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

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Ben Miller Pho­tog­ra­phy: Alex Tap­ley

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

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