M C-ing a dream

Team OD Published: August 26, 2011, 04:37 AM IST

There's something about Italy. The country has some of the most beautiful women on the planet, is known for its exotic food, and I do not need to tell you about the achingly beautiful Italian cars, right? I think every enthusiast dreams about getting behind the wheel and experiencing the beauty and the finesse of Italian cars. I got my chance when I was asked to go drive the latest Maserati, the MC Stradale. At the Shanghai International Circuit, no less.

This Italian sportscar name has a rich history behind it, some excellent cars but compared to the well-known brands, has a quieter, dignified sort of presence. And I was going to get introduced to it by their new flagship car. But first, a little history.

The Maserati story began way back in 1914, when the Maserati brothers established the brand in Bologna. But the first Maserati complete with the famous trident logo was born in 1926. It was called the Tipo 26, and won in its debut race in the same year. Maserati continued making successful race cars in the ensuing years, but the most memorable moment for Maserati perhaps was in 1957, when Juan Manuel Fangio won the F1 championship in a Maserati 250F. Following the World Championship win, Maserati started focusing on road cars, and motorsport activities were given lesser importance. The big boost for the brand came in the 1990s when Maserati was first bought over by Fiat in 1993, and then Ferrari in 1997. Ever since, Maserati has produced some really juicy cars that have returned the name to its former glory. Maserati also made a comeback in racing with its MC12 that was built on a modified Ferrari Enzo engine and chassis.

Maserati's current line-up includes the fifth-generation Quattroporte â€" a four-door sedan, the Gran Cabrio â€" one of the best-looking convertibles in the world and the Gran Turismo â€" the grand tourer. But the hottest Maserati's is their latest â€" the MC Stradale. The MC is the new version of the Gran Turismo, and replaces the latter as the range-topper. MC stands for Maserati Corse (as in Maserati Racing) while Stradale literally means road in Italian, and the car is a tribute to Maserati's racing heritage. Maserati says the MC Stradale is a race-ready road car, and is a fitting example of Maserati's ability to create beauty with passion and draws inspiration from current generation Maserati race cars such as the Trofeo Gran Turismo MC and GT4. Every single aspect of the Gran Turismo has been tweaked to perfection to justify the Stradale's billing as being the best Maserati yet.

Every curve and line on the Stradale's Pininfarina-designed body is considered design that contributes to its styling as well as its function. The huge grill upfront is a signature trait, while the 'smiling' air scoops on both sides look awesome and help cool the engine as well.

It's an aggressive design. The trident logo sits in the middle of the wide grill at the front, giving the car a mean look further accentuated by the front spoiler at the bottom and flared wheel arches. The slots in the side wings on each side are a trademark Maserati detail while the sharp edged headlamps add to the intense sense of focus with a hint of the ominous. At the rear the Stradale employs a redesigned bumper with a re-engineered diffuser and a spoiler. Given its reworked body styling, the MC Stradale is able to develop 25 percent more downforce at the front in comparison to the Gran Turismo S. At the rear, the Stradale generates an impressive 50 percent more downforce than the Gran Turismo S. The triangular tail lights, twin exhaust pipes and 20-inch alloy wheels complement the racy stance.

Inside, it's a luxo-fest. The interiors are swathed in alcantara, to reduce weight. Behind the steering wheel are the carbon-fibre paddle-shifters. And importantly, the paddles in the Stradale â€" or any Maserati for that matter - are not mounted on the steering wheel, but on the column. A two-seater, the comfortable seats are moulded carbon-fibre with a standard four-point harness. And just to make a point, all this carbon and alcantara business is part of the 110kg the MC has lost over the Gran Turismo S.

Driving time! We were quickly briefed and then given a set of demonstration laps - at which point I realised that we weren't doing the full race lap. Which meant that I wouldn't be barreling down the back straight in full anger like I was hoping to. But the deep hum of the Stradale's V8 quickly elevated my mood once again. The 4691cc, V8 engine is borrowed from the Gran Turismo S and tweaked to put out 10PS more, 450PS at 7000rpm. Maserati have managed to up the power output by reducing internal frictional losses in the engine, which in turn has helped improve efficiency as well. Maximum torque is 510Nm at 4750rpm. The combined effort of the Stradale's weight loss program and the engine tweaks together help it achieve a feat no other Maserati has been able to â€" the Stradale is the first Maserati to break the 300kmph barrier, and boasts a claimed top speed of 301kmph.

And then it was time. To open wide those doors, slip my bum in to the seats, fire up the V8 and exit the pit lane and let the V8 loose. It's almost as if the throttle pedal was connected to my adrenaline glands rather than the engine. I was pushed into the seat by the acceleration, while I swiftly overdosed on the hormone. Brake hard moments later for turn one and feel the light steering offer you precision and control as I was able to make the car go exactly where I wanted with very little effort. In sport mode, the gearshifts come quickly, and I was to experience the race mode on the next lap. Shift times for the Stradale's electro-actuated gearbox vary. In Auto mode, the gearbox takes 140 milliseconds. In sport mode that drops to 100 milliseconds, whereas in race mode it is down to 60 milliseconds. Sport and Race modes also open up flaps in the exhaust giving the audible presence of the MC Stradale an incredible fury.

A car this fast deserves extra-powerful brakes as well, and the Stradale boasts Brembo carbon ceramic brakes. The front end uses 380mm perforated brake discs with 6-piston calipers, while rear wheels use 360mm drilled brake discs with 4-piston calipers. A light dab on the brake pedal, and the car slowed down perfectly to enter the upcoming corner. It felt nimble and sure-footed around corners to say the least, benefitting from the lowered ride height as compared to the Gran Turismo S, apart from the massive, custom-made Pirelli tyres and taut suspension.

I completed a rapid, relatively quiet first lap and hit the race button as instructed. The rasp of the V8 transformed into a ferocious roar instantly and the gearchanges became so quick that you would almost miss them if you weren't looking for them. They do lose smoothness in the process, especially on the upshifts. As instructed, approaching the first corner again, I held the paddle as long as I needed, the motion causing the gearbox to keep shifting down until I released the paddle. Evidently this helps concentration. When I turned into the corner, I could feel the suspension behaving much stiffer, the car seemingly enjoying more grip and myself, trying to get to grips with this extremely fast car. The luxurious howitzer shell of the previous lap had turned into a guided missile. I went quicker and quicker with every corner, gaining confidence with a smile that threatened to link both my ears. I was all set to break the lap record on lap 3 when I remembered that we were only allowed two laps each.

Short date, but hot date - these Italians really tease you, eh? My session was at end, but I understood this. The MC Stradale is an awesome flagship for the Italian brand, a blend of performance, passion and luxury. The brand is due here in partnership with the Shreyans Group and the first showroom should come up in Mumbai shortly, followed by a second one in Delhi next year. And then, you could buy this exotic car right here in India. What would it cost you? I can't help you there - the price is on request only for the moment.


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