Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Is the Ferrari 488 Pista the definitive supercar of 2018?

To find out the answer, we dashed round Dubai Autodrome in the most powerful V8 Prancing Horse of all-time

There seems to be something about December in Dubai that attracts the cream of motoring brilliance to our shores – this time last year, The National had the pleasure of piloting Bugatti's physics-defying Chiron hypercar along the desert roads of Al Qudra. For Christmas this year, I asked Santa to fix it for me to jump behind the wheel of the most powerful V8 Ferrari of all-time in the UAE. In his favourite colours, red and white, naturally.

This wasn’t only about ticking lofty driving goals for me, however – the Ferrari 488 Pista is a truly rarefied machine, even by the history-stuffed standards of the Prancing Horse. It is a track monster allowed to escape the confines of the world’s circuits and attack the tarmac as a road-legal supercar and then some. Ferrari basically looked at its already-desirable 488 GTB and yelled: “BORING!”

It continues a clear model lineage of such exploits that began with the Challenge Scuderia in 2003, continued via the 430 Scuderia in 2007, and most recently featured the 458 Speciale in 2013.

Inspiration comes in the shape of two non-RTA-compliant motorsport versions of the 488 – the Le Mans-ready GTE and the single-series Challenge. The Pista’s turbocharged 3.9-litre V8 is a direct evolution of the Challenge racing unit, with upgrades so complex you nigh on need an engineering degree to fully understand every tinkered-with element. There are a raft of overall improvements, including but not limited to a new air-intake layout and titanium components derived from Ferrari’s long, illustrious expertise in Formula One.

It pumps out 720hp at a pleasingly stratospheric 8,000rpm; torque peaks at 770nm. That power figure is up 50 horses on the GTB, but the real headline news is that with a 90-kilogram weight reduction and 20 per cent better aerodynamic efficiency, Ferrari has metaphorically turned a space rocket on wheels in to the Starship Enterprise. You can smash through the 100kph mark from standing in 2.85 seconds (versus 3.0 seconds in the GTB) and make light work of 340kph at full belt. Ferrari proudly trumpets the fact that the Pista is, not unsurprisingly, notably louder than its politer sibling. It is shouty in every respect.

Aiding those aforementioned performance gains is the presence of more carbon fibre than on any Ferrari road car to date – most visibly, in the 10-prong, 20 inch rims, but also with new carbon-fibre bumpers, bonnet and rear spoiler, the last of which is larger and more inclined than the GTB’s. Carbon is all over the interior, too, alongside lashings of Alcantara. The quest to reduce weight also chisels away at any veneer of practicality: the glovebox goes bye-bye to facilitate a slimmer dashboard.

The exterior, replete with tip-to-tail racing stripe, turns the GTB’s sharp visage into something far more foreboding, with a slightly shortened nose and a rear diffuser inspired by the racing GTE.

Its makers claim that the Pista suffers from zero turbo lag – and on the evidence of my laps around Dubai Autodrome’s Club Circuit, I can’t call the Italians liars. The most startling aspect is the Pista’s brakes, though, which catapult you towards the windscreen seemingly no matter how tightly the racing-harness-style seat belts are fastened. It takes a mere 29.5 metres to stop from 100kph. That is less than a third of the length of a football pitch.

On-track, that is a sensation that proves difficult to process, but I’ll try: you know how when a jet fighter lands on an aircraft carrier, its momentum is twanged backwards by a cable catching the plane’s tailhook? Yeah, that. Immense.

Sadly, I was thrown the keys to the Pista a couple of weeks too late for it to make our Car of the Year rundown, but could this be the definitive supercar of 2018? I certainly haven’t driven anything that could claim to be such a thoroughbred racer on road, although the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ probably has something to say – nay, growl – about that.

That is a comparatively unrefined beast, however, with 12 screaming cylinders fit to give you a migraine on the regular and visibility on par with developing tunnel vision. The Pista, on the other hand, takes two-thirds of those chambers and provides more balance and ability than pretty much anything else at this price. Well, we think so, anyway, because local pricing isn’t really relevant any more, with every example long since snapped up – it is already on its way to becoming a collectors’ item to continue the latter-day trend of super-high-end supercars being better investments than gold. The 488 Pista is certainly worth its weight in said precious metal.

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Updated: January 2, 2019 07:39 PM

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