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Ferrari GTO vs Porsche 918

It's the fastest Ferrari ever, versus Porsche's hybrid hypercar. Ding ding

  • Matt Master plays ringmaster for this year's biggest supercar scrap. It's the fastest Ferrari ever, versus Porsche's hybrid hypercar. Ding ding...

    Photos: Ripley & Ripley

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  • The car on your left is the Porsche 918 Spyder, the hyper-hybrid that promises to lap the Nordschleife in 7minutes 30 and still return 94mpg. Although admittedly not at the same time. Meanwhile, the car on your right is the Ferrari 599 GTO, the zenith of Maranello's earth-shattering and iconic V12 evolution, the most powerful, most focused and most uncompromised road car the marque has ever produced.

    One is a heady look into our supercar future, the other is a blistering evocation of the technology of today. We're gathered here to bear witness to this face-off and to get behind the wheel of some very, very sexy metal.

  • Let’s start with the 918, a car that has effectively come out of nowhere, having been designed and built in the sort of air-tight super secrecy that only Porsche can achieve, and all in the space of six months. The Geneva motor show was rocked by it, by that clear lineage to the widow-making Carrera GT from which it gets its monocoque, and by the implausible green credentials. Although yet to be officially slated for production, it seems the sheer level of global interest in the 918, bolstered by enough letters of intent from the unimaginably rich, means that it very soon will be.

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  • Just what makes the 918 so appealing owes almost as much to the past as it does the future. In the car's stance, profile and particularly the gnawing beauty of its nose, are echoes of more than one iconic shape from Porsche's past. Design influence has come from 904/6, 718 RSK Spyder and the barn-storming Seventies Le Mans winner, the 917. If these things aren't familiar give them a Google. Not only does it give the 918 some context, but they're also some of the prettiest cars that ever turned a wheel.

  • Up close and personal with the 918, we can assure you that this car is, or should that say ‘would be', a worthy successor to these past masters. Its proportions are nigh-on perfect, the sort that are so right it makes the whole business of designing cars seem easy. None of the fuss and overstatement we're used to from cutting edge supercars these days, no frills or gimmicks, but instead the sort of purity and purpose that exudes class and menace in equal measure. In the metal it's surprisingly compact too, and certainly wouldn't dwarf a Ferrari 458, which is an amazing feat when there's a sizeable electric motor bunking up with a 3.4-litre V8 behind the seats. At no point does the design look forced, or constrained, by the demands of all this complicated on-board tech. Rarely do cars ever look this, um, natural.

  • The 918 isn't wind-tunnel tested, but everything you see, and hear with regards to claimed performance, is based on Porsche's own in-house algorithms, ideas and solutions brought from its formidable motorsport division. The 918's design boss, Michael Mauer, is confident that it's unlikely to change significantly if and when production gets the green light. And better still, he's also confident that the proposed time around the Nordscleife is accurate: "The car's roots are in motorsport, and it's not just showing what's possible from a design point of view. Because our motorsport colleagues have been heavily involved it should be possible to bring it into production without too many changes." Now that's the sort of talk we want.

  • Mauer regards the 918 as a Jekyll and Hyde product - his own words - and those weird plastic wheels hubs illustrate why. Inherited from ‘Moby Dick', the Seventies 935 racer, they maximise aerodynamic efficiency on the one hand, and cool the brakes on the other. Part green, part red hot. Meanwhile its four drive settings enable it to adapt to both driver and conditions in terms of economy and performance, tractability versus aggression. That you can drive a 200mph hypercar 15 miles on a silent electric motor is the singular definition of this, but most buyers are unlikely to hit the double tonne, or go anywhere on plug-in power alone, so it's what is possible in between that will really set the 918 apart.

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  • The four modes go like this: 1) All electric ‘E', just using the 218bhp supplied by the motors, one of which sits behind the driver, while the other two drive a front wheel apiece. 2) ‘EH', Efficient Hybrid, using the engine and electric motor to save fuel and recuperate energy. 3) ‘SH', Sport Hybrid, where performance is now given precedence over economy, and 4) ‘RH' for Race Hybrid, where the system is designed to optimise power and efficiency for ultimate competitive gain, even adapting to individual race circuits where it will know where more power is needed, and where it can save on juice.

  • In Race Hybrid mode, the two RAM air-ducts you see above the engine cowling appear, sucking torrents of air into the 500bhp V8 that can rev to over 9,000 rpm. As if that weren't enough there's a ‘push-to-pass' button available in this setting that will unleash an extra 200bhp from the electric motor. This will only work when the motor has recuperated enough energy from the regenerative braking fitted to both axles, so it will be an art to get the most from it. We're guessing a somewhat addictive art.

    Inside, the Spyder's cockpit feels solid and pretty close to production. A touch screen instrument binnacle does away with the myriad of buttons and switches that Porsche cabins have been criticised for in the past, while still maintaining immediacy for the vital controls. No iDrive here in other words. And here and there the lime-green neon detailing reminds you that this is otherworldly stuff for a Porsche product, the start of something that's new to all of us.

