After the previous weeks once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive the Lambo LP670-4 SV at the 2.4 mile Thruxton track (UK), I was still in "supercar heaven" this week, as I had a drive of the 430 Scuderia 16M.
The Ferrari is not as expensive as the Lambo but it’s just as rare a sight on UK roads, and to be honest, I was looking forward to the Fezza more than the Lambo, as I’ve always had a soft spot for the Prancing Horse over the Raging Bull.
The day at Thruxton followed the same format as before with the only differences being that this session came with the addition of laps in a single seater Formula Renault racing car and I joined Tiff Needell for three laps as his passenger in a BMW M3 Coupe. For those of you that read the Lambo review you’ll recognise the following couple of paragraphs as they are a shameless cut and paste...
For those that don’t know much about the track, Thruxton is located in the South of England about an hour South West of London. It is a popular venue for racing, including the British Touring Car Championship and FIA GT Racing. The track is based at an airfield which follows the lines of the perimeter road with the inclusion of a chicane and further round the track three tight corners in succession: Campbell, Cobb and Segrave, commonly referred to as the complex. Even with these tight corners Thruxton is the fastest race circuit in the UK, with Formula Renaults averaging well over 100 mph in race conditions. Thruxton has a reputation as a real "drivers circuit" with its seemingly never ending high speed corners around the back of the track where success requires total commitment. The Church corner is apparently the fastest in the UK with Formula 3 cars able to take it at 150mph. After driving around 15 laps of the track my main comment is that it feels like one massive corner as there are no real straights just one corner melding into the next.
"It is luck of the draw when it comes to who is sitting next to you and it can make a huge difference to a driving experience"
Anyway back to the day. The track session starts with the obligatory briefing where you watch a 15 min video explaining lines, apexes, braking, flags, pit protocol etc. After that follows a drive with an instructor in a Mazda 3 MPS to show the track, corners and ideal lines while also explaining that overtaking should only be when they tell you and never in a corner (not easy when the whole track seems like a corner!).
My instructor for the day has been racing since the early 70s with a couple of championships under his belt so I tried to take in as much advice as possible! He slowly built up the speed until the last of 3 sighting laps were what I would call "full on". The MPS felt reasonably good on track and with a pro behind the wheel we were easily passing the other amateurs out on track in their Caymans and single seaters.
After the demo laps it was over to the Porsche Cayman for my first drive of the day, unfortunately I was driver number 10 in a batch of 9 cars, which meant I ended up going dead last. Luckily, I ended up with a really good old boy as an instructor who after hearing that I’d done it all before, only seven days earlier, got me to push the car from half way round our first lap. Its luck of the draw when it comes to who is sitting next to you and it can make a huge difference to a driving experience, and this guy was one of the better ones!
I was very pleased and flattered to be told that it was nice to be driven on track by somebody "that knows what they are doing" as "most people that do these days can’t drive for toffee"
Last week’s instructor was far more restrained and, if anything, held me back in the Cayman even though I’d mentioned that I’d driven them and Boxsters on track days previously. Anyway we gave the Cayman a good warm up with Brian just given a few pointers here and there during our 5 laps basically just letting me drive. As we sat back in the pits with him writing up my report card (used by the next instructor to see if you are safe or not!) I was very pleased and flattered to be told that it was nice to be driven on track by somebody “that knows what they are doing” as “most people that do these days can’t drive for toffee”. Brian went on to ask if I was driving the single seaters and when I said yes he advised that I ignore the pit straight speed limit as “you’ll have more fun!”
After such helpful advice I was keen to move on to the Formula Renault, as single seaters are always great fun. After slipping on racing boots, helmet and gloves I remembered to hand over the memory card I’d been given to record my exploits on DVD. After squeezing my lardy arse into the cockpit I was shown the controls which basically meant the fuel pump, starter button and four speed manual gearshift on the right (the wrong side for us UK folks) that lacks a synchromesh to make life interesting. The final instruction before leaving the pits was to ride the clutch for the first ten yards or risk stalling and of course to observe the 3000rpm rev limit in top gear down the start finish straight just as my Cayman instructor recommended!
