Driver’s Ed: Learning to Control the Ferrari 488 Pista, Maranello’s Latest Missile
We hit Homestead in the 710-hp goliath to check out Ferrari’s Corso Pilota driving school.
You’re an individual of high net worth, well known to your local Ferrari dealership, from whom you have amassed a stable of sleek, prancing horses. Accordingly, you’re invited to purchase the 2019 Ferrari 488 Pista, a limited-edition, track-focused version of the 488 GTB. You covet this 710-horsepower, mid-engined monster, so you order one at a price of $350,050. It's a helluva lot of car, and you’ll want to keep all that beautiful carbon fiber bodywork intact during spirited track sessions. You'll need to learn the Pista’s limits in a safe manner. Enter Corso Pilota, Ferrari’s customer-only driving program.
The two-day affair starts at $10,000 and offers Ferrari owners the chance to flog Maranello's finest under the watchful eye of pedigreed racing instructors. Those Rolex Daytonas adorning coaches’ wrists? They're hard-earned swag from racing victories across the globe. Stateside, Ferrari offers Corso Pilota at New York’s Monticello Motor Club, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Homestead-Miami Speedway. We dropped into the latter for an abbreviated, one-day program in the Pista.
The Pista, Italian for “track,” is as performance-oriented as its name suggests. It’s an evolution of its super-series forebears, like the F430 Scuderia and the 458 Speciale, ratcheted up to 11. Built from the 488 GTB, the Pista employs a nearly new twin-turbo 3.9-liter V8 packing 710 horsepower, a generous increase over the GTB’s 660 hp. A diet of aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber—the engine alone is 18 kilograms lighter—helps the Pista nab the title of the lowest weight-to-power ratio of any production Ferrari, clocking in at 1.78 kilograms per horsepower. (Spend an extra $15,000 for carbon fiber rims and you’ll lop off an extra five kilos.)
The Pista's bodywork imparts 20 percent more downforce than the GTB, courtesy of aero tweaks gleaned from the 488 Challenge race cars. An F1-sourced S-duct on the nose helps pin the front end to the asphalt to bolster cornering adhesion. The lengthy list of engineering advances is as impressive as the resulting macchina, which is why we declared the Pista the “new definition of insanity for a mid-engine V8 Ferrari” in our official review. Wringing anywhere near full potential from the Pista requires finesse—and an open racetrack.
A Driver's Education
A fresh squall of torrential rain has left Homestead with sizable puddles, so setting off on our first Corsa Pilota session, we engage “Wet” mode on the manettino switch. Even at maximum traction control, the Pista is undeniably powerful and lurches forward with the lightest throttle application. After the first corner, it’s clear the speedster requires nominal steering input to nip at the apex. According to the instructor at my right, if you’re turning the wheel more than 90 degrees on the track's tightest hairpins, you’re doing something wrong. And there's no shortage of wet grip. With a combination of downforce and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber, the Pista can reach staggering speeds in abysmal conditions.
Between stints, an on-board camera system and data logger provide insights for a driver-analysis session. Each lap is benchmarked against an instructor’s, with a visualization of wheel position, brake and throttle pressure, and RPMs throughout. If you're wondering why you’re slow leaving a corner—too much steering combined with too much throttle—or where you might be able to brake deeper, the elusive answers are found here in the data.
Corso Pilota is billed as “progressive program of instruction focused on giving participants a comprehensive understanding of sport driving techniques.” Phew. In practice, it varies from a less-than-rigorous driving experience to a pure track school. The instructors can—if you wish—talk you through each and every moment of a lap, calling for shifts, steering and throttle application, and announcing when the massive Brembos should chomp on the 15.6-inch front rotors. While this method may deliver quicker laps, serious students can engage on a deeper level and pepper the friendly instructions with questions to sharpen skills and hone in on areas of improvement.
The skittish need not worry—Pista's outstanding brakes inspire confidence. Stand on the stoppers and there’s no hint of drama or tail wiggling. With a servo plucked directly from the 488 Challenge car, these are the best brakes I’ve experienced on a road vehicle and the perfect tool for learning trail-braking. I’m taken by surprise at far into a corner I can drag just a hint of brakes to keep the nose down. After a few laps, it feels like we’re popping out of the corners with more speed, a hunch confirmed by the following data dump. All the while, my coach is working with me to find the right amount of pressure for every braking zone on the track.
The sun’s late arrival dries the track, and so it's time to engage “Race” mode—although “Savage Mode” would be equally apt. Our pupils barely have time to dilate as the hyper-aggressive throttle mapping sends the shift lights atop the dash into a strobing swivet as the V8 demands the next gear change. The speed is relentless; though Homestead isn’t a technical track, it has some sweeping turns into which you can chuck the Pista at an unfathomable clip.
More than 50 percent of Ferrari owners participate in track days, a statistic that would have pleased Enzo himself. The 488 Pista is designed with such circuit-rat owners in mind, but for those seeking that elusive extra tenth of a second, Corso Pilota will help them find it. You've bought the car, or maybe you haven't. But you should know how to use it either way.