Ferrari 458 Italia at the Buddh International Circuit
You can live a lifetime in a moment, it's lines like that, that made the mushy Mills and Boon paperbacks a household name. It's a line that reeks of dinner time soaps, Santa Barbara and saas bahu lingo. To me that line is as fragile as toilet paper, rip one off and the roll rolls on. I would never have thought that line could associate itself with me. My life has been colourful, eventful and everyday brings with it something interesting. So a lifetime in a moment really meant nothing.
And yet jump out of a plane 30,000 feet above sea level and the phrase takes on new meaning. Or drive a Ferrari 458 Italia at a race track, not any old track but one that flows with such rapidity it can make people hurl in fright or sheer delight. That was my nirvana moment! I was at the Ferrari experience at the BIC with all the cars in the range involved and my editor ordered me to 'go and cover it'. At first I was apprehensive about the whole experience, why me, I don't even like the brand though he does? The only sliver of respite would be the 458 Italia. I've driven the car before, it was the first Ferrari I drove and as an introduction to the brand it was impressive. Fortunately it would be like the only acquaintance you come across at a seminar you don't want to be at, a welcome relief to see someone familiar.
As expected the Ferrari experience was beginning to taste like Mysore pak. The sweetmeat arranged in a elaborate display is always impressive but a pak does not last too long and never leaves you entirely satisfied. Quite similar to the first drive of the day in the very new FF. It's an interesting car to look at because you have never ever seen any Ferrari look like this. The FF is a sort of a gene pool mix of an estate and a supercar and answers to the shooting brake classification. It's a car that does a few firsts for Ferrari, chiefly it's the first four-wheel drive powertrain for Ferrari. But traditional rear-wheel drive Ferraris have always been more exciting. One because they are lighter and on a more lighter note allow a lot more sideways action. The gist of the story anyways is that we did not drive the FF more than a couple of hundred metres leaving me terribly disappointed. But Sirish did, a lot more and in conditions you would never ever expect to see a Ferrari in. That story is in next month's issue, read it and let it warm your toes.
So it's back to the old acquaintance, the only face familiar and friendly in this lot, the 458 Italia. I last drove the 458 Italia a couple of years ago in Italy up the Raticossa and Futa pass close to Modena where the Ferrari factory dwells. The 458 was exhilarating but on public roads there are limits to exploring its abilities, at a racetrack however there are none. Never a better time and place then to get reacquainted with a car I consider one of the finest examples of a supercar. And what a fine example it is, the 458 Italia is the replacement to the F430 but as far as next of generation goes, the 458 Italia is generations ahead. It almost makes the 430 feel like your grandfather. He might have been hip in his time but he's now way past his prime.
Anyways, time to get back to driving the 458 on the BIC. Straight out of pit lane is a right hand corner that flows fast downhill, before rapidly climbing up left into a blind, very sharp right hander. The 458 Italia swings into it like a go kart, third gear and exhaust howling as the rev needle inches toward the red line. The left uphill climb is off camber and you can feel a slight tug as Newton's laws try and force the 458 Italia into understeer. It is the most demanding section on the BIC because the corners flow rapidly into one another and you have to assume a braking and turn in point that is blind. In a race it isn't a corner where sensational overtaking maneuvers will be executed. It is however a corner that will punish severely for any error in judgement. It's a corner where any race driver can lose a lot of time if entry and exit aren't inch perfect. It's a very demanding corner and stresses several components on the 458 Italia, namely the magnetorheological dampers (why such a long name for magnetic dampers is beyond me?) and the tyres. The dampers however work like a charm constantly adjusting to the changes in dynamic forces.
The 458 is also a compact car and if you ever get to drive one at a racetrack, you'd know what I mean. It's not compact in the literal sense but you just know intutively where every inch of this car is positioned on a racetrack. It's like your hand being able to tell its way around your body, even when it's pitch dark. That sort of communication comes from the steering, which has an incredibly direct ratio and the fat grippy tyres.
On the long straight the 458's direct injection V8 engine works as furiously as a motorcycle engine. It's light, revs fast and high and has 570PS of max power that screams its way out of the three pipes at the rear at 9000rpm. There are five lights in the steering wheel that indicate when it's time to shift to a higher gear as the engine gets closer to its redline, but they are flashing faster than my fingers can yank the paddles. I'm also counting the digits rising on the speedometer and it's changing so fast it's hard to register as individual numbers or even in clumps of tens. 130...150...160...190...210... and it takes all my willpower to look down one final time and see the numbers still climbing rapidly past 240kmph before I have to slam the carbon ceramic brakes unless I want to firmly embed myself in the Armco. That's how it proceeds for the next series of corners, the 458 Italia is relentless. I don't even have to consciously breathe, the G forces from all the accelerating and braking force air into and out of my lungs. There I just found another job profile for the 458 Italia, it can double up as a ventilator!
Unfortunately for me a Ferrari driving instructor muttering a prayer under his breath is my co-passenger. There's one in every car and mine is trying his hardest not to sing a hymn as well, as I try and get the tail to step out sideways before the parabola. But the 458 Italia won't and I realise why, the manettino is stuck in race mode which allows only a small sliver of freedom to the rear wheels. It's like my dad was with his deadlines, 'You can only stay out till 8 pm', 'But dad the invitation says the party begins at 8', 'Yes that's ok but come home by 8'. Frustrating, even more so since the instructors won't let us switch off the traction aids. Yet allowing the traction control systems in the 458 Italia can be a benefit, if you know how to use them to your advantage. This means braking at all the right points and driving like a race car driver would, save the tyres, save the brakes and save the drift show theatrics for another time.
I wind up the lap exhilarated, and continue for another. Despite the lack of hooliganism the 458 Italia with all its civility and incredible manners is every bit entertaining. And isn't that just what every supercar ought to be, entertaining? Just like a work of art, for instance a Picasso is at its best when it's pinned to a wall, the 458 is at its most invigorating at a racetrack. Now if only I can convince Ferrari to let me be alone with the 458 Italia for a day at the BIC!