CAR (UK) - - Sports Car Giant Test 2018 -

HOW LONG CAN the av­er­age hu­man go with­out blink­ing? With the 488 Pista’s oc­tag­o­nal steer­ing wheel ahead of me, its 710bhp V8 be­hind me and France pass­ing be­neath on fast­for­ward, I’m about to find out. My eyes are stretched as wide as they’ll go, seek­ing vi­sion fur­ther and fur­ther down the road, and the brain-like space be­hind them is do­ing its best to keep up with the stream of in­for­ma­tion com­ing in. Ben Barry is fol­low­ing in the 911 GT2 RS; I bet his eye­lids aren’t mov­ing much ei­ther.

So, th­ese are the fi­nal two cars stand­ing, the two we chose to drive for one more day to pick an ul­ti­mate win­ner. Both are the most ex­treme ex­pres­sions of their re­spec­tive species: the Porsche 911 and mid-en­gined Fer­rari V8 berlinetta. Both have sim­i­lar power out­puts: 710bhp for the Fer­rari, 690bhp for the Porsche, both un­locked by twin tur­bos and ex­otic en­gine in­ter­nals, and ac­com­pa­nied by race­car downforce and chas­sis tech. Both need fewer than three sec­onds to reach 62mph, both can hit 211mph, and both are all but sold out, de­spite a £200k+ ask­ing price.

We’re on hill­side roads ap­proach­ing Lac de Ville­fort, the kind of tar­mac th­ese cars were born for. Fast sweep­ers and stop-press hair­pins carved into pic­turesque val­leys, birds of prey loung­ing on the ther­mals above the warm tar­mac, sun­beams re­fracted through the trees and hit­ting us with their full heat on ex­posed hill­side sec­tions – and barely an­other car in sight.

The Pista’s front-end grip is quite in­cred­i­ble, like a full-size slot car with its guide dug into the road. It’s aided by beau­ti­fully judged power steer­ing; weighty, but not overly so, and so pre­cise. The rack’s very fast, re­quir­ing barely any lock for even the tight­est of turns, yet it’s any­thing but ner­vous. Ben notes the Fer­rari’s steer­ing has less self-cen­tring ef­fect than most cars. ‘It gives you sup­port to lean on as you un­wind the lock; it’s not try­ing to ping back to the mid­dle,’ he says, ap­prov­ingly un­wind­ing an imag­i­nary air-wheel in a mea­sured man­ner.

Fast, but pre­cise – the same can be said for the Pista’s as­ton­ish­ing throt­tle re­sponse. Half of the V8 has been re­vised over the en­gine in the base GTB, with eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­otic ti­ta­nium con­rods and new in­conel ex­haust man­i­folds, plus a race-spec crank and fly­wheel for min­i­mal in­er­tia. The re­sult is won­drous: a turbo all but de­void of turbo lag. You can pick up the throt­tle very early in a cor­ner, as you would in a nat­u­rallyaspi­rated car, then feed it in fur­ther with ab­so­lute pre­ci­sion, like a su­per­bike – with bike-like ac­cel­er­a­tion to match. Il­lu­mi­nat­ing one of the five shift lights em­bed­ded in the top of the steer­ing wheel feels fairly mind-blow­ing. Light all of them and you worry your brain might melt and pour from your ears.

Time for a breather and a car swap. Ben is al­most as smit­ten by the Porsche’s pow­er­train as I am by the Fer­rari’s: ‘Although the Pista’s en­gine feels more ex­otic and its re­spon­sive­ness and speed is up a notch, I love the ex­plo­sive­ness of the Porsche. Yet it com­bines that with a com­pletely lin­ear throt­tle ad­justa­bil­ity.’ He’s not wrong. The GT2 RS feels far smoother and more drive­able than a near-700bhp mon­ster surely has a right to. It em­ploys a mu­tant evo­lu­tion of the 911 Turbo’s 3.8-litre flat-six, one with big­ger tur­bos, a charge-air wa­ter­cooler, ti­ta­nium ex­haust and an­other 160bhp in the process, but some­how it re­tains much of the base car’s tractabil­ity. In terms of han­dling,

too, the GT2 RS has that en­vi­able sense of pre­ci­sion, of just-soness that Porsche does so well. The steer­ing’s a lit­tle lighter and less speedy than the Pista’s, but equally pre­cise and mea­sured in feel. Un­like the 488, the Porsche fea­tures rear-wheel steer­ing, and it’s equal parts in­tu­itive and un­ob­tru­sive. In high-speed cor­ners it teams up with the aero kit to im­bue the car with un­canny sta­bil­ity; ma­noeu­vring at park­ing speeds, on­look­ers can see the gi­ant rear wheels pivot to shorten the turn­ing cir­cle, and in­side you hear it, too – so much sound-dead­en­ing ma­te­rial has been stripped out you no­tice the wheel mo­tors whirring. Brush the brakes and you hear gi­ant pads against ce­ramic discs like 60-grit sand­pa­per, get on (or off) the throt­tle and you hear gasp­ing sounds from the in­takes be­hind the seats, and belches and whooshes from the tur­bos. It sounds quite malev­o­lent, a bar­rel-chested burr with a real res­o­nance to it when the gi­ant ex­haust valves are snapped open, but it’s more mono­tone than the Fer­rari, whose turbo bass is lifted by zingier over­tones.

