My driving partner from Thailand and I were frantically looking for the satellite navigation controls just before we set off from Ferrari’s test circuit in Fiorano, Italy for an open road driving session in a new sports car.
Unable to find them, we did discover a road guide book with tulips showing the route direction and turns to take.
We had to brave ourselves on that cold and rainy winter’s day, making do by navigating without GPS.
To cut the story short, we got lost and separated from our driving group whose cars were equipped with GPS.
Somehow, we ended up on a pristine snowy landscape, along a hill road to Samone.
It was a dreamy and surreal scenery that begged for a Facebook snapshot moment, especially when there was a
bright red Ferrari contrasting against an all-white background.
This Ferrari was not a regular 458 but the adrenaline-charged 458 Speciale.
The Speciale is the latest iteration of Ferrari’s edgier road car line-up which includes the Challenge Stradale and 430 Scuderia, both derived from the standard 360 Modena and F430 respectively.
More than just a nip and tuck job, the Speciale is a major technological makeover involving the suspension system, aerodynamics and powertrain.
It also underwent an extensive weight reduction regime, such as using thinner glass, greater application of carbon fibre, lighter alloy wheels among others, making it 90kg lighter than the 458.
Its 4.5-litre V8 direct injection engine derived from the 458 has been reworked with new components, higher compression ratio of 14:1 and reduced internal friction to deliver 35PS more to 605PS.
You get a staggering output of 135PS per litre, which is unheard of in a naturally aspirated road-going car.
While the maximum torque remains the same with the 458’s at 540Nm, the Speciale’s F1 dual-clutch transmission gets revised control logic for quicker gear shifts.
The car can do the 0-100kph sprint in 3.0 seconds, shaving 0.4 second off the 458’s mark.
Inside, the Speciale looks pretty much the same as the 458 except it gets carbon fibre for its door panels, seat shells, part of the dashboard, and a strange-looking “wing” housing the Reverse, Auto and Launch buttons.
Alcantara is used in liberal doses for interior trimming, while the bare metal floor, knee pads in place of a glovebox and the four-point racing harness conjure a hard-core sporty theme.
New aerodynamic features such as air-pressure activated flaps at the front and motorised ones at the rear work together to ensure maximum downforce at low speeds and minimum drag for straight line acceleration.
Turning vanes at the front and aerofins at the sides are deployed to slow airflow around the Speciale to boost downforce.
To cope with increased engine power and higher cooling requirements, front air inlets are bigger and the bonnet now gets two cooling vents.
The magnetorheological suspension control with frequency analysis system is also enhanced with a new processor
unit and software to adjust the magnetic field every millisecond for precise and faster body control.
To rein in all the excess speed, the Speciale’s Brembo braking system is evolved from the LaFerrari’s, featuring new generation HT2 discs with higher percentage of silicon and smaller front pads made from HY hybrid material for better heat dissipation.
Ferrari said the Speciale has a firmer ride compared with the 458 but we still got enough comfort even when trundling on Italian cobblestone roads and broken countryside tarmac.
However, the highlight of this super car is its newly developed Side Slip Angle Control system which Ferrari claims will allow drivers to power up the car in corners much earlier.
The system which can be engaged in the drive mode set at RACE or CT OFF, also enables the driver to oversteer the Speciale in a controlled manner by co-ordinating traction control with the rear electronic differential unit.
Ferrari test driver Raffaele De Simone, who was at the 3km Fiorano circuit, said extreme versions from Ferrari were not just stripped out cars that can go faster.
“When Ferrari designs an extreme version, we do plenty of R&D to improve the car at every possible level; the engine, aerodynamics, suspension system and others so the buyer will know and feel that his car is indeed special,” he said.
He said the Speciale’s lap time of 1’23.5” at the Fiorano circuit was 1.5 second ahead of the 458’s.
“The beauty of the Speciale is not just the faster lap time but the car will be able to repeat the same performance lap after lap which the 458 could not,” he said.
Before we set off on our own to enjoy ourselves in the Speciale under the rain, we were given a drive session by professional driver Kamui Kobayashi who told us to be wary of the puddles of stagnant water on the track.
Just a simple tap on the throttle will have the V8 growling a deep bassy exhaust note that is music to aficionados.
Steering is sharp and the response feels natural.
With the drive control mode set at WET to rein in the horsepower and reduce wheelspin, the Speciale is still very quick.
We could just imagine the full performance if the car was unleashed at SPORT or RACE modes on a dry track.
Eventhough the Speciale was shod in custom-designed 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres engineered for better grip in wet conditions, we still encountered some skidding when going around corners too aggressively.
Perhaps with more practice or under the hands of a seasoned driver who is familiar with the track, the Speciale could be driven perfectly in the wet.
Ferrari is confident that the Speciale will find homes in owners who are willing to accept certain compromises in terms of onboard comfort in favour of a genuine high performance car.
The Italian car maker said some 70% of Speciale buyers are expected to be Ferrari owners with 20% of them having owned either a Challenge Stradale or a 430 Scuderia.
At the end of the day, the brief track and road sessions were thrilling enough for us in this vehicle expected to be priced at a premium over the 458 that already costs seven figures.
Local Ferrari distributor Naza Italia will be launching the Speciale at the Ferrari Racing Days at the Sepang International Circuit tomorrow (Feb 21).