Adult rated, for sure. Ferrari’s 720-hp gentleman’s racer makes no sense. Except it will make the author and 29 rich guys go ecstatic. Which makes perfect sense.
- Mar 2010
- By JOHN PHILLIPS
- Photography By TOM SALT
“Strange things happen in Maranello. When Fiat flew us to Italy to showcase its technology in 1988, for instance, the company’s CFO personally set up a Ferrari factory tour for us. When we arrived, the guard at the gate said, “So sorry. If only we had known you were coming.” Then, when we were promised a drive in the first Enzo on Ferrari’s Fiorano test track, well, sorry again, because the factory’s F1 team had already booked the joint.
And now I was to be the second journalist in the world to drive the 599XX—an extreme 720-hp track-only iteration of the surpassingly gorgeous 599GTB Fiorano—except six inches of snow had muffled the Italian town the night before. As press officer Matteo Torre said of the now-invisible circuit, “She is only good for, how you say, the cross-country skis.”
Signor Torre, however (who, as far as I could tell, never stopped running or answering his cell phone for 72 hours), had ambitiously initiated Plan B. “I am having already renting of the Vallelunga, four hours south,” he explained, rubbing his hands like Ernst Blofeld. What’s more, he’d also already shipped two 599XXs there. “Vallelunga, she is the terrible fast track,” he added. “Much fun. But also many of the, uh, crashes enorme.” Then he noticed the look on my face. “Oh, no, Mister John. Not so much of our Ferraris is crashing.”
If ever there has existed a meaner, sleeker, dragon slayer of a GT racer, well, neither Ecclestone, Mosley, Lauren, nor Leno has clapped eyes on the thing.
Except for the roof and windshield, not much of the 599XX is cannibalized from the all-aluminum 599GTB Fiorano. All four fenders, for instance, feature F1-like aero “fences,” vertical panels behind which air is scooped out from each wheel well. To relieve heat and pressure, the hood likewise features nearly as many holes as Augusta. The winglets on the C-pillars—resembling Alfred E. Neuman’s ears—funnel air inward, forcing it to slide down the Lexan backlight, then along the ducktail trunklid, and finally over the carbon-fiber blade spoiler. And then there’s the huge underbody fairing and rear diffuser, whose center section is air permeable. Two electric fans mounted inside the trunk suck air through that permeable panel and then vent it through the holes previously occupied by taillights. The air is discarded in individual huffs and puffs (like a subwoofer stomping out rap music), which, we are told, detaches the wake from the rear of the car. This is apparently a good thing, according to the F1 engineers who designed it—along with the winglets—during hundreds of trial-and-error hours in Ferrari’s own wind tunnel. The fans automatically quit sucking underbody air at 155 mph, a speed that suggests the car is traveling in a straight line and thus needs no extra downforce. Speaking of which, all of this aero chicanery creates 617 pounds of downforce at 124 mph and 1389 pounds at 186 mph. For what started as a street car, that’s a bunch.
The cockpit is similarly all business, stripped to bare metal and encased in a roll cage. The dash is a piece of carbon fiber with a single LCD pod replacing all gauges, and LEDs embedded in the top of the steering wheel—as on the regular 599—warn of the approaching 9000-rpm redline. The side windows are Lexan; the doors feel as if they weigh 13 ounces; and the back seat is replaced with a tangle of Aeroquip hoses and what might be the black box from an Airbus A300.
By race-car standards, visibility is superb in all directions, helped in part by skinny, elongated side-view mirrors that jut out like individual Martian antennae. The cockpit offers one lone—and unlikely—vestige of civility: It’s air conditioned.
As a result of all that carbon fiber, not to mention the myriad luxo accouterments that have been returned to the parts bin, the 599XX is about 600 pounds lighter than a 3953-pound 599GTB Fiorano you’d see idling down Rodeo Drive.
The 6.0-liter V-12 makes 720 horsepower and 506 pound-feet of torque, besting the 599GTB’s output by 108 prancing horses and 58 pound-feet. Some of that newfound power accrues from upping the redline—9000 rpm instead of 8400—made possible through extra balancing, blueprinting, and sedulous massaging. There’s a new higher-flow carbon-fiber intake manifold, for instance; the pistons are graphite-coated; the cam lobes are polished to a Bulgari-quality fare-thee-well; mechanical tappets replace the hydraulic-istas; there’s a custom exhaust; and the crankshaft throws have a new aerodynamic profile.
The 599XX’s power-to-weight ratio is 4.7 pounds per horsepower, versus, say, the Bugatti Veyron’s 4.5. With telemetry as a witness, Ferrari test driver Raffaele De Simone spirited a 599XX to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 2.9 seconds—without launch control. But here’s maybe the coolest thing about the V-12: Ferrari warrants it for 5000 kilometers (3107 miles), “which should be good for two years’ worth of racing,” says chief vehicle engineer Nicola Porciani. A racing engine with a warranty. Is that a first? Because of noise regs at some tracks, the exhaust is fitted with silencers. Sadly, they impose a somewhat blatty V-8 note rather than the expected V-12 Bates Motel shriek.
Twin fans in the trunk (above) evacuate air from the huge underbody diffuser panel. Lead engineer Nicola Porciani (below) explains to the author that he should have worn a Nomex tie.
The gargantuan carbon-ceramic brakes are cooled by F1-derived “wheel donuts” that vent unwanted BTUs away from the rotors through slots around the wheels’ center-locking nuts. Automatic pneumatic jacks are part of the deal; the shocks can be toggled to three settings to suit the relative roughness of any given track; and the vital task of selecting gears is managed exclusively via paddles behind the steering wheel. Left paddle for downshifts, right paddle for upshifts. Hold the downshift paddle an extra half-second or so and you’ll automatically get multiple downshifts. It takes a little practice.
