Getting the chance to drive a circa-$700,000 Ferrari around the world famous Mount Panorama circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales, is a proper once in a lifetime opportunity. To do it though, we had to get there first…
Few good things dictate getting up at 5am. Motorsport, however, is often one of them.
Tired we may be, the sight and sound of 64 cylinders-worth of Maranello’s finest, is far from a terrible way to start a day.
We arrive at Ferrari Australia’s headquarters in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Waterloo at 5:45am, met by seven Prancing Horses – a brand-new 488 GTB, two of its 458 predecessors, two California Ts, and two F12 Berlinettas (one of which will be ours to lap Bathurst in).
We depart in convoy bound for Bathurst, but time is critical. We must be parked up and trackside in time for a compulsory drivers’ briefing scheduled for 10:30am. Miss this, and we, along with a bunch of very excited Ferrari owners, won’t be allowed on track – not a good outcome for anyone.
Rolling a little after 6:00am, we ride shotgun in one of the first 488 GTBs to land in Australia, with Ferrari Australia CEO Herbert Appleroth acting as our personal chauffeur.
Cruising along at legal, sign-posted speeds in a $469,988 twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre V8-powered Ferrari road car that claims 0-100km/h in 3.0 seconds flat, it seemed the perfect time to find out how a civilian gets to race a Ferrari GT3 car at the Bathurst 12 Hour.
“We have a very clear and defined program for our customers to go through, and we’ve actually had an Australian customer go through this exact process,” Appleroth begins.
“Obviously, Ferrari is motorsport. Motorsport is Ferrari.
“The first interaction is an official Ferrari track event [such as the Bathurst 12 Hour track drive we’re on our way to], or like the some 24 track events we host per year.
“The next step is that if someone goes to that event and really wants to go further, we have Corso Pilota, which is our official driving school that’s been going for over 20 years. And that’s held in Italy, but also in Japan and in China, and we’re probably going to be bringing that program to Australia this year so people don’t have to travel so far.”
Appleroth continues to explain that the Corso Pilota driver training structure encompasses three initial two-day courses – introductory, intermediate, and advanced – with prices starting at $12,000 euro ($18,700) per course.
Following the completion of these three courses, which Appleroth says can be done effectively back-to-back, though most owners complete the three over a year, the next step is the Corso Pilota Challenge.
“That’s where people drive 458 Challenge cars and actually learn race craft,” the NSW native says.
“Everything’s learning via telemetry with former Formula One drivers, current Formula One drivers, GT drivers, all there just to train for you to maximise your lap time and your race craft.”
Apart from equipping people with legitimate skills, knowledge and principles for racing, the program can also result in attendees acquiring their racing licences.
“So then they get the real feel for Ferrari Motorsport,” Appleroth continues.
“Then of course, we have the Challenge Series – the world’s longest running one-make race series.”
Comprised of a North American, European and Asia-Pacific Championship, owners can battle it out in a field of up to 30 cars, with 458 Challenge cars being used this year and 488 Challenge cars to be used next year.
“And it’s arrive and drive. So, not only do we train you, you just turn up with your helmet and we prepare the car for you, [and] a team of engineers come out each time from Italy for each race series.
“Then, if people do that for a few years and they decide they’d like to go GT driving, which is the GT3 – that is where they normally set up their own team or be part of one of the official teams, AF Corse, Kessel Racing, Risi Competizione – they race in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) series.
“So it could be in Asia GT, could be in the Australian GT Championship, and then that’s exactly what the two teams competing at this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour have done – Maranello Motorsport and Vicious Rumour Racing.”
Of course, for some, this will also include purchasing at least one new race car, which in the case of the new 488 GT3, means 555,000 euro ($872,000).
“And from there we have clients who then say, ‘Well, this is amazing. Now I don’t just want to do a series, I want to go do Le Mans’. And that’s exactly what clients do – so they could be the amateur inside an official Pro-Am Ferrari team racing with our drivers.”
