Driving a Ferrari is an event. Each and every time. Doesn’t matter if it's a trip down to Coles or a day out at the track.
The simple idea of getting behind the wheel of a Prancing Horse is enough to elicit a great sense of joy from those that understand its virtue. As an owner, I still feel that sensation each time I jump behind the wheel of my Speciale.
But to drive one flat out, at Targa? That’s something else again.
Cairns is an interesting city that blends the best and worst of modern architecture with a focus on tourism, exploiting its endless natural beauties. It’s not a city that many would associate with great driving roads, but just a few short kilometres from the centre of town is a seemingly endless stretch of unbelievably winding roads that beg to be driven. At speed.
For 362 days of the year, these magnificent roads are restricted by draconian speed limits and generally packed with the slow moving vehicles of tourists and locals, and any attempt to go faster will result in some unfortunate run-ins with the friendly Queensland coppers.
But for those other three days of the year, it's Targa Great Barrier Reef – and that means we can go hell for leather.
The event started in 2018 as an additional round of the Targa series to join events in Tasmania and Victoria. Last year saw yours truly lead a tour group in our Lotus Elise prior to the full competition event at Targa High Country. This year though, we showed up in a Ferrari. A Ferrari Portofino, in fact.
Much like Cairns and its unexpectedly great roads, we initially thought the Ferrari Portofino an unusual choice for this event but, over three solid days of extensive driving, the car managed to prove us so very wrong. Because the Portofino is a Ferrari first and foremost, and that means it's made to go relentlessly fast. Every day of the week.
Using the same 3.9-litre twin-turbo engine we first came to admire in the 488, the Portofino is a front-engined convertible that superseded the California.
It puts out a very healthy 441kW and 760Nm and while it's named after a small fishing town in Italy rather than the modern cultural state capital of the world, the Portofino is endlessly improved over its predecessor.
We started our three-day journey in a specific tour group comprising of a 488 Pista, one tailor-made 812 Superfast, one ‘regular’ F12, an insanely loud and Novitec-equipped Lusso and a 488 Spider. A good bunch then.
It’s important to note this Targa participation is an event sanctioned by Ferrari Australia and open to all owners. Apart from Porsche and Lotus, Ferrari is the only other car company that consistently runs an official Targa program. That should paint a clear picture of everything you need to know about the passion and desire for motorsport inside Ferrari.
Much in the same way this author has seen endless number of Ferraris participating on weekend track days, this is a further indication that those who buy Ferraris are generally driven by the passion for motorsport, inspired nowhere more than by the Scuderia Ferrari Formula One team.
Much in the same way Formula One is nothing without Ferrari, Ferrari is nothing without motorsport and that extends well beyond F1, with the Italian company running a seemingly endless number of customer programs to cater to all needs.
Its participation in Targa is a small but bright example of how customers who are part of the Ferrari family are exposed to regular opportunities to make the most of their machines. At the end of the day, why buy a Ferrari if you’re never willing to use it?
But what of the Portofino? How does one do a Targa in a car that some purists would write off as nothing more than a weekend cruiser by the beach, a Gold Coast cliche? Tell you what, if you can find a beach cruiser that can climb mountainous roads as well as the Portofino, I’ll take two.
The beauty of the Portofino is that it’s both a cruiser and a sports car all in one. Where the F8 Tributo, the 488 and 458 before it are inherently intimidating to the uninitiated, the Portofino is user-friendly without giving up too much fun factor.
So there I was, day one of Targa Great Barrier Reef in a Ferrari. Some days are better than others. Flanked by a Pista up front and two angry looking Superfasts and a Lusso driven by a madman behind. There was a desperate scramble to work out how to disable the auto start-stop from turning the engine off, because there is nothing more embarrassing then trying to save fuel at the start-line of a Targa Stage with adoring fans watching.
Though, perhaps the engine being off was less embarrassing than trying to compete with the other Ferraris that gave onlookers an aural orchestra sitting still. Perhaps that’s the one area where the Portofino can be a little wilder, and that’s the sound.
Where Ferrari’s V12s sing like an F1-car of an era gone by and the 488 and Pista sound like the supercars they are, Ferrari has deliberately toned down the characterful sound of this glorious V8 engine in the Portofino to better suit its daily usability. We have a clear and logical understanding of why that is the case, but for us, a Ferrari should always sing, no excuses.
That’s not to say that it’s quiet - far from it - and in isolation it will turn plenty of heads, but flanked by the very best of Ferrari’s range including a Pista that had the fans in awe, what our car lacked in noise we definitely made up for in pace. Because this Portofino is (un)surprisingly f***ing quick.
From the outset, the only thing that stopped the Portofino from going competition levels of fast was the constant beeping of the RallySafe unit confirming that someone, somewhere, was observing yours truly showing enormous restraint.
The Targa group has this year dropped its maximum speed for tour categories from 130 to 120km/h and unlike previous years where a RallySafe was only fitted to the tour leader (leaving the rest to... you know, catch up eventually), now all cars are equipped with the unit.
The good thing is that most of the fun is actually had around the insanely twisty and tight corners of the Targa roads that surround Cairns, where 120km/h is generally regarded as suicidal (though not entirely unachievable). And my God did we have some fun.
Three days of constant pushing and pushing through dozens of stages saw our Portofino survive unscathed without any serious complaints. Except maybe the tyres and brake pads... oh and the windscreen, yes definitely the windscreen. Worth it.
The Portofino has a distinct character where it remained a very comfortable place to be the whole time, yet it never felt compromised by its dynamic ability. We pushed it as hard as we could and, albeit for very slight moments of understeer (likely a cause of the tyres melting), the entry-level Ferrari was always on form.
Ultimately, the whole point of being at a Targa event in the tour category with Ferrari is to live and breathe the lifestyle that ownership offers. It’s to have a lot of fun and make memories.
When you own a Ferrari, the car is seemingly just a gateway to so much more. Most owners brought their partners or close friends to enjoy the three days, and the experience is topped-up with nightly dinners at amazing restaurants.
If you love motorsports and happen to own a Ferrari, a Targa event is an ideal way to really push your car around some spectacular roads in a safe closed-road environment. Although it may seem intimidating - the idea of doing a tarmac rally (even in tour) - the experience is well and truly worth it.
For me, it's the formation of driving memories such as going flat out through the mountain being chased by a Lusso (that sounds like it's on a mad hunt) that are unforgettable.
At the end of the day, what is life if not for living and what better way to live your motorsport dream than to drive your Ferrari, flat-out, at Targa?