Ferrari 812 superfast
Need to get to Spa-Francorchamps super-fast to watch Ferrari race in the World Endurance Championship? Then you need Maranello’s flagship V12, the 812 Superfast
Taking Ferrari’s super GT for a Spa weekend
Saturday, Spa. A couple of hundred yards apart, James Calado and I are struggling in our Ferraris. The World Endurance Championship is in Belgium, at the universally adored SpaFrancorchamps circuit, for the first race of the 2018-2019 super-season. Calado’s racing his 488 GTE Evo; I’ve turned up in an 812 Superfast.
Exiting La Source hairpin, Calado pushes his 488 GTE’s throttle to the bulkhead. The Ferrari fires down past the back of the pits, glides through the gut-churning compression at the bottom of the hill and hurtles up over Raidillon — kerb-kerb-kerb-kerb as fast as you can say it — and screams off up the Kemmel straight. His foot hasn’t budged the whole time; still the pedal’s flat, still the engine’s at full stretch. But Calado knows he’s losing time none the less.
Calado’s AF Corse squad, here with a pair of 488s and a two-man driver line-up for each, is effectively Ferrari’s official entry in WEC’s fastest production-based class, GTE Pro. AF Corse are good; slick, wellsupported, successful. Calado, too, is good. Young, handsome, fast, a Ferrari race driver and reigning GT drivers’ champion, you’d expect him to be radioactive with happiness. But today he is not.
By way of explanation, Calado waves dejectedly at the qualifying times. AF Corse’s 488s are sixth and seventh, behind two Ford GTs, two RSR 911 Porsches and, most painfully, one of BMW’s box-fresh M8s. Ferrari are 1.438 seconds off the pace. What’s more, there’s nothing they can do about it. The car’s faster than last year’s but the restrictions slapped on it by the series organiser — essentially more weight and less power — have sent it backwards relative to its rivals.
‘We look like idiots,’ Calado tells me. ‘I wouldn’t mind carrying the weight if we at least had some power and the chance to pass. The car has so much potential but we just can’t exploit it.’
Clearly, Calado’s Ferrari isn’t fast enough. A couple of hundred yards away, separated by a dense tract of forest so thick the air’s somehow cool on an oppressively hot May day, I’m making a total hash of things in my buttercup-yellow Ferrari Superfast: braking too early,
needlessly stabbing the same pedal again when I should be settling the car with the throttle and clumsily turning in with none of Calado’s pace or poetry. Clearly, right now at least, my Ferrari is too fast.
I’m on the N62, the road that runs with the circuit south from Francorchamps. Just as the circuit goes full rollercoaster here, climbing and free-falling with the landscape like a sine wave, so too does the fiendish N62, careening up, down, left and right before opening up to mirror the flat-out Kemmel straight. Keep going and you effectively drive the first half of the old, much longer circuit layout: Burnenville, Masta, Stavelot.
Taking a breather with a very big bottle of water, a slightly smaller baguette and a legion of ants working hard to steal the shoes from my feet, I gaze upon the unapologetically outlandish form of the 812 Superfast. Effectively a replacement for the F12, the 812 Superfast draws heavily on the limited-run TDF, which upped the V12’s output and marked the début of a couple of new chassis systems. In the 812’s nose, slung low between two impossibly wide front tyres, you’ll find the most compelling evolution yet of Maranello’s V12: 6.5 litres (6,496 cc), the two banks of six feistily over-square cylinders (94 mm bore, 78 mm stroke — it’s the latter that’s bumped up capacity) splayed at 65°. This remarkable creation persistently nags the car’s rear Pirellis with anything up to, and including, 800 PS and 718 Nm of torque via a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox and the latest evolution of Ferrari’s e-diff. Peak torque isn’t with you until 7,000 rpm. Peak power is at 8,500 rpm.
So, what is the Superfast? A GT? Kind of, but that term usually implies a generous (and heavy) layer of insulation between you and
Just as the Spa circuit goes full rollercoaster, climbing and free-falling with the landscape like a sine wave, so too does the road
the action, to smooth fatigue on day-long drives. At 1,525 kg dry, the Superfast is not heavy and while I’ve much still to learn about it, I have at least ascertained that the 812’s no cruiser. Comfortable it might be, with an impressively sophisticated ride given the trackready chassis, but it’s alive like a supercar. A super GT, then.