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  • For now though, those claimed performance and economy figures remain just that, claims. But the plug-in hybrid technology is real, and the packaging devoid of the usual show-car conceits. Overwhelmingly the sense here is not one of fantasy, far from it in fact. The 918 looks, feels, and when you listen to Porsche's technical guys talking, even sounds real. But today, real is relative. The 918 may drive, but it has yet to drive in anger. The car next door, on the other hand, having just lapped Fiorano in a record 1'24", is anger personified and as real as they come...

  • The 599 is a familiar shape, familiar at least to petrolheads and residents of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. But what we have here is a very different proposition. This is a 599 that Ferrari will not sell to just anyone, because ‘just anyone' is almost certainly going to stick it on its roof. This is a car that Ferrari wants to sell to its serious drivers. By their own admission it's going to be edgy. Not unsafe, they are keen to stress, but not like a 458 which is ‘aimed at normal people'.

  • The 599 GTO is the third car to carry those hallowed letters, following on from the mighty Sixties 250 GTO (currently the most expensive car ever sold at over £15million) and the 288 GTO from the mid-Eighties, a car so manly you needed a handlebar moustache just to open the door. So this 599 is in rare and rather frightening company. Is it up to the task of terrifying us all once again?

    Yes, we'd say so. Essentially what you have here is a road-legal 599XX, a homologated version of Ferrari's track-only super GT. So it has a catalytic converter and a few more creature comforts, but is still raw and race-focused in a way that few Ferraris have ever been, borrowing the XX's tricky tyre technology and fastidious aerodynamic honing. Also crossing over to the GTO are a thinner aluminium roof and bonnet, thinner glass, all manner of carbon aero and trim and new, smaller but more efficient carbon brakes.

  • From the outset the men at Maranello were determined to make this the fastest road-going Ferrari ever, and in the 599 GTO they have created a car that will lap Fiorano a full second faster than the Enzo. So it is, without doubt, bonkers fast. Then you learn about what they've left out.

    Unlike the standard 599, the GTO will not benefit from the sort of electronic driver aids that flatter the capable and save the incompetent. You really will need to know what you're doing to get the best out of this car, and to not die while you're about it.

  • The Manettino from the 458 is there, and with it the SCM2 Magnetorheological suspension system, but the mechanical set up is, in Ferrari's own words, ‘extreme'. The electronics have been designed to work with these mechanicals, rather than neutralise them, which means killing all understeer and allowing the GTO to operate on and beyond the limits of adhesion. The car will react faster, turning in more immediately, and will respond with greater precision to smaller steering inputs.

    This sounds like more than enough for us mortals to be getting on with, but inevitably Ferrari hasn't stopped there. Power is up by 50bhp in that 6.0-litre V12 to a frankly alarming 670bhp, and that in a car that is now 100kg lighter than the standard 599 GTB. The gearbox from the 599XX is carried over too, bringing shift times down to a ludicrous 60 milliseconds which is, according to a Ferrari, the ‘physical limit with a standard single clutch F1 gearbox.'

  • This all means the GTO is slightly faster to 60mph than the GTB at 3.35 seconds and has an even higher top speed of 208mph. But if we're honest, these are trifling margins. What the GTO is all about is delivering an unprecedented level of genuinely hardcore performance to a modern road car. The sort of focus that will send a lot of people running for cover.

    That won't matter much to Ferrari though, who only plan to make 599 GTOs, and then charge somewhere in the region of £300,000 for them. Money simply isn't going to be the priority for the lucky few entering GTO ownership. That's going to have to be balls. Big balls, and lots of talent. Lack either or both and this is probably a purchase you'll regret, if you live long enough to do so. (Keep a wary eye on

  • So that's the present. What of the future? You can be sure the 918 will be just as rare and even more expensive, if a little more user-friendly. But any speculation in that vein is foreshadowed by the big ‘IF'. Porsche does not do loss-leading cars, so will only make it if they can sell it. The Carrera GT didn't get the go ahead until they had 1,000 firm orders on the table. In the end 1,270 left the factory and then the plug was unceremoniously pulled. If it's not profitable, it doesn't get out of the door at Porsche. 

  • But, as a spokesman on the day assured us: "So far all concept cars developed by Porsche have continued on to series production, with just one exception. So we can well imagine building the 918 Spyder in the near future." The carbon-fibre tub and race-bred chassis from the Carrera GT was still just sitting there after all, waiting for someone to pull back the dust sheets and start tinkering. From our privileged place behind the wheel, it's hard (not to say horrible) to imagine Porsche not turning this car from dream to reality, and turning the technology it will filter down to the rest of the range into a massive cash cow.

  • Either way, from behind the wheel of the fastest Ferrari ever to tickle the tarmac, this feels like one hell of a moment. If the world of motoring is turning a corner, these two cars are at its apex, the Ferrari on the way in, the Porsche blasting out, up the straight and into an unwritten future. We've driven the GTO (read our roadtest), and we're praying the 918 is not going to be too many years behind. This is the razor's edge of automotive performance, and although the angles are changing, the blade looks keen as ever.

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