A Ferrari from miles away-miles. People told us as much: faces contorted through childish excitement at having seen, heard, and almost felt the sheer physicality of a 599GTO running fast. Sitting inside, torso pinched by carbon Sabelt buckets that shave nineteen pounds from a 599GTB's seat shell, you're aware of the noise, but it no longer registers as something especially notable, because there comes a point at which concentration overrules sensory faculties, and it wouldn't matter if the Concorde were taking off ten feet away.
Tipping the GTO into Schwedenkreuz, the mother of all turns at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, is one of those moments. The anatomy of this turn, and the right-hander at Aremberg that follows, defines this car perhaps more clearly than any other sequence of bends.
A few seconds ago, the car was careening downhill at an indicated 180 mph-guardrails no more than fifteen feet from either mirror. Then came the terrifying entry point, which is blind and cambered and pulls the machine inexorably to the outside edge of the pavement, where accidents of dental-record proportions await the foolhardy.
Speed is the issue here. If you know the place well, you should be able to turn, clip, and exit without danger, even beyond 120 mph, but the GTO piles on the momentum with such alarming ease that the braking zones require concentration. I have raced very fast cars here for years, but I've never driven anything that hauls like this 661-hp animal. The latest generation of carbon-ceramic brakes do a great job, even if the pedal travel is a little long, but the simple fact remains that you enter these braking zones -- places with no runoff and minimal margin for error -- 20 mph faster than in the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS. It takes serious adjustment.
Unquestionably, the GTO has the most impressive steering response and front-end grip of any front-engine sports car. The project brief for the GTO, aside from the paradigm increase instraight-line performance, was simple: eradicate understeer. Above 120 mph -- the speed at which the GTO enters Schwedenkreuz -- the combination of aerodynamic and tire grip is very impressive. The steering is slightly sterile and numb -- fast, too -- but when you request a small direction change, the car delivers precisely that: it inspires great confidence and allows you to lean harder and harder on the GTO when firing into turns. At this juncture, the GTO seems entirely, unflinchingly omniscient-built to devour this circuit. It scoots through, then sheds 75 mph in a blink for the following right-hander, Aremberg.