2008 Ferrari 430 Scuderia - Yellow Fever
The last time I drove a Ferrari F430, I came to the conclusion that there wasn't much wrong with it. Little did I know, that seemingly near-perfect car was a tad heavy, a bit underpowered, and--most surprising of all--lacking in electronic driver aids. So while the world at large seemed quite happy with the F430, Ferrari was coldly dismantling the car on a part-by-part basis and examining it, literally down to each lug nut, to figure out how it might get the machine to go just a little bit faster. Ferrari, it seems, has been hard at work addressing all the concerns you didn't know you had.
The result is the 430 Scuderia, a car that looks like an F430 and goes like an Enzo. You may recall that the Enzo was Ferrari's masterwork just a few years back, a V-12-powered showcase of everything Ferrari knew about building road cars. The Enzo would get around the company's Fiorano test track in 1 minute and 25 seconds, currently the record for a street-legal machine. The F430, for all its considerable wiles, does the Fiorano deed in 1 minute and 27 seconds--respectfully behind the big dog. But the 430 Scuderia reclaims those two seconds for the V-8 berlinetta camp, going wheel-to-wheel with Ferrari's all-time hero car. That's insane. That's also why I'm at Fiorano, to find out for myself how Ferrari wrings V-12 supercar performance out of its V-8 coupe.
I know what you're saying: if the differences between the F430 and the 430 Scuderia exist in those margins where professional drivers earn their paychecks, where tenths of a second here and there add up to the difference between an F430 and an Enzo, then how am I, Thumbs McGee, going to exploit that performance? Well, Ferrari has that problem covered, too, because one of the most practical Scuderia improvements is the addition of Ferrari's F1-Trac traction control system, which is integrated with the E-Diff electronically controlled differential.
F1-Trac allows the nonprofessional driver to explore the limits of the 430's performance by automating one of the trickiest aspects of ten-tenths driving in a high-powered car: throttle modulation on corner exit. With F1-Trac engaged, you merely point the nose toward the track-out point, floor the throttle, and let the electronics dole out as much power as conditions allow. "That's how you drive an F1 car," says Ferrari Formula 1 test driver Marc Gen. "If I'm driving at my best, I can lap a half-second quicker with the electronics off, but this system allows a regular driver to get very close to my lap time."
I'm eager to find out if that's the case, but before my turn can come, brooding thunderheads roll in and promptly douse the track. I bide my time hoping for sunshine by milling about the paddock and contemplating the various 430 Scuderias parked hither and thither. Ferrari-spotters will immediately recognize this model by its revised bodywork, but few of the performance changes are visible to the naked eye. If you peer down through the new Lexan engine cover, you'll see that the intake-plenum chambers and air-filter housings are rendered in carbon fiber, part of a diet that cuts 220 pounds from the F430's bulk and drops curb weight to 2975 pounds. (Ferrari lists "dry weight" as 2775 pounds, but quoting a car's weight minus all the essential fluids seems a bit like me saying "I weigh 150 pounds, not including my head. ") Other weight-saving measures include titanium springs for the suspension, standard carbon-ceramic brakes, titanium lug nuts, and that time-honored favorite of speed-seekers everywhere, good ol' content deletion. You want a stereo, go to Best Buy, because you're not getting one in the 430 Scuderia. (Unless, of course, you ask. Ferrari so hates to say no to its clienti.)
The weight loss is accompanied by more power, as improved breathing and ignition strategies net 24 additional horsepower, bringing the total to 503 hp. Part of that gain comes from a very high 11.9:1 compression ratio (up from the F430's 11.3), made possible by an ignition system that controls detonation by using a dedicated CPU to monitor each spark event in each cylinder. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration drops from the F430's 4.1 seconds down to what Ferrari claims is "less than 3.6 seconds." I enjoy that vagueness. It's as if Ferrari is saying that the 430 Scuderia is so fast, they can't even get a clock on it.
More power is always nice, but you're not catching an Enzo at Fiorano without paying attention to the corners as well. So the suspension is about half an inch lower, the springs more than 30 percent stiffer, and the brake rotors 0.7 inch bigger up front. The Pirelli PZero Corsa tires are so sticky that they've got a mere 60 tread-wear rating, which is similar to that of hot fudge. Revised aerodynamics generate more downforce with no increase in drag, partly through something called the "base bleed effect," which sounds like a medieval interrogation method but actually involves venting the rear fenderwells out the back bumper. And the F1-Superfast sequential manual gearbox, with its 150-millisecond shift times, is kicked to the curb in favor of the new F1-Superfast2, which rips through the gears with a mere 60 milliseconds between shifts.
In fact, so much is changed from the F430 that Ferrari figured they'd better take the new car to the Nrburgring and calibrate it all over again. For this task, they handed over the car to some obscure test driver named Michael Schumacher, who, among other things, suggested moving the front tire width up a size, from 225/35 to 235/35. More grip up front typically means less understeer, and less understeer equals more fun. Me likey, Herr Schumacher.