Out on track I went steadily for the first couple of hundred yards and then thought “sod it” and put my foot down. Everything in the car is basic and hardcore in the extreme - the gear change is tricky to slot home, the brakes are very direct and the steering is totally unassisted. The later means that, until moving, its VERY hard to move the steering wheel and once on track the slightest twist results in immediate change of direction. The car had a rev limit that cuts in at 4500rpm, so on the fastest sections it was going as fast as allowed which I would estimate to be around 120mph in 4th gear. This was fast enough to avoid being overtaken by anything other than the Ferrari, Lambo or Tiff Needell.
On the first lap out another single seater went past me while I was waiting for the all clear to pass an instructor driven Mazda MPS but after that I kept up with him and later passed him so I was happy with my drive as nobody else was fast enough to come past. Apart from Tiff in his M3... On the last lap he came out of the pits just in front of me and I managed to keep up with him through the best drifting section of the track, so the onboard video captured some of his antics.
As it had been a while since I’d been in a car like this I’d forgotten how physical an experience it can be. All of the small bumps and vibrations run straight through you and the lack of power assistance means you have to use your own muscles to manhandle the car around track. When I got out, my hands and wrists were knackered and aching - a stark reminder of just how fit the Formula 1 boys have to be to drive flat out for 60-70 laps!
I drove a Formula Palmer Audi a few years ago which was totally mind blowing - so much so that I spent nearly a whole lap swearing loudly to myself at the sheer power and grip of the thing
Great fun, but not as quick as they could be with the rev limit imposed. I drove a Formula Palmer Audi a few years ago which was totally mind blowing - so much so that I spent nearly a whole lap swearing loudly to myself at the sheer power and grip of the thing.
Next up was my few laps in an M3 Coupe as passenger with Fifth Gears Tiff Needell. If you want to see the in-car video, it was posted on the front page a few days ago. Tiff showed off his usual relaxed on-limit driving style, perfectly from the moment we left the pit lane chatting casually about the car and track while chucking the car sideways around the tighter corners and maxing out on the straighter sections. Speed wise he was much quicker than everyone else on track which was no real surprise, considering the amateurs were driving the faster hardware and the pro instructors had to make do with the Mazda 3 MPS. The speed and drifting wasn’t the most impressive thing about Tiffs demo drive it was the way he managed to keep on max attack most of the time even while passing slower traffic. Several of the lines he took into corners while going past other cars were way off the racing line, yet still way faster than the rest of us mortals could manage! As my current car is an M3 it was great to have my first and probably only ride in the passenger seat with a master at the wheel!
And now the Ferrari... The 430 Scuderia 16M convertible. When I signed up for this particular event around six months ago, Thruxton were running the Scud Coupe, so when I realised that they’d changed to the 16M, I was initially a bit disappointed as on paper the coupe has slightly better performance. However, the 16M with its cloth roof would let more of the glorious noise into the cabin so I wasn’t going to complain.
After my previous weeks outing in the LP670, it was going to take a very special car to even compare to the best Lambo could offer. The 16M is nowhere near as vulgar and “look at me” as the SV, but it was no less impressive in the flesh and, as a Ferrari fan, to me this was the better looking car. The detailing on the body is attractive whilst also being single minded in its purpose i.e. making the car as fast as possible. Carbon fibre is used quite widely and I could be wrong but I think the 16M has more exterior carbon than the Scuderia Coupe. The side lower air intakes for example contrast perfectly against the Ferrari Formula 1 Team trademark red paintwork.
