Ferrari 458 Speciale. FIRST DRIVE. Hot laps at Fiorano takes the new Ferrari 458 Speciale for a balls-out run on Ferrari’s official Fiorano test circuit.

It’s a grey day in southern Italy, the temperature slowly sinking below 10 degrees centigrade and a light drizzle falling constantly from the cloud cover overhead. Nespresso coffees in prancing horse-stencilled plastic cups are being sunk like oxygen and Ferrari-red jackets are being zipped to the neckline as our little group tries to keep warm. Cutting through the air is a high-pitched whine, which gets gradually louder as its source hares upon our position with insistence. From nowhere a V8 exhaust pop bursts out from behind the Pista di Fiorano garage around which we are milling as a red blur whistles past at full chat.

Fiorano. This is Ferrari home turf. This is my first ever Ferrari event. And this is the circuit upon which I will soon take the brand new Ferrari 458 Speciale for a hot lap.

To the casual observer this Ferrari appears to be just a normal 458 Italia with a stonking great set of racing stripes. And while the nod to Ferrari’s traditional North America Racing Team colours is pretty cool, there’s actually much more to it than that. The Ferrari 4.5-litre V8 under the glass engine cover has been given redesigned intake and exhaust systems, newer and lighter pistons manufactured to cause less friction, an increased compression ratio for improved torque, and various other highly intelligent tweaks that go slightly beyond the limited engineering comprehension of this particular writer. Simply put, the revised V8 in the Speciale – now 8kg lighter than that in the Italia – chucks out 597bhp and 398lb ft of torque, making it the most powerful naturally-aspirated unit in the company’s history. What we have here then is a $290,000 greyhound of a 458, capable of 0-100kph in three seconds flat, 0-200kph in 9.1 seconds and a top speed of 325kph. By kind invitation, crankandpiston will shortly drop into it for a balls-out run on a circuit that Formula 1 and GT racing legends have been hammering since 1972. As you can imagine, I’m keen to crack on with proceedings this morning.

Arriving nice and early at the Pista di Fiorano, I’m invited to check out the six 458 Speciales on display in Piazza de Michael Schumacher, a small(ish) courtyard a stone’s throw from the circuit itself and named in honour of the seven-time F1 world champion. Just behind me is Enzo Ferrari’s old office, and the Ferrari Foundry pokes its roofline above the trees. To my left is an eight-foot commemorative portrait of Alberto Ascari’s 1952 British Grand Prix winning Ferrari 500. Steeped in history and with passion eking out of the walls, it’s difficult not to feel a pang of emotion, and I’m struck by how moved I am by this one courtyard.

And then there’s the car. Though the Italia and the Speciale may look similar, exterior changes are such that the new boy reaches ‘the highest performance levels of any Ferrari V8’ model. At the front the aggressively carved LED headlights are as striking as ever, but now come with three rather natty louvered air outlets alongside as a nod to both the 250 GTO and the F40. Underneath the traditional air intake–festooned bumper there’s a new front splitter, complete with two vertical flaps and one horizontal that automatically open above 170kph and 220kph respectively to cut air flow to the radiators and significantly reduce drag. These work in tandem with the new turning vanes bolted onto the side of the front bumper, much as the aerodynamic fins just in front of the rear wheels direct air accordingly for greater downforce. Move round to the back, past the striking five-spoke 20-inch forged wheels, and there’s that V8 poking its Italian snout at you through the glass engine cover. Combined with a low roofline and elegant (wind tunnel-designed) flow of the bodywork, the Speciale really is an awesome looking bit of kit. Even the tail lip rear spoiler has been angled more acutely to nail to improve the efficiency of the underbody, while two rear flaps in the rear diffuser – just below the twin cylindrical exhausts pipes – automatically lower at speed to reduce drag. There are few maths lessons that look this damn good.

On the inside, the radio, sat-nav and even the glovebox have been ripped out to lighten the Ferrari. The carbon fibre door handle on the inside seems so fragile I fear it will come off in my hand. Then there’s the Sabelt bucket seats (complete with carbon fibre shells), four-point racing harnesses, and ‘the bridge’ on the centre console, a carbon fibre wing derived from LaFerrari that extends from the transmission tunnel and on which Reverse, Automatic and the all-too-tempting Launch transmission buttons are found. It all hammers home just how track-orientated Maranello’s stallion really is. Even the floor mats have been chucked.

My iPhone camera memory is well on the way to being exhausted when I receive a tap on the shoulder and a reminder that my track brief – ahead of actually jumping in the hot seat – is about to start. This is a practical brief, in the form of three passenger laps duly provided by official Ferrari test driver Raffaele Di Simone. He’s a cool customer, clad in the puffiest of Ferrari jackets, an espresso in one hand and Ferrari-make sunglasses balancing on the edge of his nose. All smiles. Having driven Fiorano more times than are worth counting, he’s just as keen as I to get cracking: “you will see just how good the Speciale is.”

Having been given the all-clear by marshals who moments earlier had been checking their SMS messages (hey, for them this is a normal working day), our 458 Speciale is fired into life courtesy of a large red button marked simply ‘Engine Start’ on the steering wheel. It’s a low bassy chorus that sends the hairs on the back of my neck aflurry. Though the drizzle is still falling, and putting a question mark over grip on-track, Raffaele moves his sunglasses into position and gives me the thumbs up before we roll onto the Fiorano Circuit’s 200kph main straight. Giving the engine 400 yards to warm up, Raffaele waits a beat, heads into and out of the right handed turn one, then floors it.

Holy crap.

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