Unfortunately, I don't really get to sample the fruits of Schuey's labors, at least not at Fiorano. My track date with the 430 Scuderia is accompanied by buckets of rain and puddles of standing water, not exactly the ideal recipe for showcasing this car's talents. But when life gives me lemons, I make doughnuts. So I sneak back out onto the track, go straight to the hairpin, and practice my power slides until an irate track official rolls up in the safety car and declares, "Too much cornering!" I'd argue that, in the case of the 430 Scuderia, there's no such thing. Even in the rain, with the traction control disabled, it feels beautifully balanced and docile, easy to rein in if you get a little too enthusiastic with the throttle. I can see how a pro, on a dry track, could deactivate the car's technological safety nets and dance on the edge, finding that extra half-second of speed that eludes the grasp of even Ferrari's latest and greatest electronic talent multipliers.
Fortunately for me, a rainy morning gives way to a sunny afternoon, and while I've departed Fiorano, the serpentine roads in the hills outside Maranello are a fine consolation prize. This is also a great place to try out another 430 innovation: the dedicated damper-adjustment button. While the F430 integrates all its systems into the steering wheel manettino switch, the 430 Scuderia lets you adjust the suspension separately, for those times when you want to run in Race mode (quick shifts, high thresholds on electronic intervention) while having some extra compliance. With the manettino set to Race and the suspension set on soft, the 430 becomes a devastating tool for attacking real-world roads, sort of like the world's sexiest rally car. You can really throw it into a corner, confident that the crack in the pavement at the apex isn't going to bounce you into the opposite guardrail.
In fact, while the 430 Scuderia matches an Enzo at Fiorano, I suspect that it would leave it for dead out here in the switchbacks. As I blast from corner to corner, standing on the brakes and relying on those gooey PZeros to save the day, I can't imagine any better tool for back-road entertainment. The hills are alive with the sound of flat-plane-crank music. Coming out of a corner, it's a blood-curdling Waaaaap! Waaaaaap! Waaaaaaaaap!, then I'm on the brakes hard, flicking the left paddle to downshift, and--WAPWAPWAP!--I'm ready for the corner.
I eventually pull over, quivering with the adrenaline rush, and a 599GTB screams by, strange bulges on its hood indicating that it's a development mule. Its driver is really giving it a workout, and I can still hear the 599's engine screaming minutes later, when he must be miles away. I imagine that my little charge through these switchbacks must've been equally audible to the locals down in the valley below.
The 430 Scuderia's beguiling sound is no accident--back at Fiorano, the Ferrari engineers produce two charts. The first one measures the "articulation index," which is the percentage of your passenger's conversation that you can understand at a given speed. The 430 Scuderia matches the F430 on that front, although both of them seem surprisingly low, making me wonder if the passenger in question is Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband. The second chart is something that looks like a Doppler radar display but represents sound intensity. If the F430's chart looks like a partly cloudy day in Phoenix, the 430 Scuderia's is a volcanic eruption in the middle of a typhoon. Stealth, thy name is not 430 Scuderia.
As I head back to Fiorano at something closer to rational speeds, I ponder what Ferrari has wrought. You see, as a writer I enjoy it when a car fits into a tidy summary, and lightweight performance variations usually oblige. Usually one can say, "The Motospumanti XXX Lightweight Limited Edition is just like the Motospumanti XXX, except faster, less civilized, and harder to drive at the limit." But the 430 Scuderia doesn't fit your expectations.
Yes, it's Enzo-fast, but thanks to F1-Trac, it's actually easier to drive than the F430. The springs are starchier, but since you can now put the dampers in their soft setting while in Race mode, the 430 Scuderia is the more forgiving back-road dance partner. I'm reminded of a drink called the Snakebite that I once tried to order in Britain. The bartender wouldn't make it for me because, he said, it tastes too good for the amount of wallop it packs. Some people can't handle it. That's the brief on the 430 Scuderia, as well--enticingly sweet, but stiffer than you think.
So, where's the downside? In this case, the only real drawback (other than, as usual with Ferrari, price and limited production numbers) is that an alpha-dog Ferrari always has a limited reign. Once the first 430 Scuderias hit the street early next year, the clock will begin ticking down the moments until Ferrari raises its game once again. If you're the kind of competitive type who cares about that sort of thing (and I get the idea that Ferrari customers tend to be exactly the kind of competitive types who care about that sort of thing), then it might drive you a little bit mental that, in its own press kit for the 430 Scuderia, Ferrari hints that there's something even faster in the works. "For now," it reads, "the 430 Scuderia is currently the top weapon. But racing and constant challenges mean that the engineers at Ferrari will not disappoint those who always expect something more from them."
If you're one of the lucky few to get your hands on a 430 Scuderia, you won't be disappointed. This is the top of the food chain, baby. For now.