I quite envy those who get to call themselves automotive journalists. Their job description entails some lovely stuff. Essentially, they get paid to drive the world's most amazing cars, and then go tell the rest of world just how amazing it was. Sounds pleasant enough, doesn't it?
Easy as it may seem from the outside, I’d guess that many petrol-heads underestimate the skills it takes to be a top-notch journalist like Chris Harris or Henry Catchpole. I say this for two reasons. 1: Writing good content is hard. 2: Driving fast cars near, at, or over their limits is an art form that few have mastered. Automotive journalists are (or ought to be) exceedingly skilled at both of those things.
Very recently, this reality was brought to light behind the wheel of a very fast, very yellow Ferrari 430 Scuderia. And because of that car, my own reality will never be the same.
In case you were wondering how I got lucky enough to drive a Ferrari, it’s not because I’m a well-connected trustfundian with rich parentage. Quite the opposite, really. I laid waste to my wallet and paid for 8 laps in the Ferrari around a shortened MSR Houston race track. It was such a magnificent experience that I felt compelled to write my own shoddy review.
Let’s start with what it feels like just to get in the Scuderia. You sit astonishingly low to the ground, surrounded by acres of alcantara and a bare aluminum floor. Naked carbon makes do for door panels, and your eyes are instantly drawn to the massive tachometer in the gauge cluster's center. Carbon paddles await your input, and of course, the Cavallino on the steering wheel is a small yet momentous reminder of what you’re about to unleash. It's as if the car is saying "Yeah, I wear number plates, but I'm secretly a race car." Duly noted, Signore.
To be clear, the only things I’ve ever driven at their limits are go-karts and shopping trolleys. Sure, I’m familiar enough with a basic racing line, and I’ve spent my fair share of time playing at driving games. But when you’re in command of a race-bred chassis and 500 horsepower, everything else sort of goes out the window.
To describe the 430’s performance, I’ll pick a well-used Chris Harris proverb: staggering. Absolutely staggering. The acceleration is rocket ship-fast, and the 4.3 liter V8 is simply sonorous at full song. The shortened track layout only allowed for a touch over 100mph on the straights, but even attaining that pedestrian speed felt glorious. The tach needle sweeps rapidly past 8000rpm as you crack off shifts with the wonderfully tactile carbon paddles. I thought (stupidly) that the car would feel lifeless without a proper manual, but in something this exotic, the paddles only heightened the experience. There are even shift lights on the steering wheel to really make you feel like a racing driver. What a treat.
Even more astounding than the straight-line speed is the cornering grip. I’m fairly certain I only achieved around 70% of the car’s cornering limits, which was exhilarating in its own right. With the car set to Sport mode and traction control covering my rookie mistakes, it felt positively planted in every turn. I would have had to really go for it if I wanted to break the tires loose— even at 70%, I already felt like I was pushing hard. The limits in this thing are very, very high indeed, and I’m sure that Charlie, my driving instructor (who was superb, by the way) was rather glad I didn’t get too near them. Novices in supercars are a worrisome formula no matter how you cut it.
But there’s one area where I’m simply ashamed of my performance: braking. At the entry to each corner, the track had set up series of cones to denote where to brake and how much force to apply. I obligingly stuck to these guidelines, but after my laps, I knew the Ferrari could have used 50% less room than I was giving it. Good Lord, can the Scuderia stop in a hurry. Approaching a turn at speed is a daunting thing, and it takes considerable skill/mild insanity to brake at the car's limits.
The 430 was everything I dreamed it would be, but it was also a lesson in capability. The “I’m a race car” motif from the interior was fully embodied by every aspect of the car’s performance. The limits are just so high, it’s a wonder the thing is even road legal. Doesn’t seem sane, really.
Another word about capability—you'll never know how fast you truly are until you take to the track. Odds are, if you don't have much time in a helmet, you're probably pretty slow. I certainly was. The Ferrari exposed my utter lack of skill behind the wheel, and I'm glad for it. On that day, machine's capabilities were massive, and man's capabilities were miniscule. I intend to rectify that relationship.
That brings me to a couple revelations. The people who can truly drive at the limit—automotive journalists, privateers, and especially professional racing drivers—have now been cemented in my mind as complete and utter heroes. To drive a car like they can takes a potent mixture of bravery and mastery. They deserve every ounce of praise they get.
Second revelation: I’ve decided that cars like the Scuderia have little to no place on public roads. My experience in the Scuderia shifted the fundamental manner in which I view cars. It looks like a race car. It feels like a race car. Most of all, it performs like a race car. What a waste it would be to own such a vehicle and not exploit its tremendous capabilities. Of course, I still want one—it’s the most wonderful car I’ve ever driven—but I no longer lust after such things for road use. Give me a squirt of power, firm yet compliant suspension, and I’m happy. I’ll save my race cars for the race track.
The other day, I met a guy who owned a McLaren 675LT, a similarly track-focused supercar that could demolish the Ferrari round a circuit. When asked if his car would ever see the track, his reply was a curt, dismissive “No.” After my experience in the 430 Scuderia, I can’t help but think he’s completely mad. I have seen the light, and having been blessed by it, I am a changed man. Thank you, Ferrari.
(Also, thank you to Fittipaldi Exotic Driving at MSR Houston for running the show. Fantastic job by them.)