La Dolce Vita

An ex­clu­sive drive of the world’s most ex­pen­sive pro­duc­tion car, the 708kW open-topped LaFer­rari Aperta

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS - By BEN MILLER pics ST­EF­FEN JAHN

AN­OTHER ESPRESSO, an­other pre­sen­ta­tion slide – wel­come to Fer­rari’s brief­ing for LaFer­rari first-timers. There are many slides be­cause the LaFer­rari is not a sim­ple car. There’s a sub­stan­tial chap­ter on the hy­brid pow­er­train alone, an al­liance of turbo-free 588kW, 6.3-litre V12 and mild hy­brid KERS sys­tem for a ful­some 708kW, as per 2014’s coupe.

Mat­teo Lan­za­vec­chia is the Fer­rari en­gi­neer tasked with bring­ing brains less dex­ter­ous than his own up to speed. He de­lights in ev­ery de­tail of the LaFer­rari’s un­com­pro­mised en­gi­neer­ing, and he knows the car and his pre­sen­ta­tion in­side-out. But he faces two chal­lenges. The first is that the car wait­ing for me out­side is a LaFer­rari Aperta, which his pre­sen­ta­tion doesn’t cover. It hasn’t had to – there were never any plans to let jour­nal­ists drive the lim­ited edi­tion Aperta. I will be the first.

There are no slides for it, so he must talk me through how Fer­rari re-en­gi­neered their hy­per­car to run without a roof. In short, repo­si­tioned ra­di­a­tors, a new aero pack­age re-rout­ing the airstream from over the cock­pit to un­der and around it, pow­er­train man­age­ment sys­tems up­graded with lessons learned from the coupe and a re-en­gi­neered car­bon tub just as re­sis­tant to twist de­spite the ab­sent roof.

It is the em­bod­i­ment of all that the world’s most cel­e­brated car maker has learned about per­for­mance en­gi­neer­ing since 1947. Ded­i­cat­ing decades of ef­fort and expenditure to the art and sci­ence of cre­at­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily fast and beau­ti­ful cars leads to this mo­ment, to a car so ex­cit­ing even Fer­rari’s pro­fes­sion­ally dour se­cu­rity guards are gig­gling like school chil­dren. Fas­ci­nated as I am by Lan­za­vec­chia’s slides, I’m guilty of a wan­der­ing mind.

What’s more, luck has piled it­self upon luck to a quite im­prob­a­ble de­gree. The first days of Novem­ber are do­ing a fine im­pres­sion of mid-July. Across the road, the Scud­e­ria’s glit­ter­ing For­mula 1 head­quar­ters are bathed in warm morn­ing sun­light, a be­nign mist sits on the hills be­yond and the sky is alight with an un­bro­ken, lu­mi­nes­cent blue. Mat­teo, my man, could we wrap this up?

“Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth,” said Archimedes. The bearded brain was mak­ing a point about the might of the me­chan­i­cal lever, but his words feel oddly ap­pro­pri­ate when you lift open the Aperta’s door and, with your heart bounc­ing off its rev lim­iter, put one hand on the driver’s head­rest and lower your­self in. (Eas­ier than you might imag­ine; the glossy black car­bon sills curve in dra­mat­i­cally as they run for­ward to the nose.)

At this point you ex­pect to sur­ren­der all mean­ing­ful con­trol as nerves over­run your mo­tor sys­tem, your cool oblit­er­ated by the Aperta’s in­tim­i­dat­ing num­bers. Ear­lier this year one sold at auc­tion for £7.5 mil­lion – AUD$13m – a record for a new car. But the truth is that as you wrig­gle down into the seat, se­cure the four-point har­ness and bring the steer­ing wheel out to your chest, the com­plete op­po­site hap­pens. So bril­liantly re­solved is the Aperta’s driv­ing po­si­tion and so fa­mil­iar its con­trols to any­one who’s driven a 488 that your palms dry out, your heart rate drops to merely aroused and those waves of panic set­tle to a be­calmed sea of quiet con­fi­dence. This, you re­alise with a smile, is go­ing to be okay.