Compared to the cockpit of the Lambo, the 430 felt more luxurious but that could just be down to personal taste. The main areas were clad in alcantera leather (with red stitching) and carbon fibre, just as the Lambo, but, given the choice of either car, this is the one I’d prefer to spend more time in. The dials feature the all important rev counter dead centre with speedo to the right and three smaller readouts to the left. Next come the paddle shifters which are mounted to the steering column, rather than the wheel, so they remain fixed instead of moving with the steering. The steering wheel itself is similar to a scaled up F1 wheel but with fewer buttons. Its main features are a prominent set of shift lights at the top with big red starter button and driver aids switch (Manettino).
Run down the back “straight” on full throttle felt amazing, the sound of the V8 on song was astonishing and I genuinely came over all emotional for a few seconds
With ignition turned on, its foot on the brake and a prod of the red “Engine Start” button, to bring the Prancing Horse to life. Unlike the Lambo which started without too much fanfare, the 430 greets you with a nice lively bark. Again with foot on the brake a pull back of the right paddle slips us into 1st gear and we move slowly out of the pits. I would have loved to take the car out on track with the roof down but for safety reasons it had to remain firmly closed, however even with the roof up the cabin is much noisier than the Lambo.... and thats a very good thing in my book!
Even on the first warm-up lap, my instructor was much more willing to allow the car to be driven properly with the command to get “hard on the power” coming soon after the first complex of corners. I didn’t get up to speed until after the first time around Church corner, but once onto the final run down to the chicane, I put my foot down and was pleasantly surprised not to be told to change up sooner than I’d like.
In fact, I changed up as soon as the first red shift light blinked into life on the steering wheel. Even though there was more to come, that run down the back “straight” on full throttle felt amazing, the sound of the V8 on song was astonishing and I genuinely came over all emotional for a few seconds! The second lap was spent mainly getting past slower traffic - a Vantage and instructor driven MPS before the Complex, three single seaters shortly afterwards and a well driven Cayman on the exit to Church. The third lap was totally clear of other cars, so I had the chance to enjoy the car flowing around the track at a fairly good pace, and it was this lap that confirmed to me just how brilliant the Scuderia is compared to the more powerful Lambo LP670 SV.
I can hand on heart say that the 430 Scuderia is a truly immense car which easily takes the title of "Best car I’ve ever driven"
Out on track the Ferrari just felt so much more agile and alive than the Murcielago. Turn-in was crystal sharp, steering response was almost telepathic. Brakes were strong, with nice progression, although on a track like Thruxton there are very few places where the brakes are used much, other than the section into the final chicane. So, as before, it’s hard to say much more on the subject.
The gearshift is light-years better than the Lambo. A pull of the paddle resulting in an instantaneous up (or down) shift. From the drivers seat the shifts felt as quick as the dual clutch DCT box in my M3, which is massively impressive, considering the Ferrari is a mechanically actuated single clutch affair (somebody will correct me if I’ve got the technical details wrong).
In the video you can hear the tyres starting to screech through the faster corners, so we were getting close to the limits of grip. But at no point did the car feel like it was going to bite me nor did it give any hint of understeer or oversteer. We did drive in the cars sport mode, which is another way of saying “normal” i.e. all driver aids turned on. Even so, if the electronics did intervene at any time, it was done in such a subtle way that I didn’t notice anything.
Taking a lap time from the video afterwards, the third lap was my best at 1:43 which, considering Tiffs lap in the M3, was only a second quicker. I was quite pleased, as it was my only clear lap and the chicane and pit straight weren’t taken at full speed. With a few laps more and no limits I would easily knock 5 seconds off that so a pro would probably get down into the 1:28 to 1:32 time range. My instructor gave me a final score of 96% with which, considering I’d seen other people getting 60-70%, I was rather happy with!
I can hand on heart say that the 430 Scuderia is a truly immense car which easily takes the title of “Best car I’ve ever driven”. The sound of the mechanical masterpiece that is the Ferrari V8 will remain firmly imprinted in my memory and I’d recommend that anyone that has the chance to drive such a machine does so.