A day in the life of a Ferrari test driver
Drive the roads that Ferrari’s test drivers use. Eat in the restaurant its drivers call a home from home. Feel the ghosts of Ferrari’s past. Make 2013 the year you become a true car enthusiast.
Have you ever dreamt about the life of a Ferrari test driver? Ever thought about the glamour, the sunshine, and the celebrity status around the Emilia-Romagna region? We certainly have, and luckily for us, Ferrari was happy to help.
We managed to secure a day in their fastest road-legal machine to leave the Maranello production line. The roads we tackled in the 599 GTO are the very same roads upon which Enzo Ferrari might just have sampled its collectable predecessors, the legendary 250 GTO and 288 GTO, before giving his approval to machines built to give Ferrari the edge in motorsport.
We collect the keys, a daunting prospect considering the significance of the car. The 208mph machine is the road-legal evolution of the 599XX track car – it’s highly advanced and extremely rare. Something so special that only 599 of the new GTOs – Gran Turismo Omologato – will find homes, and Ferrari says all are sold out, anyway. Oh, and this is number 1 of 599.
The test drivers eye our departure with a warranted suspicion, questioning who is caring for the favourite child of their prized family. The car’s single-clutch, six-speed transmission behaves impeccably in stop-start traffic, and despite there being a 6.0-litre V12 in the nose, with an intimidating 661bhp at your right foot’s disposal, this is a car you could happily use for the school run.
The sound of speed
Once we’re in the hills overlooking Maranello, it’s time to see if this generation of GTO can capture the essence of its predecessors. Ferrari focussed on taking the 599 GTB Fiorano and increasing power, decreasing weight, reducing understeer and improving downforce, learning from its 599XX programme.
As the road opens and the accelerator hits the floor, the monstrous V12 engine consumes you. The noise is utterly stunning.
The engine doesn’t deliver its peak power until 8,250rpm, or peak torque (458Ib/ft) until 6,500rpm, so revs are required. Obligingly sink your right foot and the V12 thunders as the lightweight exhaust blares, with pops and crackles during upshifts or downshifts of the impeccably fast-acting transmission – 60 milliseconds, since you ask.
'Released from restraint, the GTO absolutely explodes into life. Bucket seats grip you tightly, and both the driver and passenger are glad of their foot brace, as the brakes – carbon ceramic discs with ceramic pads – throw you forward into the four-point harness. The specially developed Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres cling to the road with an unforgiving grip.
Feel the road beneath you
Switch off the driving aids and the chassis proves to be playful rather than intimidating. You can feel what’s happening beneath as the car powers out of turns with slight oversteer, eating up the road before you. The V12 growls and roars up to its rev range once again and the LED gearshift lights in the steering wheel continue a frenzied blinking, demanding another gear.
With the Manettino switch offering five different settings to suit the driving and weather conditions, you can always choose to have a helping hand.
Locals proudly raise hands in salute when they see the GTO. Some appear old enough to remember the original and elusive 250 GTO, of 1962 – only 36 were ever made. Others are barely old or tall enough to peer out of the back window and wave. We pass other Ferraris, and even though their drivers are hidden behind sunglasses, there’s no escaping their stares. This is a machine that both transcends and unites generations in their collective admiration.
The roads were superb and the driving experience has been mind blowing, a fitting tribute to the GTO name. Now would be a good time to return their precious baby. But you know what? We don’t have to be back just yet...
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