A Day with Ferrari

OK, a few months ago I wrote that I had a new favorite car, the Porsche Carrera GT. I may have to change my mind.


I was invited to spend a day with the Ferrari Challenge Rally, which is a three day time-distance rally that is put on by Ferrari of North America. About 60 Ferrari owners participated in this event in Napa Valley, CA, driiving everything from 50s classics to exotics like an Enzo and F50. They drove on various twisty roads around Napa, then on day three, drove in a procession across the Golden Gate Bridge on their way to Monterey for the Pebble Beach Concours.


It was made clear that this wasn’t a race – the idea was to get to estabilshed checkpoints throughout each day with a time based on appropriate speed for the route. If you get to the checkpoint too soon or too late, your score is penalized.


Of course, we weren’t going to be competing, so we didn’t really care what our time was. This meant we weren’t too concerned about going too fast.


I was there for day 2. I started out the morning in a red (of course) Ferrari F430 Spider with a fellow journalist form C/NET. This is the newest convertible from Ferrari, and it is a gorgeous car. I had some quick instrucion on how everything worked and I was set. Turn the key, push the start button, and there’s this wonderful roar from right behind you. That would be the F430’s 490-horsepower V8 engine.


This F430 was equipped with Ferrari’s F1 transmission – shifting is performed with paddles on either side of the steering wheel. A button on the center console put us in reverse and we backed out of our spot. Visibility backwards is not great and it feels like a very wide car.


Soon we were out on the road. It took a bit of getting used to, as just slight pressure on the accellerator got us moving very quickly. The F1 transmission shifts incredibly smoothly, much better than the SMG (sequential manual gearbox) that BMW offers. Shifts happen in just 150 milliseconds, with no clutch needed.


I got used to it quickly. This car is incredibly fast and handles better than anything I’ve ever driven on the road. We were taking turns with suggested 20 mph speed limits at 60, and on one longer stretch of straight road I was over 120 mph.


It was interesting to see the reaction from other people on the road. People honked, waved, yelled “nice car”, and almost always would pull over to let us by on two-lane roads. Much more positive than I would have expected.


The best part of the morning was following a V12-powered Ferrari Superamerica with a Ferrari 360 Modena behind us on some very twisty roads. The sound of all that power all at once was intoxicating. First the V12 in front of us would wind up, than our V8 would follow suit. Its not always that you get to drive a car that can keep up with a Superamerica. I could do that all day.


However, I didn’t get to – the afternoon we swapped with a two other journalists into the larger 612 Scaglietti. The family-sized Ferrari, the 612 has seats for four with a beautiful interior, unless of course you don’t like leather. Several cows gave their lives to trim the inside of this car.


The 612 also had an F1 transmission, but unlike the mid-engined F430, the 612 features a 540-horsepower V12 positioned over the front axle. Its defiinitly bigger and heavier than the F430, but its got incredible power. The first time I floored it, I was going 100 mph before I had a chance to glance at the speedometer.


It still handles very well for a car of its size, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. For about $100,000 less, you can get a 552-horsepower Bentley Continental GT with all-wheel drive. I think the Bentley looks a lot better as well.


I haven’t gotten to drive the F430 at a track, and I haven’t driven the Porsche Carrera GT on the road, but the Ferrari feels like it could be driven every day, while the Porsche feels more fragile. I think I have a new favorite.


This was my first time behind the wheel of a Ferrari. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to get the chance again sometime.

Perry Stern