From here – provided you have the budget – Ferrari opens up its highly exclusive XX program, with owners of the track-only Enzo-based FXX, 599XX or LaFerrari-based FXX K, becoming part of what’s known as the XX Clienti.
A non-competitive research and development program run by Maranello’s Corse Clienti department, the XX Clienti comprises a select group of ‘owner-test drivers’ who participate in Ferrari-organised events, again with engineers and professional drivers on hand.
“And the clients are actually part of our test program,” Appleroth says.
“So they’re actually out there testing our cars, developing new parts along with all our technicians. And the same thing, it’s basically arrive and drive.”
And if you think that’s where this epic Ferrari racing pyramid ends, you are sorely mistaken…
“Then the final step, [for] those clients who show real talent – and obviously have the budget required – is then they can become part of our F1 Clienti, where they can actually purchase a former racing Formula One car and again, like the XX program, have their own personal instructors. And it’s all about us making them improve their race skill and their race craft.”
That’s right. Provided you have the necessary funds to acquire your very own Ferrari Formula 1 car – a car that can only be ‘take on’ two years after the completion of its final competition season – you can live the F1 dream for real.
All vehicle maintenance and transport is seen to by the F1 Clienti department (an element within the Ferrari Corse Clienti created in 2003 and based at Ferrari’s own Fiorano test track), with practically everything, including race suits, provided for owners.
According to the Ferrari Corse Clienti website, F1 Clienti can have their car ‘personalised’ to suit the “size and physique of the driver”, with owners’ F1 track debuts taking place at the 2.997-kilometre Fiorano circuit.
“And we actually have an Australian client who has done exactly [these steps],” Appleroth says.
“He started at a track event in Perth, and went all the way through to competing at Le Mans, XX Clienti and F1 Clienti, and just travels around the world being part of the Ferrari racing family.
“It’s the ultimate in motorsport. I mean, who doesn’t want to race with Ferrari?”
With our internal calculator a little more bruised and battered than it was at the start of the trip, we soon arrive at a key pre-Bathurst stop-over – The Hydro Majestic hotel.
Built in the early 1900s and located in New South Wales’ stunning Blue Mountains, the only thing more eye-catching than the historical building itself is the hoard of Ferraris lining its gravel car park.
With the total group now 28-strong, our convoy has expanded to comprise 12 458s (including Spider, Speciale, and Speciale A variants), four F12s, three 360s (including one Spider), three California Ts, two 488 GTBs, one California, one F430, one monstrous 599 GTO, and one simply gorgeous Dino 246.
The plan from here is to drive the 95km from The Hydro Majestic to the majestic (sorry) Mount Panorama, only this time we get to jump into the big-boy seat of the 545kW/690Nm 6.3-litre V12-powered Ferrari F12 Berlinetta – the most powerful Ferrari model currently on sale in Australia today.
Claiming 0-100km/h in 3.1 seconds and a top speed of more than 340km/h, the car is the exact one we will be strapping ourselves into for our limited laps of Bathurst’s 6.213km, so an hour and a bit of ‘familiarisation’ time is much appreciated.
It’s further appreciated given our Nero Daytona F12, with options such as 20-inch forged alloy wheels ($9700), a leather and carbon-fibre steering wheel with LED shift lights ($9200), and ‘Daytona Style’ seats ($7300), jacks the value of the car up from $690,745 (before on-road costs) to $720,095 (as tested).
With a sea of 100km/h, 80km/h and 60km/h zones ahead of us – interspersed with 40km/h road work zones – we nestle into the Berlinetta’s supple leather seats, turn the steering wheel-mounted Manettino dial to ‘Sport’ and activate Ferrari’s magic-like ‘Bumpy Road’ mode.
Even with the adjustable magnetorhreological suspension in its tamest setting, the F12’s ride is not quite impervious to road imperfections. But the bumps that are felt, never upset driver or chassis.
Oddly, while flicking the Manettino into ‘Wet’ mode lightens the speed-sensitive electrically-assisted power steering and makes the F12’s prominent throttle lift-off-deceleration smoother and far more enjoyable for everyday driving, ‘Bumpy Road’ mode is unavailable in this setting.
