Inside the 2019 Ferrari Pista, a supercar built for the racetrack
It's built specifically with the racetrack in mind.
“What can you even do with that?”
That was the question, asked by a local police officer who had motioned for me to lower the window of a supercar I was driving not long ago. Indeed, where can a car nut properly exercise thoroughbred machinery that is built to go 200 mph?
The answer is, “Where there are no police officers handing out speeding tickets; the race track.” Driving on a track can be a daunting experience for drivers whose speed background is limited to beating a red light. And it can also be a tough place for production street cars, even pretty red ones from Maranello.
That’s because street tires and brakes wilt under the relentless strain of lapping a track. Shock absorbers get hot and lose effectiveness too, leaving the car free to bounce around more than it should, with the total effect being a car that is challenging to control.
Ferrari aims to address these quandaries with the Pista, a track-centric version of the company’s blazing quick 488 GTB and with Corso Pilota, the company’s $10,000, two-day program with professional coaching and data analysis to help Ferrari owners enjoy their cars.
Divers can choose the 488 GTB or the 812 Superfast, but the Pista is the most prepared for the track. Corso Pilota instructors’ success in developing you into the lean, mean, driving machine you imagine yourself to be probably depends a bit on your aptitude and your responsiveness to instruction. The car, however, remains a constant.
The Pista’s suitability as a track weapon is unquestioned, starting from the solid foundation of the 488 GTB.
The 488 is Ferrari’s first production mid-engine sports car to use turbocharging to boost power. The 288 GTO of the 1980s also featured forced induction, but that was a limited production model based on Magnum P.I.’s famous 308 GTS.
To start, the Pista’s version of the 3.9-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine from the 488 is pumped up to 710 horsepower, making it the most powerful Ferrari V8 ever. The 49-horsepower increase in power compared to the 488 represents the biggest bump for Ferrari’s track variant yet.
Official performance numbers are 2.85 second 0-62 mph (100 kph) acceleration and a top speed higher than 211 mph.
One source of the Pista’s added power is enlarged turbochargers that can spin faster than those on the 488 because engineers installed sensors that directly measure their rpm. Normally, carmakers estimate turbos’ speed, so they leave a cushy safety margin rather than spinning them right up to their maximum to avoid accidentally going over. By sensing their speed directly, Ferrari can spin the Pista’s turbos right up to their limit, extracting maximum possible boost.
Of course, the rest of the engine also has to be able to withstand the resulting stress of the higher boost, so those are racing-grade titanium connecting rods in there now, and the crankshaft and flywheel are lighter. Ferrari also shaved mass from the powertrain by installing a carbon fiber intake plenum and using Inconel alloy for the exhaust.
Can’t hardly weight
Inconel doesn’t save weight by being very light, like say, titanium. Instead, its advantage is extreme strength and heat tolerance, which permit it to be used in paper-thin thicknesses that save weight.
The thinness is also key to the Pista’s mission of preserving Ferrari’s signature exhaust wail. Ferraris have traditionally been naturally aspirated, which meant there were no spinning turbocharger vanes clogging the exhaust system to impede the aural flow from the fire inside the engine.
Using very thin Inconel in the exhaust helps the Pista project what voice its turbocharged engine does have, giving it a more invigorating sound that is 8 decibels louder than the 488, even if it still falls short of the sonic perfection of its 458 Speciale predecessor.
The sum of these many exotic parts is an as-tested price of $345,300, thanks to a pile of lightweight carbon fiber options and a disappointing $15,000 charge for the Pista’s cool center stripes.
Approaching the Pista and opening the driver’s door, there’s none of the gimmickry of gull wing or scissor doors, but the heavily bolstered, alcantara-wrapped seats are the norm for helping occupants stay in place inside super sports cars. I appreciate the adjustable seat back angle of the Pista’s carbon fiber seats, rather than the one-piece fixed-back seats of Porsche’s track models, the 911 GT3 RS and GT2 RS, which are uncomfortably upright.
The thick-rimmed steering wheel frames the large circular analog tachometer whose white face shows the Pista engine’s 8,000 rpm redline. The wheel is backed by left and right shift paddles protruding from the steering column.
The Pista’s paddles are a warm-to-the-fingertips carbon fiber in place of the cool metallic magnesium paddles of the 488. The are fixed in place, so the driver can easily find the upshift paddle while unwinding the wheel when accelerating out of corners, in contrast to the more common steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
A row of LED shift lights across the top of the wheel provides notice when it is time to squeeze the right paddle for a redline upshift. Ferrari’s manettino drive mode selector mounts on the face of the steering wheel, just like the proliferation of inscrutable knobs and buttons on the steering wheels of the company’s Formula 1 racecars.
The Pista’s manettino positions are Wet, Sport, Race, CT Off (traction control) and ESC Off (stability control). South Florida weather granted us the opportunity to try the wet setting on a slalom course, and then compare that to the sliding that becomes increasingly possible with the Sport and Race settings thanks to the less-strict limits applied by the traction and stability control computers.
Out on the race track after things had dried out, I went through the same progression from Sport, to Race and then CT Off. “ESC Off” is a good way to crash someone else’s expensive machine, so that position went untested.
In Sport mode, and to a lesser degree in Race, the stability control system automatically modulates throttle input to keep the car pointed straight, while in CT Off, the driver must tread lightly on the accelerator pedal and make occasional snap steering corrections to keep the Pista in line. This has the advantage of letting you drive faster, as the electronic systems maintain a bit of a margin as they reign in the Pista’s horses.
Meanwhile, even in CT Off mode, the Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer works invisibly to assist the driver by analyzing the car’s situation and gently squeezing a brake caliper when appropriate to stabilize the car.
Rocketing around Homestead Miami Speedway’s “roval,” a high-speed oval track combined with an infield road course, the Pista demonstrates the precise steering and powerful brake capability necessary for a track car. Through the twisty infield turns, the Pista has the control and feedback to let the driver adeptly balance braking and turning when trail braking toward the apex, and then balancing throttle and steering as the car accelerates out of turns.
The Pista employs subtle aerodynamic aids rather than garish wings and such, yet it achieves a 20 percent improvement in stability-enhancing downforce at speed. This added high-speed stability boosts the driver’s confidence when making turns such as the very fast left-handers diving off of Homestead’s oval track and into the infield road course portions.
That’s because it feels like the hand of God pressing the car to the pavement to keep it from sliding unnervingly through these high-speed sections where the stakes of making a mistake are the highest. Imagine having a Mario Kart option that is less prone to falling off the cliff on Rainbow Road than the regular karts.
The Pista’s springs are also 10 percent stiffer than the road-friendly 488’s to resist the pressure of this downforce, and they help (along with the car’s recalibrated magnetically adjustable shock absorbers) maintain an even keel when braking and turning.
For our experience testing the Pista at Homestead Miami Speedway, Corsa Pilota instructor Todd Snyder rode along in the right seat, as seen in the in-car video above. That video also provides a data overlay that ostensibly shows the car’s performance, but which really shows the driver’s performance exploiting the Pista’s capabilities.
Those capabilities are extreme. The Pista follows in the smoking wheel tracks of the 360 Challenge Stradale, the 430 Scuderia and the 458 Speciale, each a successive generation of hot rod track models from the Prancing Horse. Sixty percent of today’s Pista buyers already participate in track events, and they’ll surely be happier doing that now in a car that is optimized for the purpose.
The Corsa Pilota program provides helmets for drivers and onboard video with an overlay of the car’s performance, which makes for a perfect training tool between track sessions. And the video file on the SD card is a fun souvenir for drivers to take home.