Extreme Close-up - A famous speed palace swings open its gates for the first test of the car that shares its name
“Sorry, but only Italian cars are allowed at the Fiorano track.” Photographer Mark Bramley and I looked at each other in dismay. But Davide Kluzer, our Ferrari host, was unbending. If we wanted to test the new 599 on the famous test track it’s named for, we would have to transfer our cases into his Fiat Multipla and be ferried in. (And only when our empty rental Ford clicked locked, did the ice-faced guard finally nod us through.)
However, barely 100 meters further on-through a short tunnel beneath the track pavement that passes overhead-the silliness of this Italian-only rule evaporated. Two hundred miles north of Rome, Pista Di Fiorano (Pista meaning track; Fiorano being a tiny town encapsulated by Maranello) is the epicenter of Italy’s runner-up religion. A place even Pope John Paul II visited in 1988 to celebrate mass. From an altar erected atop the pit structure, no less.
And like John Paul’s Vatican, Fiorano is sort of a working museum, with a swirling, St. Peter’s-like mix of immediate human concerns and revered artifacts. By far Fiorano’s most notable time capsule is Enzo’s enshrined office, which sits as he left it and includes its most intriguing relic, Il Commendatore’s Googiesque “Batphone” (as Bramley quietly cracked). Ferrari, who rarely went to races, relied on this contraption to interact with the world beyond Maranello. One wonders what passed through its wires: Drivers who disappointed, fired; a crazy-fast new kid with a promising lack of imagination, hired; qualifying times heard from every corner of the planet. You’re tempted to press the phone’s speaker against your ear to listen for a while. Although Fiorano was completed in 1972 (setting the stage for Niki Lauda’s era), it’s thick with the scuderia’s entire history of conquering successes, drivers lost in tumbling automotive shrapnel, and mass firings of St. Valentine’s day-proportions. Not your everyday test track.
But this day, Fiorano is relatively at ease because the Formula 1 team was practicing in Japan (where M. Schumacher’s attempt to put a cherry on his monumental career would abruptly grenade two days later in a cloud of white smoke). Nevertheless, the team is never far away; nearby, a display screen was scrolling with practice times coming in from Suzuka. News from the front.
Meanwhile, I was getting intimate with our 599 (with Rossa Corsa paint, by the way-blood red rather than the model’s exclusive Rossa Monza metallic burgundy). And, well, guess I should explain. Primarily, I was here to bag acceleration, braking, and cornering data on the 599. Previously, Art St. Antoine has offered his driving impressions of the car (“Red Dragon,” July 2006), and Frank Markus even piloted an example across Peru (“Inca Spots,” December 2006). But my cherry-on-top was to hyper-instrument the car for another of our new Virtual Track Tests for motortrend.com, meaning lots of crawling around on hands and knees taping yards of wires to the Ferrari’s flanks. Studying the master’s canvas with nose right against the paint to put a positive spin on it.
The Fiorano’s shape-sort of like the Keep-On-Truck’n guy stance-has one foot stretched way in the future, the other resting in the past. It’s obviously a child of the 575M Maranello and a descendant of the 365 GTB Daytona, with a long nose and a stubby stern, a rakish profile, and a cockpit worn like a tight baseball cap. It’s simultaneously an aerodynamic white paper on how to make a fast car (205 mph) stable without a single feather of rear-wing plumage. How? The 599’s bottom-side venturis’ vacuum can exceed its bodyworks lift by up to 419 pounds, and this is thoughtfully proportioned according to the static axle weights. The drag, meanwhile, is minimized by those free-standing (look closely) flying rear buttresses that pinch the air laterally around the car’s curved and, dare we say, Corvette-like rear glass. Truth is, to our American eyes, the car has more than a few Corvette cues about it (the hood power dome being one too many). But all of them are Vette in a thrilling, cape-over-the-shoulder Italian way.
