During a recent trip to Maranello, Ferrari’s hometown, some of the evo team fell in love. Not with a gleaming red chunk of carbon fibre, aluminium, steel and rubber, no. Because although the cars weren’t bad, it was Fiorano, Ferrari’s test track, that enchanted us the most.
Without huge grandstands or vast pit garages it’s like few other tracks. Its almost plain appearance gives little away, but once explored it’ll leave you captivated.
Over the next few pages, evo‘s Henry Catchpole, Antony Ingram and Will Beaumont give you their experiences of Ferrari’s dedicated test track.
From a first visit to Ferrari’s home town, to those first laps of the circuit and a look at the challenging layout of Fiorano, it’s an insight into what makes the place so special. That so many incredible road and race cars have been developed there over the years adds to the magic.
And if you haven’t checked it out already, here’s what we found when visiting Enzo Ferrari’s old office on the Fiorano site – preserved since his death and home to an amazing collection of items from the company’s history.
Click on the menu below to discover more.
I’ve never actually driven round Fiorano, but I have fond memories of it nonetheless.
When I was 21 I went to Maranello with my father as part of a holiday in Italy. Not being customers, we didn’t have any special access, but it was wonderful just being at the home of Ferrari, seeing all the landmarks and catching sight of prototypes casually driving round the streets.
I remember being on the other side of town when we heard the F1 car start testing. It was so loud that it sounded like the V10 was right in amongst the houses. We hot-footed it across to the circuit and although we obviously couldn’t get in, there are a couple of places where you can get quite close and watch through the fence. Just off Via Gilles Villeneuve, is Via Marsala and down the end, next to a block of flats, you can get a view of the big hairpin.
There was just a chain link fence there at the time, so it was easy to see what was going on. I think they’ve tried to tighten security now, but it’s still possible to watch and there is a little piece of wall that you can stand on to peer over the top. I spent hours there, avidly watching, taking terrible photos, noting the vast difference in speeds and braking distances between the standard road cars, the competition cars and the F1 car. Happy times.
The start of my drive around Fiorano in a 488 was an inauspicious one. I’ve lost the starter button. First I attempt to look for a key to twist, then a button somewhere on the dashboard. Raffaele de Simone, a man already several orders of magnitude cooler than I (and that’s before my starter-related brain fade) gently suggests I look on the steering wheel. Ah.
Prodding a button still isn’t quite as cool as twisting a key though, is it? It’s almost impossible to do with nonchalance. And does one use an extended finger (and if so, which one?), or thumb it? I had the same trouble in a Morgan 3-Wheeler, and that at least has a bomb-switch style cover to flip up beforehand.
Truth be told I’d not mention the starter button, were it not the only aspect of the 488 that felt anything less than spectacular about its demeanour on the day. Not yet high enough in evo’s ranks that my name will come up for any Ferrari launch invitations in the near future, taking one of its cars onto its private test track feels wholly illicit.
I first became aware of Fiorano in the early 90s. Nigel Mansell was driving around the place for a video covering his career thus far, filmed just before his move to Williams from Ferrari. He drives Fiorano in an F40. In the wet. At one point, into the first corner after the main straight, his eyes widen as the tyres lock. “Having a job to stop for this corner”, he tells the audience as the wheel fights in his hands. A nervous laugh. “That was quite quick into that corner”. His eyes flick briefly to the camera. Just as well you were already wearing brown trousers, Nige.
The track has changed a little since then. For a start, it’s beautifully sunny today. A wander around some of the infield buildings – the pits, Enzo’s old house – sets the scene. The car has changed too, though it’s scarcely believable that Ferrari’s current mid-engined V8 sports car has around 200 horses more than the F40 once did.
Performance is immense, but so too are the chassis’ abilities and the efforts of the E-diff, F1-trac, and other electronic systems. I’ve no doubt the 488 is a car that wouldn’t suffer fools, but rein-in your inner fool and the car impresses and flatters in equal degree.
Rushing towards the tight first corner and working the carbon-ceramics to the point of ABS chatter is far less terrifying than I expected, and if you’d told me a few weeks ago that adding corrective lock at fourth-gear speeds would be as easy in a 488 as it is at second-gear speeds in my MX-5, I’d have deemed you insane. But you’d have been right.
