I’ll never forget the heat that day. Humid, almost unbearable, in spite of the sea breeze that wafted in from far away to counteract it. And I will never forget the thrill I felt when, at 9.05 that morning, “it” appeared before my eyes for the first time.
The date was 27 August 2015, and “it” was the 488 GTE. We were on the track at Adria, not far from Padua in the north of Italy, and my first reaction was that the car was beautiful, even in its raw state, with the carbon still visible and only the top painted red. I admired its lines, elegance and simplicity.
I could hardly wait to try it out and said to the mechanics, ‘Come on guys, let’s get going.’ But it was a test, and after a first lap to check the systems there was a long pit stop. I was like a caged lion.
When the 488 GTE arrived at the Risi Competizione HQ in Florida one week before the 24 Hours of Daytona it was greeted with rain. So much for the Sunshine State… The risk of slamming on the wet surface, possibly damaging the vehicle, was just too high, especially since the weather would probably be perfect for the actual race.
When I drove out of the Daytona pits, with the track half-flooded, I told myself, ‘Take it easy, don’t take any risks’, but by the end of the first lap I was having a huge amount of fun testing the limits, even in such awful conditions.
The 488 GTE is as close as it gets to perfection. There is a whole range of innovations: the turbo engine in particular, but also the transmission, suspensions, brakes, steering wheel and cockpit. The car has maintained, and perhaps even improved on, the key feature of the previous model: its handling. The 458 Italia, especially the GT3 version, boasts a winning record that few can match, all thanks to the ease with which you can take it to its limits.
The new transverse gearbox is exceptional: changing from first to sixth without a hitch is a real step forward. The engine was another pleasant surprise. Despite an unfavourable BOP (balance of performance – a series of rules put in place, model by model, intended to put vehicle performance on an equal footing as far as possible), I found it more responsive than I have ever experienced with a supercharged engine. You hardly notice the turbo-lag, a sign that the work done on the road-going 488 GTB has proved beneficial on the track too.
One factor that strikes you is the sound: beautiful, powerful, even though inevitably quieter. The steering wheel is comfortable, aggressive, small in size to ensure a perfect view of the dashboard, which, compared to the 458 Italia, provides even more information, so you have maximum control over all the key parameters. Even the cockpit has been significantly enhanced: it does not feel like being in a GT and is more like a single-seater, a prototype. It is splendid and I do believe that the 488 has real potential to win in both the GTE and GT3 configuration.