Standing up, I rested my hand against the fender and felt it flex a bit. Unlike the basically steel 575 Maranello, the 599 is an aluminum job like every regular production Ferrari since the F430 (the Enzo being a limited-production deal). Though a much bigger car, it’s crucially 90 pounds lighter than the Maranello. Manager of road testing Nicola Porciani commented that despite its size, the Fiorano was intended to be a sharper knife than even the F40 while keeping the 575 Maranello’s butteryness in casual cruising. “A devil and an angel at the same time.”
Climbing into the Ferrari’s passenger seat, Raffaele De Simone, Ferrari’s wiry young new-road-car test driver (see Page 4) started the engine-whompf, errrrrr-and glanced at me. “Let’s do a few laps to record the car’s performance with the race mode on and then shut it off to see how they compare.” Raffaele nodded. This would be an interesting comparison; Ferrari claims its highfalutin’ Formula 1-derived F1-Trac stability is the ultimate solution for fast driving while hanging onto a software safety net. How good is it? I squeezed tight on the armrest.
I should’ve squeezed tighter. The 5999cc, Enzo-inspired V-12 feels a lot faster than 612 horsepower. These are biting, kicking horses, every 0.1-second F1-superfast gearshift another chiropractor appointment. It’s fortunate smoother shifts are selectable for normal driving, but when you put the stick to it, Ferrari’s superfast shifts can firecracker through the gears every bit as quickly as the much-lauded DSG approach. Indeed, fast enough that when I later tried my hand at acceleration runs, the car staggered sideways at each 8000-rpm, flat-foot, pulselike shift. (Patiently, Raffaele showed me how it’s done by hopping in and nailing a 3.2-second 0-to-60 time after the U.S.-traditional one-foot rollout.) On Pista Di Fiorano’s longest straight, Automobile Fiorano was touching 137 mph, its engine’s variable camshaft timing helping it pull like, well, a prancing mule.
In the middle of one corner, I strained to ask Raffaele how the front-engine 599 handles compared with the mid-engine F430 or Enzo. “But the 599 is mid-engine.” And he’s right. It’s front-mid-engined, with physics that are almost “engine behind the driver.” “It was strange for me, too, in the beginning. The front axle is lightly weighted.” De Simone is talking as much to himself as me. Weight distribution is rear-biased (47/53), due to the shoved-back engine and transaxle, with 85 percent of the Fiorano’s girth captured between the wheels. While the steering wheel’s manettino switch also can select between ice, low grip, and sport settings (all employing conventional reactive stability control), it’s in race mode that it consults with its sophisticated, predictive vehicle-dynamics model, letting you dance closer to the flames. The tail drifts wide enough for maximum speed, but no more.
The engine sits low in the 599 due to its dry-sump lubrication and smaller-diameter dual-plate clutch-good for handling and necessary to keep the hoodline svelte while accommodating mandated pedestrian crush-space. With the magnetorheological shocks firmed, the 599 pulled 1.08 g in the slower corners and about the same in braking (equivalent to 105 feet from 60 mph). These Pirelli PZeros are flypaper tires: When we inadvertently rolled over a download cable, the tire’s stick picked it up and tried to wrap it around the suspension.
Lap times? These weren’t meant to be screamers (the car had other appointments to keep), but subjectively, Raffaele’s F1-Trac race-mode laps had a laser-beam speed intensity to them that his slightly faster, stability-off ones lacked. In flat-out lapping, the 599 has recorded times 3.5 seconds faster than the Maranello-1.5 seconds behind the mighty Enzo.
Our data-collecting duties done, Mark and I walked around Fiorano as the day ebbed, past locker doors with “Schumacher” and “Massa” on them, past Enzo’s office as a housekeeper switched off the lights and shuttered the windows. Yellow Ferrari flags relaxed overhead.
The primordial pulse of motor racing can be felt here and maybe puts perspective on that remarkable Brazilian Grand Prix that snapped closed the book on Michael Schumacher’s monumental career. Watching a guy with more money than he could bonfire every day for the rest of his life, and another championship completely out the window, repeatedly nail lap records in his final Formula 1 moments was stirring. You might have to reach as far back as Niki Lauda’s Ferrari return six weeks after his flaming Nrburgring crash (and hearing the Last Rites) for an inspirational comparison. Perhaps that both of the German’s and the Austrian’s cars wore a prancing horse is just a coincidence. Maybe they would’ve done the same things driving for Minardi or McLaren.