We also spend a few minutes working out just how to turn on and adjust the Ferrari’s cruise control system – fairly straightforward once you’re use to it but not radar controlled, which has to sting a bit at this price point. Not exactly edge of the seat stuff, sure, but a better contrast to the forthcoming Mount Panorama track laps there is not.
As you’d expect for a $700k Italian supercar, the interior is plush.
Not dripping in opulence or crass, over-the-top ‘bling’, there’s high-quality stitched leather, three central and two outboard air vents that look like deep-dish alloy wheels, and somewhat over-complicated climate controls – try five rotary dials and seven buttons.
For the driver, a bright yellow central tachometer that reads up to 10,000rpm is flanked by two digital display screens. A hub above your left knee controls functionality for the left screen, while a hub above your right knee controls functionality for the right screen. We opted to have a large digital speedometer on the left and satellite navigation on the right.
Looking more like a piece of sculpture than an automotive interior component, the F12’s centre ‘control bridge’ is home to ‘Reverse’, ‘Auto’, and ‘Launch Control’ buttons, as well as the hazard lights switch.
Below this, is a handy storage space, while the big, two-door GT’s two power window switches sit aft, just ahead of a single rubber-bottomed cup holder and a small but convenient rubber-bottomed flip-up centre storage armrest/console.
Far from vastly practical, the F12 does have small netted storage areas behind the driver and passenger, a raised rear storage ‘shelf’ finished with leather straps, a remote-opening glovebox, two suit jacket hooks on the back of both seats, and token door pockets.
Without a now-largely-common central infotainment screen, those who find themselves in the passenger seat of an F12 are largely ignored in terms of gadgets to amuse themselves with. However, they do get their very own in-dash display screen, showing key performance metrics such as speed and revs, but that’s really it.
Tucked in behind the driver and passenger is a 230-litre boot. Not hatchback-rivalling, it is useful and at least the F12 has one. It’s also a fair whack more palatable than the 196L on offer in the back of a Jaguar F-Type Convertible. For us too, it provided enough space to accommodate a small suitcase, tripod bag, soft overnight bag, small camera bag and a few other assorted odds and ends.
Driven sedately – in ‘tame’ mode, if you will – the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta is a consummate GT car. Other than fair amounts of road noise penetrating the cabin when travelling over coarse-chip roads, it’s a legitimately pleasant place to be, for both driver and passenger.
Vision out the back is ‘tight’, however, overall it’s not bad – especially compared with the likes of the V12 Lamborghini Aventador – with small C-pillar cut-outs helping out a little too. Making life much easier, though, is the standard Australian-spec trifecta of front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and a front suspension lift kit.
Then there’s the engine. Wow. What a unit.
Driving gently or not, simply put, the torque-laden engine is a venerable powerhouse that takes smooth to an all new level.
Although peak power and torque are delivered at 8250rpm and 6000rpm, respectively, when the lights change from red to green, you rarely need anywhere near these sort of revs to comprehensively get back up to whatever the sign-posted limit may have been.
The thing might rev out to an ear-drum-melting 8700rpm, but the F12 can devour long drives with the needle never having to trouble any numbers beyond around 2000rpm.
Rolling into the gates at Bathurst at just before 10:00am, our road drive is over all too quickly. On the plus side, soon enough, after a single 60km/h-maximum sighting lap, we will be out on track stretching the F12’s legs a little down the world famous 1.916-kilometre Conrod Straight.
The 2016 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta may not be priced within the realm of possibility for most of us, but the car itself is relatively practical, impressively comfortable (in Bumpy Road mode), and remarkably docile when driven sedately on the highway and around town.
It doesn’t love poorer quality roads, but the odd minor sin it may commit on the everyday drive, is more than forgivable when you begin to comprehend what it’s truly capable of when things shift from ‘Wet’ and ‘Sport’, to ‘Race’ and beyond…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Ferrari F12 Berlinetta images by Tom Fraser.