19 July 2007

Scud missile

It's the one you've been waiting for: the lightweight Ferrari F430. We want it

Ferrari F430

The bribery has already started. There's a drift of brown envelopes piling up against Editor Harvey's office door and we're not far off a bit of abject grovelling from senior journalists. 

Why? Well, take a look at the pictures - the 430 Scuderia has arrived, and everyone wants to drive it. 

This is a car that should not be considered simply a Challenge Stradale (the lightwight road-race version of the 360) Mark 2. 

Mainly because this son of the F430 Berlinetta has enough tweaks to make it a stand-alone version... and we're not just talking about the re-profiled front bumper with its huge intakes and mesh-tastic rear end. Or the totally new interior. Or the stripes. 

OK, so the list works something like this: power is up eight per cent to 510bhp (from 483bhp) at 8,500rpm, weight is down four per cent to 1,250kg - meaning that the F430 has downsized 100kg and there are a fair few electronic tweaks to make sure it can make the most of the extra oomph. 

The gearshift, now called 'F1 Superfast', is down to a shift time of just 60 milliseconds or, as Ferrari is proud to announce, the same as a 1999 F1 car. Basically this changes gear faster than you can say the word 'click' - and with a whole lot more soul than a DSG. 

There's also a new traction control system which combines the F430's E-diff electronic differential with stability control and the 599's F1-Trac  - something we haven't seen before. 

Given that the F430 hits 0-62mph in just 4.0 seconds, it's fair to say that the Scuderia should be scraping the benchmark in the mid-to-late threes.

Without knowing the aero tweaks it is impossible to say whether it will be faster than the stock Berlinetta (196mph) and crack the 200mph mark - but don't bet against it.

The new traction and stability system basically adapts all the best bits from across the range of Ferrari architectures to give a car that takes into account throttle position, aggressiveness, steering position, grip levels and the like, compares them to a set of responses it thinks appropriate from memory, and executes accordingly. 

We're yet to find out whether it works in a natural fashion, but Ferrari engineers found that the 599 generated up to 20 per cent more corner-exit grip with F1-Trac alone - so it'll be good to see it in the 430. 

Those of you with too much time on your hands may have already noticed that the 'Manettino' switch on the steering wheel has also changed. The Scuderia loses the low-grip (ice) setting and gains different positions at the top of the dial. The translated version means we now have 'Normal', 'Sport', 'Race', 'Traction control off but stability control on' and 'Everything Totally Off, I'm Not Kidding' - the final position allegedly known in the Ferrari factory as the 'Stig Switch'. 

There's also a new button on the dash which helps isolate suspension reactions - meaning that you will now be able to have, say, a softer damper setting allied to a racier throttle/gearbox response - handy for super-bumpy British roads where you may still want the keen throttle response but need to keep the tyres in contact with a less-then-perfect road surface. 

The car will be launched by Herr Schumacher (Michael, not Ralf) at the Frankfurt show in September and it'll cost quite a lot of money - Ferrari won't tell us how much just yet. Expect a Top Gear roadtest late this year.

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