Of course, the 812’s also a front-engined Ferrari V12 — part of a bloodline that stretches back through the likes of the 599XX, the Daytona and the 250 GTO to the 125 S and Ferrari’s very genesis. It’s a cold heart that goes unmoved by those names.
Three Frenchmen join me in my reverie, a father and two sons, in town for a family wedding — but they’re car guys, hence the Spa pilgrimage. ‘Passion!’ the father proclaims, fist on heart. ‘It is beautiful,’ adds one of the younger men, with no little awe. They’re from the Hautes Alpes, home of some of France’s best roads, and all of us take a moment to consider this car on the Route Napoleon. At least, that’s what I’m thinking about.
They leave me, heading off in a Renault full of waves and smiles, and I drop back into the Superfast and fire the engine: let’s have another go at this. This morning’s bleary-eyed thrash was a mess but now, late afternoon, with qualifying done and most of the traffic long since departed the circuit, there are fewer cars, cyclists and motorcyclists to deny me the rhythm I’m after.
In the Ferrari’s cosy cockpit, I try to slow-breathe my way through the 812’s unsubtle attempts at intimidation: stuff like the yellow-faced tacho’s 9,000 rpm, the serious seats’ humourless embrace and the endless bonnet that stretches ahead like a carrier’s
deck. I snap on the harness (complete with prancing horse crests over your nipples), then release it again when I realize it’s so tight I can’t now reach the door to close it. Ferrari’s trademark Death Star vents pour much-needed cold air on to my brow as I click the right shift paddle and leave the layby in twin plumes of dust.
What is it our in-house driving Yoda James Taylor always says, ‘Drive fast with slow hands’? Couldn’t be more relevant here. Where the mid-engined 488 implores you to get giddy, working the controls in spasms and living on your wits, the Superfast’s latent hyperactivity — ultra-fast steering, lightning turn-in response, hysterical engine — calls for a steadier hand.
Ferrari engineers hate understeer. To help banish it, you can just fit wider front tyres: done. But the pay-off will be a skewed balance and a wayward rear end, not something many owners look for in a £250k (Rs 2.25 crore) V12. Hence the tdf’s virtual short-wheelbase system — rear-wheel steering that works to increase stability and mitigate the corrupting effect of fatter fronts. That system is deployed here on the Superfast (recalibrated to be less nervous and more intuitive than it was on the tdf), as is another, unique to the 812, that varies the steering’s weight to help you out: firming the wheel’s resistance to increasing steering lock if the car’s convinced you’ll only understeer and encouraging opposite lock when it detects oversteer.
All of which sounds needlessly complex, not to mention largely irrelevant on the road. Then you consider Maranello’s mastery of such systems (and, crucially, their trust-building implementation) in recent times. The tdf may have been a fickle mistress but the jumpin-and-thrash-it LaFerrari and now the ludicrously flattering 488 Pista are testimony to some serious genius: complex, potentially intrusive systems made all but imperceptible.
So it is with the 812. You expect to have to spend time getting used to that ludicrously long bonnet, the rapid rack, the darting front end and the way the car moves with your inputs. And in truth, you do need to spend a couple of miles adjusting. But the fact that your initiation into such bewildering performance is so rapid speaks of an impressive intrinsic rightness. The nagging sense that the steering’s a little too fast never quite goes away, but in almost every other way the Superfast is intuitive. The clutch picks up when you expect it to and at exactly the rate you expect it to. The engine’s impossibly smooth and tractable, the seven-speeder as buttery at low revs as it is exhilarating at full chat. And the weightless ease with which you’re soon guiding this imposing machine is surreal.
As we effectively lap the circuit, if frustratingly just outside its enviably unregulated expanses (few cars prompt frustration with speed limits quite so vociferously as the Superfast), the 812 and I start to reach an understanding. I’m learning to trust its grip, to relax and to let the Ferrari flow — and the car relishes the smoother inputs. With so much power it’s easy to assume the V12 Superfast is a point-and-squirt device but nothing could be further from the truth. Soon we’re covering ground in a blur of composure and control, confidence soaring thanks to the car’s poise, sheer grip and — quite appropriately given I’m struggling to think of an engine to rival this for response, reach and distance-ravaging savagery — its
I’m struggling to think of an engine to rival this for response, reach and distance-ravaging savagery
deliciously potent and feelsome brakes. There’s, perhaps, three millimetres of play at the top of the travel. Then, as you build pressure at the pedal, so the car’s rate of deceleration swells proportionally, your effort extrapolated into a chest-squeezing, speed-slaying bear-hug.