But in this place, you comprehend the urge that might make drivers do remarkable things. And make engineers rise above their normal excellence to build a car they call Fiorano.
Future shaper-in-chief of Ferrari feel takes the baton
For the last 26 years, Dario Benuzzi (pictured right), Ferrari’s head test driver, has had the world’s best job all to himself. Day after day, following yet another struggle to warp the time/space continuum around Fiorano’s 1.83 miles, Dario’s words into an engineer’s ear have helped sculpt the roadgoing character of every roadgoing Ferrari of the last quarter century. Tickled with your Testarossa? Credit Dario. Miserable with your Mondial? Dario again. He’s so highly esteemed that when the Olympic torch passed through Maranello on its way to the Winter Games in Turin, Benuzzi was selected to carry the flame into the factory.
But these days the legendary man in black sunglasses is getting help from a 26-year-old protg who’s likely to become Maranello’s future shaper-in-chief of Ferrari feel. “My name, Rafaelle. My surname, de Simone. Rafaelle de Simone.”
“I started as a mechanic and began racing when I was 17,” begins the wiry, warm-eyed Rafaelle in accented, but meticulously precise English, “and now I’m beginning my fourth year with Ferrari.” For all the gesticulating passion Italian conversation entails, Rafaelle speaks in serene, liquid sentences. The hands move only when they’re on a steering wheel.
His typical day starts at half past eight with an engineering briefing, but that’s the last thing predictable about it. “I move a lot. Often I test 100 percent of the car’s components, so there might be an acclimatization test in the north of Europe one day, brake testing with Brembo the next, and tire testing with Pirelli after that. The 599 has a team of 40 persons, and we all work hard here at Fiorano because increasingly our owners are driving their cars on racetracks.” Eighty percent of the track testing happens here, with the remainder divided between Ferrari-owned Mugello, Hockenheim, and the Nrburgring. Yet that accounts for no more than 30 percent of Rafaelle’s time; 60 percent is on the roads around Maranello where the manettino steering-wheel switch affords quick subjective comparisons of ride and handling settings. Ten percent is spent reviewing data. And when does his day end? He smiles. “Depends. If you reach the required result by six p.m., you can go to dinner. If not, it may be midnight.”
All this should give de Simone the countenance of a Ferrari authority, but Rafaelle immediately rejects the mantle. “My father and grandfather knew such cars as the 333SP directly. I am young,” he smiles. “I can only read about Ferrari’s history.” A daunting proposition given the piles of books already written about the goings on in Maranello. But lap after lap, de Simone is beginning to add his name to them.
2007 FERRARI 599 GTB FIORANO
|DRIVETRAINAYOUT||Front engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||65-degree V-12, aluminum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||366.1 cu in/5999 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||612 hp @ 7600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||448 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||6.1 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed auto-clutch manual|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT & REAR||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|STEERING TURNS LOCK-TO-LOCK||2.4|
|BRAKES, F:R||15.7-in drilled & vented carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in drilled & vented carbon-ceramic disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||19×8.0; 20×11.0, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/40ZR19 94Y; 305/35ZR20 104Y, Pirelli PZero|
|TRACK, F/R||66.5/63.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||183.7 x 77.2 x 52.6 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.3 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3750 lb (mfr)|
|WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION, F/R||47/53% (mfr)|
|SHOULDER ROOM||56.5 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||11.3 cu ft|
|Acceleration to mph|
|PASSING 45-65 MPH||1.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.3 sec @ 126.4 mph|
|TOP SPEED||205 mph (mfr)|
|BRAKING, 100-0 MPH||288 ft|
|60-0 MPH||105 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.08 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2520 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$283,845|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, front head|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/unlimited miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||3 yrs/unlimited miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||27.7 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||11/15 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Premium unleaded|