The 720 horsepower is a swell perk, but the dirty little secret to the 599XX’s boggling speed is its console-mounted “manettino,” which, translated loosely means “little handle.” It’s a rotary knob with nine positions, each of which alters the stability control’s level of aggression. Turn the manettino to position one, and there’s zero stability control, zero traction control. Turn it to nine, and the car is nearly uncrashable.
First Drive Review
I started at position six, then later dialed down to five. Even at those mid-level settings, the stability control—in this case, managed by brakes only—makes you look like Felipe Massa. (You’d have looked like Michael Schumacher just months ago, but Mikey has since been relieved of his Ferrari get-in-for-free badge.) It took me a while to learn Vallelunga, and I’d occasionally enter a turn from the wrong side, causing me to rudely yank the wheel to cross the track in a desperate search for an apex. In any other car, I’d have spun more times than the first Sputnik. But with Ferrari’s stability control, you feel only the first millisecond of an ungainly lurch, then the car miraculously marches with military discipline in whatever direction you’ve assigned, all of this as drama-free as a fifth-grade stage play.
Then, once you’re within sight of any apex, just mat the throttle, letting the traction control sort things out. That, in turn, launches you trebuchet-style to the next turn, which arrives so rapidly that you’ll have trouble remembering which way it goes, too. But that’s not a problem because you can just stomp the brakes exactly as hard as you are panicked—ABS now takes over—and the deceleration is so instantaneous and violent that I occasionally found myself entering 50-mph turns at 20 mph.
Click the manettino to positions three or four, and the decreased stability control allows you to rotate the tail a tad, which helps to point the car into corners. I expected this to be scary, but the 599XX’s steering is as light and accurate as an Audi A4’s, and no car in my experience has ever felt as perfectly balanced and agile. Unless you intentionally provoke the rear tires, this Ferrari is as neutral as Switzerland but with a better sense of humor.
For 35 years, I’ve driven and written about hundreds of fast cars. The only car I’ve driven that’s as quick as the 599XX was Greg Moore’s Indy car, and it was a wholly evil, nervous, uncooperative bastard that I spun because it was perpetually on knife’s edge.
The nine-position stability-control dial can be adjusted easily at speed. Above it is a switch to select three shock settings—soft, medium, and hard. Onboard pneumatic jacks are part of the deal.
“We were pleased that this car turned out to be far more drivable than the Enzo FXX,” says test driver De Simone. That is no boast. What makes the 599XX astoundingly fast is that it’s so well behaved and so forgiving of its driver’s ham-fisted miscues.
At “terrible” Vallelunga, the Ferrari drivers had no reference lap times. But at Fiorano, the 599XX repeatedly logged 76-second laps—identical to what an Enzo FXX can turn—and proved 10.5 seconds quicker than a street-legal 599GTB. Mi piace. In case you’re wondering, a Formula 1 car circulates Fiorano in 56 seconds.
And so, what does one do with a 720-hp Ferrari that cannot legally be driven beyond your driveway? Glad you asked. Actually, we’re not glad you asked because the answer is murky. But here’s Ferrari’s somewhat suspicious side of the story: A maximum of 29 of these cars will be built, with 20 already spoken for, so act quickly. The owners will then enter their cars in any or all of 18 track events worldwide—the two American events are at Homestead in Florida and Miller Motorsports Park in Utah. Funny thing is, the cars don’t race each other. No trophy. No winner. No champagne. Instead, they race the clock, and each driver’s goal is to shave seconds off his personal lap times as the weekend progresses. To that end, the owner may want to leave the passenger seat installed so that a factory test driver/engineer can ride along and comment on the pilote’s, uh, methods. Alternately, the owner can simply download his car’s telemetry and present it to the aforesaid factory reps, allowing the traces to be analyzed.
“The goal is for us to learn about our cars’ behavior under extreme conditions,” asserts Ferrari’s Porciani. Oh, really? You actually expect us to believe that a gentleman driver who operates a hedge fund during the day is going to tell Ferrari SpA something that its entire F1 team, its world-class test drivers, and its battalion of engineers don’t already know? Puh-leeze.
In any event, each 599XX costs 1.1 million euros ($1.5 million as this was written), and you can pay extra to have Ferrari store and maintain your car, or you can park it in your own garage and change the oil yourself. What’s more, Ferrari doesn’t care if you race the car in one-off events, such as the endurance races at, say, Thunderhill or Nelson Ledges, where the car, with its universally illegal active aero and ultra-high-tech stability control, doesn’t have to conform to any particular class rules.
I traveled to Maranello having already violated the first ethical canon espoused in Journalism 101. That is, I’d already decided to skewer the 599XX on the grounds that it is as irrelevant as a diamond-studded dog collar, that no organized race series would condone it, and that it existed mostly to lighten the Gucci wallets of look-at-me collectors who’d never find use for any gear beyond third and wouldn’t know the name of the nearest road course anyway.
I apologize. After I drove the 599XX in anger, my preconceived notions vanished. By 5 p.m., I had made this calculation: If I paid Ferrari, say, $399 per month at zero APR, I could own a 599XX in as little as 3759 months. And here’s the best part. According to the average life expectancy in America, I’ll only need the car for 252 months. After that, Ferrari can have it back. I’ll even wax it and replace the air freshener. Well, maybe my wife will.” Quoted from the May 2010 Issue of Car & Driver