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Fiorano and Ferrari's 458 Speciale - a wet dream

Leow Ju-Len
11/12/2013

MARANELLO, ITALY – On every Ferrari there’s a Manettino. It’s a simple switch on the steering wheel that’s filtered down from the knobs that adorn the wheel of a Formula One car, and it basically lets you call up a variety of settings to suit the conditions you’re driving in, or the mood you happen to be in.

In the 458 Speciale there’s a new feature called Side Slip Control, which is available once you’re in the car’s ‘Race’ setting, which also happens to sharpen up the engine’s responses and those of the gearbox.

SSC is the one thing about the Speciale that makes the punters sit up and drool. It’s basically a system that works out your driving style and gets the Ferrari’s E-Diff and traction control systems to help you along.

If you’re a bit understeery going into bends, for instance, the system recognises it and keeps the E-Diff relatively unlocked to keep the car more stable and reduce the amount of steering lock you have to apply. Suppose you like a bit of oversteer on the way out, SSC keeps a close eye on your steering inputs, so if you have the tail slung out at a slip angle that’s within target and you have enough opposite lock on, it’ll tell the engine to keep going instead of cutting power to not kill the slide.

It’s not meant to turn you into a drifting god (buy an Evo X for that), but it’s mean to help with the laptimes.

I was supposed to find out at Fiorano, Ferrari’s private test track, but the weather poured cold water on that idea (literally). Kamui Kobayashi, late of Toyota and Sauber F1 fame and now driving a 458 in GT racing, was on hand to give journalists a ride around the place, and comfortably predicted I would spin off the circuit if I didn’t take it easy (he went off a couple of times himself, for the record).

So, manettino in ‘Wet’, I edged the 458 onto the track and sure enough, had to tiptoe out of corners or the mighty V8 would threaten to biff us off onto the grass. Hugely frustrating, because the 458 Speciale has such a wonderful front end. The nose deflects into corners the way your face snaps sideways when someone slaps you, and it does so in a way stupendously communicative. When the front tyres lose bite, they do it by the inch instead of giving way to huge, scary slides, so if you ever run straight off the road in a 458 Speciale, it’ll be your own damn fault because you didn’t pay attention to what its Michelins were saying.

The brakes are another revelation on the track. When wet they do seem to want a serious push on the pedal, but they shed speed with faithful alacrity, and are a measurable improvement on the 430 Scuderia’s anchoers. When it’s dry, the Speciale comes to dead halt from 200km/h in just 122 metres, nine less than the Scuderia.

After a couple of laps trying to keep the rear of the Ferrari under control, though, I could stand it no longer and flicked the manettino to ‘Race’. SSC is supposed to help you with drifts, after all, so shouldn’t it actually work better in the rain? And sure enough, with my fingers primed to apply plenty of countersteer, I found myself receiving much more grunt from the engine, with the Ferrari doing less to intervene with traction control as long as I was ready to catch every slide. I don’t know if I was lapping any faster but I was certainly having more fun, so nuts to you, Kobayashi.

And then it happens. On a long, curved straight I give the 458 plenty of welly, and try to keep the rush of power going by holding a slide on a bit of opposite lock. Then the slide turns into a wiggle. And the wiggle turns into a wobble. And that turns into an arm-twirling, oath-inducing tankslapper at three figure speeds that makes my testicles undescend themselves. “Oh shit,” I remember thinking. “Here comes the mother of all spins…”

Somehow, the Ferrari sorts itself out. ‘Race’ mode still keeps stability control enabled, after all, so all I come away with is a reminder that the Speciale can still sort out a clueless driver, and an empty space where my sack used to be. I flick the settings back to ‘Wet’ and keep them there, having decided that there’s no shame in using such a setting when it’s sodden enough to make tarmac feel like banana skin. That’s what the manettino is there for on every Ferrari, after all.

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458 CarBuyer Ferrari Fiorano Italia Italy Manettino Maranello Singapore Speciale track test

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Leow Ju-Len

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