There’s more to come — quite a bit more I’m sure — but the 812 and I are at least on the same page now. Time to head back to base, a half-hour cruise to nearby Verviers. On the multi-lane E42, my gear stashed in the tiny boot, the Ferrari feels like home. I’ve mastered the initially standoffish infotainment and even the thumboperated indicators on the steering wheel are becoming second nature. Each slip road and empty roundabout is now a playground; every overtake an opportunity to let the engine do its quite awesome thing. The 812 hurtles into town like a comet, its exhaust note of immaculate breeding flooding the sun-soaked streets.
Today’s summer sunrise feels like Christmas morning; that same giddy buzz of anticipation. Already the air’s warm and perfumed by the forest all around, the circuit’s pre-race serenity striking once the 812 and I find our way in, park and kill the V12.
I catch up with a calmer James Calado. ‘The car is absolutely amazing,’ he tells me as we walk to an autograph session (him, not me), his cool impressively unmoved by my comedy. ‘This year’s car is chalk-and-cheese better than last year’s and the data show it. The car has come on leaps and bounds but we’re fighting for last place. It’s not in Ferrari’s nature to even finish second, so they’re not happy about it.
‘Ferrari is special,’ he continues. ‘They don’t see themselves as a race team — it’s a family. At Maranello, you’ve got the road car production, Formula 1 and the GT cars — it’s a sea of r ed. The Italian way of w orking is so r elaxed and y et so pa ssionate and for that r eason you’re under huge pr essure to win. It’s not just at the b eginning of your Ferrari career either, it’s all the time. Only a win will do. It’s alw ays been that way since Enzo. They’re doing w ell in F1 and I’ d like to say w e’ll do the same but at the moment w e’ve got no chance. But I do lov e racing for them and I lov e Spa — the lap is fa st and flowing, one of the best, and t oday we’ve good weather for once, t oo…’
Is that a smile? As quickly as it arrived, it’s gone.
If Le Mans last year got me thinking World Endurance might just might be The Best Thing Ever, Spa serves as emphatic proof. The
flagship LMP1 class is straightforward, with Toyota and McLaren F1 driver Fernando Alonso — complete with megawatt smile and superstar status — jetting in to bag his first WEC win (a feat he’ll repeat at Le Mans). But the GT classes spin myriad narrative threads, the six hours of racing fraught and breathless like a Touring Car 15-lapper.
Half an hour into the action, the Porsche 911 RSRs and Ford GTs are in a league of their own. Eight seconds adrift, the two AF Corse Ferraris run together, on a par with the BMWs and ahead of the new Astons. I alternate between the AF Corse pit and the circuit’s perimeter path, its shadier spots the perfect vantage points from which to take in the gladiatorial contest on track. I’m in the garage when, on screen and with two hours to go, one of the 911 RSRs catches and passes Calado’s 488 like he’s left the handbrake on. Calado’s team-mate, Alessandro Pier Guidi, shrugs, as if to say, ‘What can you do?’ On the next straight the Porsche pulls away effortlessly. In his Ferrari’s cockpit I can picture Calado hopping up and down in his harness with rage.
His day then goes south. Just as all looks pretty serene, the two AF Corse 488s keeping their performances respectable with neat driving and well-drilled pit-stops, an ill-judged pit release sees Calado collide with an Aston Martin in the pit-lane, splintered bodywork and damaged suspension and steering the brutal result. The car’s dragged back into the garage, mechanics piling on to the affected corner and tearing into the repair job.
