of the fastest tracks in the land, the removal of the back straight loop meant I could sample just about everything this car had to give...
After an orientation session and a warmup lap, it was time to let loose in this machine - my co-driver Piero duly advised me to keep under 7000rpm, a piece of information that I duly ignored along with the rather early braking that was also advised - this was much to his initial consternation, but after the first lap I quickly gained his trust:
Down the straight "at full chat"
This is easily the most powerful/fastest car I've driven - surprisingly easy to handle and extremely rewarding once you get to grips with just how much power you have under your right foot, and just how much you need to stand on those powerful brakes. The sequential, paddle gearbox was positive and direct, inspiring in you the confidence to "throw the car around" and enjoy each and every lap...Thanks to Piero and the folks at Motorsport Maranello for the great opportunity.
We followed this with a quick visit to the Lamborghini factory at St. Agata Bolognese, and lunch at a great restaurant with a lot of Lamborghini and motorsports memorabilia (seems like most restaurants in that region share that trait).
Lamborghini Countach LP400
Earlier I mentioned Modena as being the original location of Scuderia Ferrari, and we had the opportunity to visit the Museo Enzo Ferrari in that town. Again, I was most impressed with the respect for tradition and the respect the Modenese have for their most famous son.
Original Ferrari shop, restored as it was when it was when owned by Ferrari's father, Alfredo. Enzo himself was born here.
Alain Prost's 1990 Ferrari 641 (or F1/90). To me, this is the most beautiful Ferrari F1 car ever.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience. For someone who is into motorsport, and especially a driver, it is something very, very special. This will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I still hope to have the opportunity to drive one of these cars again - for now, I am glad I was able to drive this one like it was meant to be driven, and understand the passion that fuels the wonderful people of Maranello and that is so central to that beautiful and wonderful country.
I want this pandemic to end, and the news of Italian recovery - however slow - make me hopeful that this place of the world that is in my heart will again be bursting back with the life and beauty that I came to know. Until then, please stay safe. Follow all the necessary precautions and remember that our health and safety come first. Let's keep our faith: Before we know it, this will be over and I'll back with more news, and hopefully a return to the cockpit. Until next time!