The seat – lit­tle more than a se­ries of pads set into anatom­i­cally sculpted re­liefs in the car­bon tub, to lower the roofline and the car’s cen­tre of grav­ity – is an er­gonomic tri­umph. The odd, vaguely square wheel can be pulled just as close as you want and, in a Schu­macher style, it has upon it all that you need, no­tably the in­di­ca­tors, the manet­tino drive mode con­trol and the but­ton for bumpy road mode, to cut the dampers some slack on Emilia-Ro­magna’s sub­si­dence-rav­aged roads.

As per the 488, re­verse and the but­ton to go be­tween man­ual and au­to­matic shift­ing sit on a cu­ri­ous blade of car­bon fi­bre be­tween the seats. Re­ally ex­pen­sive look­ing air vents like lit­tle metal Death Stars swivel in their sock­ets with just the right amount of fric­tion; enough to hold their po­si­tion when you’re giv­ing it death around Fio­rano, but never stiff. This lot, you’re tempted to con­clude from the vents and driv­ing po­si­tion alone, are good. Fer­rari has, by de­ploy­ing all that it’s learned about the man/ma­chine in­ter­face, given you a place to stand. Now, move the earth.

There is no gap, but the BMW X5 in my mir­rors passes nonethe­less, forg­ing a path past me, past the cars ahead, past the truck in front of the cars ahead, and on to glory or obliv­ion on faith alone. I wince and the Aperta does the same, its slack­free steer­ing trans­lat­ing my ev­ery move­ment, vol­un­tary or oth­er­wise, into a change of course.

The rack is so fast, the LaFer­rari’s front end so re­spon­sive, that I’m still strug­gling to ad­just as we trun­dle south on trunk roads seething with com­muter traf­fic and edgy with in­el­e­gant over­tak­ing. But even at this speed, with loads so light you sense the car doesn’t quite know what to do with it­self, the LaFer­rari’s steer­ing stands out as spe­cial, and my new best friend.

The manet­tino’s in the tamest of its dry set­tings, Sport, bumpy-road mode is en­gaged and the gear­box (con­spic­u­ously fab­u­lous, even driv­ing in this most un-Fer­rari way) is im­per­cep­ti­bly do­ing its thing. Re­fined? Com­fort­able? Like you wouldn’t be­lieve. Of course, with the V12 and hy­brid sys­tem be­hind you and the soft roof stowed in the nose there’s ab­so­lutely nowhere to put any­thing, but in ev­ery other re­gard the Aperta is re­mark­ably easy go­ing. The ride is as­ton­ish­ingly pliant, the pow­er­train ef­fort­less and, even with the cock­pit open to the heav­ens, you can talk at 100km/h without shout­ing.

The traf­fic be­gins to thin out and, as the road climbs, the Aperta soars past slower traf­fic on sin­u­ous over­tak­ing lanes. With the pow­er­train’s elec­tric mo­tor for­ever ready, there’s no need to drop gears to pass, but you do so re­gard­less.

The clipped ac­tion of the vast, col­umn-mounted shift pad­dles and the V12’s acous­tic range as you play with revs, gears and load is so en­gag­ing and sat­is­fy­ing that you want to do it many times over.

Run­ning alone now as the SS12 winds on through the hills, there’s a dream-like qual­ity to our progress. Power brings lux­ury, and there is a be­witch­ing deca­dence to the LaFer­rari’s ou­tra­geous ex­cess of power. The fast-scrolling view through the vaguely Group C bub­ble-screen is beau­ti­ful, the rich win­ter sun play­ing across a volup­tuous land­scape of wild hill­sides and river-washed val­leys. Great flur­ries of brit­tle au­tumn leaves tum­ble across the road and,

be­hind us, plume into the air in the Aperta’s wake, CFD and wind tun­nel-sculpted as it is. And without a roof the Aperta fil­ters none of it; the sun’s warmth on your face, the cut-glass air tug­ging happy tears from your eyes and the sub­lime V12 all over your ears and your soul. The finest en­gine cur­rently in pro­duc­tion? Has to be. Less a col­lec­tion of cast­ings and more a kind of barely con­tained life force, its economies of scale pre­clud­ing au­to­ma­tion and grant­ing an in­di­vid­ual tech­ni­cian the hon­our of hand-as­sem­bling each one over three days and across five spot­lessly clean work­sta­tions.