Collared for a TV interview, Calado’s more bothered by the car’s lack of straight-line speed than by this cruel slice of luck. ‘ We’re nowhere,’ he opines,
clearly livid at having just spent hours pedalling a car that’s generally in the 2:17s while the Ford GT bangs in 2:16.2 s…
Still, it’s not all bad news. With five minutes left to run, the other AF Corse car, that of Sam Bird and Davide Rigon, is running fourth, 35 seconds down on the leading Ford but tucked right up behind Richard Lietz’s 911 RSR. The ensuing scrap is savage, Lietz desperately trying to stay ahead through a combination of blocking and his Porsche’s obvious speed advantage.
With corner speed to burn, Rigon tries going around the outside at the plunging Rivage right-hander, only for Lietz to lean on the Ferrari and run it wide over the kerbs — battle is joined. A few corners later the Corse garage gasps as, through the ultra-quick Blanchimont, a faster prototype makes it round Rigon but has to cut between the two battling GT cars, ducking into a space that — at three-figure speeds — simply does not look to exist.
But Rigon won’t be denied. Lietz’s rear-guard continues into the next lap, with thr ee minutes of the six hours left t o run. Out of Fagnes they split spectacularly to go either side of a backmarker, the Porsche using the track and Rigon’s Ferrari taking to the grass. Then, the move. Rigon runs deep into the first part of the Bus Stop chicane, looking for all the w orld like he’s blown it, but leaps on to the second apex. B oth cars accelerate away furiously but the Ferrari has track position, repaying Lietz’s earlier tap with one of
its own as the 488 GTE claims third in cla ss. The Corse garage erupts like they’ve just won the title.
It’s late by the time I leave the circuit, headed for Calais and home. But there’s time for a last run on local roads and a not particularly direct route north. Still giddy from Ferrari’s againstthe-odds podium and good friends now, the 812 and I don’t hold back.
The engine remains absolutely captivating — Calado and friends w ould do well to try to sneak one into the back of their 488 . It is smooth a s glass. At idle it sounds highly strung, like it’s going to be grumpy and rough at low r evs. But there are no such histrionics, just a clean trebuchet’s sweep of tit anic power, the Ferrari’s engine management and variable intakes dodging the usual drawbacks of lumpy cam profiles and racy valve timing.
Keyed into the steering now (with more effort comes some feel, but the 812 isn’t big on steering small talk), the Superfast pours into corners at scarcely credible speed. So fast and light is the steering that there’s no physical effort to changing direction but still the experience is visceral and thrilling. At the same time, the car’s mighty body control balances steadfast resistance with enough movement to let you know where you stand, your carbon seat squeaking a little as cornering forces swell.
On we power, carving at undiminished speed through corners we crawled through yesterday. The hot Pirelli P-Zeros’ grasp of the clean, smooth tarmac is almost total, even as I brutalize the rear tyres with more and more of the engine’s shove, earlier from each corner. Now I’m holding on to gears until the LED shift lights flash across the top of the wheel rim, the V12 again streaming to its red-line, tearing the air with beautiful noise and echoing its cultured cry across the valley.
To gel with the 812 is to feel superhuman, the machine’s performance slackening the normally immutable laws of physics. Even when you’re moving so fast as to think the car has nothing more to give, the Superfast always offers options: to subtly shift your chosen line, however and whenever you wish; to add speed in a moment or to slow so hard you’re grateful of the harness.
At Calais, UK passport control wants answers: ‘How fast?’, ‘How much?’, and ‘Where have you been?’ With the 812 the answers are always the same: ‘very’, ‘too much’, and, now that I must shortly hand back the keys, ‘not far enough’.
The engine is captivating ― Calado and friends would do well to sneak one into the back of their 488 GTE race cars
( Topleft) 488 GTE Evo carves corners like a Ferrari should( Top) In F1, Alonso flies in and reliably loses. In WEC, he turns up and wins ( Above) Hobbled by the regs but still AF Corse get on to the podium
( Below) On the far left, the daunting Pouhon left-hander. In the foreground, right, the Eau Rouge/Raidillon complex
Integrated control systems happy to go with your mood. ‘CT Off’ good if you need waking up
Carbon buckets a must-have, even at £7,200 (Rs 6.5 lakh)
A pit-lane shunt prompts a quick suspension rebuild
Not the prettiest front-engined Ferrari ever, granted, but striking
Carbon-fibre wheel with shift lights is optional (but essential)
Old circuit looped up the far side of the valley, back to La Source