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Saturday, April 24, 2010

First Test: 2008 Ferrari 430 Scuderia

That’s right. The 2008 Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a V-8-powered, aluminum “volume-sales” model we all kind of assumed was just another lightened, mid-cycle riff on the F430 turns out to be one serious supercar. It may be Ferrari’s best-performing GT car ever, despite its fire-sale $272,306 price. It is unquestionably the Ferrari that mere owners — not factory test drivers or F1 world champions — will be able to drive the fastest on demanding roads or race circuits without winding up on

2008 Ferrari 430 Scuderia

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Ferrari took a holistic approach to enhancing the F430, whittling away at anything that slows a car down and applying the latest tricks learned in Formula 1 racing. Power, weight, tires, and suspension were the low-hanging fruit. Using carbon fiber extensively throughout the interior and engine compartment, ditching sound-deadening materials and fitting a Lexan rear window and titanium springs and lug bolts helped shave 220 lb off the F430. A host of detail refinements to the 4.3L flat-plane-crankshaft V-8 added 20 hp and 4 lb-ft of peak output, but fattens the torque on either side of the peak by a bunch more, making the overall performance feel like much more than a four-percent improvement. Stickier Pirelli PZero Corsa tires (10 mm wider in front), plus lowered (0.6 in.), stiffer springs (35 percent front/32 percent rear) boost handling, braking, and acceleration-launch performance.

The rest of the improvements are pretty much all Formula 1-inspired, starting with the aerodynamics, which are optimized to increase front and rear downforce without resorting to large wings by creating suction underneath the body. A patent-pending “base bleed” method of relieving aerodynamic pressure from the rear-wheel housings helps bring the 430 Scuderia’s drag coefficient in five percent under the Enzo’s. Next, the ever-evolving F1 paddle-shift automated manual gearbox controls have been hyper-caffeinated to deliver shifts in an unfathomable 60 milliseconds. This new F1-SuperFast2’s shifts happen in about a quarter of the time required for a manual shift-or for a shift in the first-generation F1 box in the Enzo, for that matter.

But perhaps the most significant technology transfer from F1 to the 430 Scuderia is the F1-Trac traction/stability control system, which for the first time on a road car also has authority over the electronically controlled E-Diff2 wet-clutch limited-slip differential. Put simply, this system is designed so that in the Manettino’s “Race” mode, any driver should be able to approach the apex of any turn and simply flat-foot the throttle and steer through letting the electronics modulate brake pressures, engine torque, and differential lockup. The electronic processor time is so fast that you’re never aware of any brake pulsations or electronic jiggery-pokery, you just feel like a pro shoe motoring out of every bend. That faster processor also controls the anti-lock brakes and shares credit with the larger front carbon-ceramic brakes for trimming the F430’s already impressive braking distances by around eight percent to 93 ft from 60 mph and 255 ft from 100. Initial brake bite also is considerably improved from the F430’s, allowing deeper braking points on corner entry. Check out our Fiorano circuit graphic to see where each of the above improvements help the 430 Scuderia catch the mighty Enzo.

Out in the hills above Maranello, these many small improvements combine to form one awesome piece of machinery, made all the sweeter by being a surprisingly complete and comfortable car. There’s no radio (the engine note is worth 1000 iPods), but it’s well air-conditioned and trimmed in rich Alcantara and leather inside like a proper road car, not a stripped-out racer. Just pulling out of the parking lot, the zillion bits of road grit being thrown up from the tires to the undercarriage suggest these summer gumballs will die young but live spectacularly until then. Motoring through town, it’s a docile sweetheart until you have to reverse. In keeping with Raul Julia’s first rule of Italian driving (”What’s behind me is not important”), the view out the mirrors is limited, and the four-point harness makes it tough to turn for a better look.

Once past the city limits with a long stretch of open road ahead and no traffic around, you come to a stop, twirl the Manettino to CST-off, engage manual shift mode, first gear, and then hold the downshift paddle until the gear-indicator display alternates between “1″ and “L” and a tone sounds. Then simultaneously release the brake and floor the throttle. Get it right and the tires spin briefly, then hook up for one serious G-sled ride. LEDs on the optional carbon-fiber steering wheel illuminate at 500-rpm intervals above 6000 rpm. Pull the upshift paddle when they blink at 8500 and with what feels like a strike to the rear bumper from a giant polo mallet, the car jolts forward in the next gear, bellowing with newfound basso profundo. Within minutes, you’re scaling the Emilian Apennines, and a switch to “Race” mode seems prudent. With each curve and switchback, you brake a little later, astonished at the power of these carbon binders. Hit the apex and flat-foot the go-pedal, letting the superfast computers sort out apportioning torque for the hastiest possible exit. A particularly uneven stretch leaving Pavullo reveals the wisdom of Schumacher’s soft-suspension mode switch, the relaxed suspenders providing better comfort and better braking and road-holding. After an hour of hard running, the route has circled back to Maranello just in the nick of time. Another 10 miles of acclimation to the 430 Scuderia and you might be forever jaded toward lesser machinery. Like Enzos.

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