We turn off the main road and drop down onto the SP30, a road that looks like heaven on a map, but may yet prove hellish. The MkII Golf ahead takes the same turn, but holds me up for fewer than three cor­ners. With a sliver of a gap the Aperta leaps ahead, its pow­er­train alive to my ev­ery whim.

The car’s rate of re­sponse to my right foot is ex­hil­a­rat­ing, as in­stan­ta­neous as the steer­ing and ev­ery bit as life-af­firm­ing once you’ve re­cal­i­brated your brain to suit. Fer­rari’s tar­get was a re­sponse time, to full throt­tle at 2500rpm in fourth gear, less than half that of the F12’s, then the flag­ship front-en­gined V12. For the LaFer­rari it claims 0.1sec from foot down to 90 per cent of the en­gine’s full shove, ver­sus 0.3sec for the F12, it­self no slouch.

On into the end­less string of hair­pins that will, over the next minute or so, take the Aperta and me from high on the ridge to the val­ley floor be­low. Things start hap­pen­ing very quickly. The car can sum­mon all the speed you could ever dream of – and of­ten quite a bit more – in an in­stant. Its car­bon-ce­ramic brakes are, some­how, at the very least just as mighty, com­bin­ing a light­ness of touch at the pedal with the kind of brak­ing that tests your mor­tal form at a molec­u­lar level.

Given the com­plex­ity of the re­gen­er­a­tive brak­ing sys­tem the lin­ear, in­tu­itive feel at the pedal is a mir­a­cle. (LaFer­rari ef­fec­tively splits the sys­tem front/rear, so you feel the un­cor­rupted front end while the ECU jug­gles brakes and re­gen­er­a­tion at the rear.) But the most as­ton­ish­ing rate of change with the Aperta isn’t even phys­i­cal: it’s ac­tu­ally the speed with which you be­come com­fort­able with the mea­sured vi­o­lence of its per­for­mance.

We’re soon into an out­landishly quick rhythm, click­ing up through sec­ond and third gears as the road flows along the hillside, my brain ap­par­ently un­able to hold out be­yond 6000rpm even though the red­line’s at 9000rpm. Then it’s back to first gear for each gor­geous, gen­er­ously cam­bered hair­pin. What hap­pens next is a kind of phys­i­cal po­etry, the front of the car ro­tat­ing into the cor­ner with sur­real ease and adopt­ing my cho­sen line to the inch. There­after the Aperta cor­ners so level, so hard and so ac­cu­rately it might be sus­pended in some per­fectly oiled mech­a­nism cal­i­brated to thou­sandths of an inch.

This com­po­sure breeds con­fi­dence, and it’s not the dumb be­lief born of sheer grip either, though the Fer­rari’s now hot Pirellis bring that. It’s the con­fi­dence that comes with know­ing ex­actly what the car’s do­ing,

how hard it’s work­ing and how much it has to give.

Maybe it’s the ul­tra-rigid tub, maybe it’s the fas­tid­i­ously bal­anced weight dis­tri­bu­tion. What­ever, it’s soon clear the Aperta isn’t just one of the fastest, most ex­cit­ing cars I’m ever likely to drive. It’s also one of the friendli­est, like an F1 pow­er­train some­how shoe­horned into an Elise. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing that.

On we power, our fu­ri­ous pace un­spoiled by traf­fic, med­dle­some so­cial con­science or the no­tion that I should in some way ease my­self in, and save the proper drive for next time. There will be no next time – of that I can be pretty cer­tain.

Two squig­gles of road half an hour apart. The LaFer­rari breezes the un­spec­tac­u­lar drive be­tween the two with easy speed. Its re­mit is well be­yond mere trans­port and yet, pro­vid­ing you’ve just the one friend and no worldly pos­ses­sions, the Fer­rari works bril­liantly when you just need to get some­where. The ETA on the nav tum­bles like a wing­less glider, its cal­cu­la­tions barely able to keep up with the rate at which the Aperta moves across the land­scape. So adept is the car at arc­ing through cor­ners that, at this vaguely le­gal cross­county lick, I stop both­er­ing to brake for them.