It’s a stark con­trast to the nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated 4.0-litre in the cheaper (but just as tricky to ob­tain) Porsche 911 GT3 RS, which shares much of the same chas­sis and body up­grades as the GT2 RS. The GT3 packs one of the most spine-tin­gling sound­tracks on sale, and the more muf­fled-sound­ing GT2 can’t quite match it. The chas­sis feels very sim­i­lar to the GT3, though, which shouldn’t come as a sur­prise – they share the same rose-jointed sus­pen­sion and adap­tive dampers, with slightly dif­fer­ent spring rates at the rear, to ac­count for the weight of the in­ter­cool­ing and plumb­ing an­cil­lar­ies.

Per­haps it’s the ex­tra weight and the slight shift in its dis­tri­bu­tion, per­haps the dif­fer­ent en­gine, but the GT2 RS doesn’t feel quite as spe­cial as the GT3 RS. Mem­ory is a fickle thing, but I’m con­vinced the nat­u­rally-as­pi­rated car feels sharper, more alert, has some ex­tra magic run­ning through it that the GT2 al­most – but doesn’t quite – sum­mon. But if this is a car that’s 95 per cent as good to drive as a GT3 RS, that still makes it one of the very best driver’s cars in the world right now. Cru­cially, its huge hit of ex­tra power also pro­pels it straight into the su­per­car league, and lets it go toe to toe with the Pista.

In fact, of the two I’d say it’s the 911 that de­mands more of its driver, be­cause if the Pista was like play­ing an ar­cade game on easy mode – lim­it­less grip, the abil­ity to brake im­pos­si­bly late and af­ter­burner straight­line speed – the GT2 RS is like crank­ing things up to medium dif­fi­culty. Your hands are busier with the wheel, work­ing with weight trans­fer that’s more pro­nounced than in the 488, your brak­ing dis­tances longer in def­er­ence to ABS that’s trig­gered ear­lier and more eas­ily. You’re work­ing harder, but in re­turn you get the feel­ing you’re mak­ing more of a dif­fer­ence.

While it’s more chal­leng­ing than the Pista, it’s ar­guably

more in­volv­ing too, with a finer de­gree of feed­back. Where the Fer­rari has front-end grip like Araldite, the Porsche has a mild in­fu­sion of un­der­steer, a typ­i­cal rear-en­gined trait. Ben, who speaks 911 more flu­ently than I do, doesn’t ex­pe­ri­ence that un­der­steer on track. ‘Be­ing deep on the brakes brings the rear round, then it lets you stamp on the power and ride it all out with mild over­steer,’ he says. ‘Leav­ing a mar­gin on the road, you feel that less, and it’s more about man­ag­ing light un­der­steer while feel­ing all that torque tear at the rear tyres.’

Like the Fer­rari, those rear tyres are soft-com­pound Miche­lin Cup 2s, but so fully do the 911’s fill its rear arches that I can’t fit my fin­gers be­tween the body­work and the rub­ber. And yet, im­pos­si­bly, the 911 rides smoothly. Some sec­tions of road here are like a patch­work quilt but both cars ab­sorb them with­out fuss, par­tic­u­larly the 488, with its dampers switched to fondo scon­nesso (‘un­even ground’) mode. Both cars’ docil­ity and lowspeed ease of use is quite as­tound­ing.

The Porsche’s race-de­rived sus­pen­sion is fully ad­justable for track use, and our car’s op­tional Weis­sach pack in­cludes car­bon anti-roll bars, mag­ne­sium wheels and a ti­ta­nium rollcage. The 488 Pista fea­tures the same rear dif­fuser de­sign as its GTE Le Mans cousin, and the un­der­body, brake servo and many en­gine com­po­nents from the 488 Chal­lenge race­car.

Both rock a stripped-out-racer vibe in­side, too, the 488’s glove­box binned for nets, and the doors’ arm­rests re­placed by a ves­ti­gial es­carp­ment of car­bon­fi­bre you can just about get the edge of your el­bow onto. More stor­age space than the Alpine, though, and sur­pris­ingly rea­son­able lug­gage space un­der the nose too. The Porsche is the more prac­ti­cal, its seats a great ex­am­ple of one-size-fits-all buck­ets, and if you get creative with squashy bags you’ll fit them through the rollcage like a ship in a bot­tle. Get­ting them out again might be al­to­gether more chal­leng­ing. So, a win­ner? Both are as­tound­ing achieve­ments. The GT2 RS is more ac­ces­si­ble than you’d ever ex­pect a 690bhp rear-drive 911 could be, and just as ex­cit­ing. But in ev­ery mea­sur­able re­spect the Pista is the finer car. It has the bet­ter brakes, the bet­ter gear­box, bet­ter damp­ing, a broader dy­namic en­ve­lope and feels faster in a straight line (re­mark­ably so, in fact). And for more in­tan­gi­ble, emo­tional rea­sons too it sim­ply has to win this test – to drive a 488 Pista is to re­de­fine your un­der­stand­ing of what a road car can be ca­pa­ble of, to ex­pe­ri­ence physics bent and shaped in ways that shouldn’t be pos­si­ble. A su­per­car with su­per-pow­ers, it’s the unan­i­mous win­ner of this Sports Car Gi­ant Test.

With thanks to Miche­lin, Euro­tun­nel and Sir Jackie Stew­art, who

was talk­ing on be­half of Race Against De­men­tia


700bhp apiece, epic on track, at home on road

Pista steer­ing: the bane of driv­ing in­struc­tors ev­ery­where

Tar­mac here as frac­tured as it is tor­tu­ous. Top two ace it

Lac de Ville­fort: good. The D901: bet­ter

This year, noth­ing does it bet­ter than the Fer­rari 488 Pista

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