Such is the thrust available in small throttle openings it doesn’t take much commitment to introduce some satisfying yaw to the car’s attitude. What you lose in noise and character and a spine-tingling yowl you gain in the kind of creamy driveability that makes the 488 fun at all kinds of different speeds, and particularly so in the unfamiliar environs of Ferrari’s own circuit.
Speaking afterwards to fellow staffer Will, we both agree it’d be interesting to try some of Ferrari’s earlier wares – he settles on the 355, with its natural aspiration and open-gated manual, while I proffer an earlier V12, a 250 perhaps – to see what modern Ferraris might have lost next to those that once defined the brand. But I’d be surprised if any other car in the company’s history would be better suited for that first taste of Fiorano.
Will’s beginner’s guide
If you tackle Fiorano for the first time in a 488 GTB, you can hardle begrudge Ferrari the slightly slower configuration it imposed upon us. However with 661bhp of turbochaged V8, it certainly feels quick enough. This ‘slower’ track layout means we use the inside path for the first bend, which makes the first corner a right-hand hairpin with a slight left kink before it. Unusually, the left kink means you start braking for the right-hander on the right side of the track as you try to straighten out your approach as much as possible.
The right hairpin requires a late apex because there’s a left shortly after it. This late apex sets you up nicely to move over, further to the right side of track for the left-hander. As the first corner is so tight, and therefore you’ve scrubbed-off so much speed, being too far to the right isn’t necessary.
As you accelerate hard out of the second corner you’re faced with two long sweeping corners, a right followed by a left. The 488’s glorious performance means speed rapidly increases. The first right requires some patience on the throttle. The second part is dealt with in fourth gear, but as is the ferociousness of the 488, you will be fighting oversteer on the exit.
Fiorano is, essentially a glorified figure of eight. Because of this though, the track must go over and under itself at some point. Rather than an undergorund tunnel, Fiorano has a bridge.
Before you climb the hill to go over the bridge, there is a two stage right hander to master. First there is a kink right, then comes a tighter bend. The first part makes judging your line quite tricky. Start to the right of the circuit and then, as the track chinks right, maintain your trajectory as the left side of the tarmac comes to meet you. This sets you up perfectly to brake deep into the second part of the corner, take another late apex, and accelerate cleanly up the hill and over the bridge.
After the bridge, there’s a ninety degree right. However, there’s a crest before the corner that not only makes it blind, but can also unsettle the car under braking.
As you descend the hill there’s slight left that’s taken flat. As soon as it has straightened though, you need to be thinking about braking heavily into a right-hand hairpin. It’s very easy, thanks to the downhill section and the sheer speed of the GTB, to carry too much speed into this corner.
The corner itself feels like it’s been slightly squared off, with two right angles in close succession rather than one flowing switchback. The first part can trick you into too early an apex, which then causes understeer as you pile on more steering trying to keep a tighter line, then oversteer as you correct the understeer with copius amounts of throttle. Ignore the kerbs to begin with, and stay closer to the centre of the track before cutting in later. The corner is so tight that you still have to manage oversteer on the exit, but the later apex makes it much easier to be tidy.
After the hairpin there’s a flat right into a tighter left. The left is still very quick, but perhaps not as fast as it initially seems. What feels like a corner where just a lift would suffice, actually requires some brakes. Go in too quick and the front will push wide onto the exit curbs. There’s a long flat-out section as the track bears right after the corner, so any mistakes here will really effect a lap time.
Finally there’s another left-hand hairpin. This one is wider than the last, but is smoother and the racing line is more conventional. The corner does open out and widen, but if you hug the inside curb until you can start to see down the main straight, it allows clean, fuss-free acceleration under the bridge and to the end of the lap.
Fiorano on film
Watch Jethro Bovingdon’s first laps of Fiorano in an F12 Berlinetta.
See Dickie Meaden get to grips with the LaFerrari.
Listen to the 458 Speciale reach its 9000rpm rev limit as Jethro slithers it around.
28 May 2016
(Via Featured Articles)