In what feels like mo­ments we’re at the SP26, the dark scars arc­ing from its ev­ery apex tes­ta­ment to its sta­tus as a firm favourite with Fer­rari’s de­vel­op­ment driv­ers. I know I have less than an hour left with the Aperta – that all too soon I must point it back to Maranello and, for the last time in my life, shut down its hot V12.

I can’t ex­plain why, given the car’s value, my de­cid­edly av­er­age skill at the wheel and the po­ten­tial for in­famy in be­ing not only the first writer to drive a LaFer­rari Aperta, but also the first to scat­ter one across a quiet stretch of strada provin­ciale in a plane crash of splin­tered com­pos­ites, but I de­cide nonethe­less to nudge the manet­tino around first to Race and then to CT Off, and give it a real crack to the top of the hill.

Run­ning harder now into cor­ners, leav­ing my brak­ing later and turn­ing-in with more speed and more am­bi­tion, if any­thing the Aperta just feels bet­ter. It clearly doesn’t speak un­der­steer, and has lit­tle in­ter­est in learn­ing the lan­guage. In­stead the front just bites, you slowly shake your head in won­der and the car piv­ots like it’s weight­less. Then, in a heart­beat, it’s that time – time again to de­press that pre­ci­sion in­stru­ment of a throt­tle pedal; time again to revel in LaFer­rari’s re­fusal to ex­hibit any de­lay be­tween in­put and out­put; and time again to breathe deep, grip the wheel a lit­tle tighter and chase the V12 from apex right the way up to the thin air of nearly 10,000rpm.

You feel the rear tyres over-ro­tate like they’re wired to your brain, the car’s tail mov­ing sub­tly but de­li­ciously wide as all 708kW chimes in to ef­fec­tively flat­ten the next climb. This elec­tri­fy­ing sense of con­nec­tion works with the ul­tra-quick steer­ing to make you feel like you’re right on top of the Aperta, able to read its ev­ery move and to be ready with the right thing to do should the call come.

The af­ter­noon sun’s drop­ping fast, shad­ows sprint­ing

across the val­ley as if on time-lapse. Cool air floods into the open cock­pit, ban­ish­ing any sense of fa­tigue af­ter five bliss­ful hours at the wheel. Com­pletely in tune now with the car’s sur­real abil­i­ties, this im­mer­sive, very three-di­men­sional road falls to the Aperta. It can’t sum­mon a gra­di­ent sav­age enough to blunt the car’s speed, just as it can’t show us a com­plex of cor­ners ca­pa­ble of de­feat­ing its as­ton­ish­ing chas­sis. Where we come across it we’re past slower traf­fic be­fore it even knows we’re there, their fleet­ing glimpse just the Aperta’s quite per­fect rear end, shift­ing wing and ac­tive dif­fuser planes work­ing away be­tween glow­ing round tail lights.

To drive the Aperta is to find joy where you ex­pect fear; con­fi­dence where by rights self-be­lief should desert you. Chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Michael Leit­ers in­sists that just as crit­i­cal as rais­ing the per­for­mance of Fer­rari’s cars is in­creas­ing their own­ers’ abil­ity to re­ally drive them, and to en­joy them. The LaFer­rari is an as­ton­ish­ing em­bod­i­ment of that phi­los­o­phy. A ma­chine of be­wil­der­ing com­plex­ity, its defin­ing bril­liance is a driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of star­tling pu­rity, one made mag­i­cal by the un­holy power and de­vi­ously clever elec­tron­ics that could so eas­ily have cor­rupted it. Mir­a­cle? No, just 70 years of prac­tice.

WITH THE ELEC­TRIC MO­TORS FOR­EVER READY, THERE’S NO NEED TO DROP GEARS TO PASS

The Aperta’s open top meant that the door mech­a­nism had to be re-en­gi­neered with new link­ages and, in turn, new flank and front wheel arches. Gor­geous car­bon-fi­bre in­serts are unique to the Aperta

Re­vised aero­dy­nam­ics di­vert air around the open cock­pit. Fer­rari claims that, with the win­dows up, the open Aperta cre­ates the same drag as the coupe. It might be 65kg heav­ier, but it’s still crazy nailed to the road

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