Inside Ferrari's exclusive Corsa Pilota driving school for owners
But before you uncork 600-plus horsepower supercars on a silky ribbon of asphalt, you need to know what hell you’re doing.
Enter Ferrari’s Corsa Pilota.
Corsa Pilota is a four-part race track education program offered by Ferrari to any Prancing Horse owner. The first tier is Sport, which is your introduction to high-speed track driving, and understanding basic vehicle dynamics. Advanced, the next level, indeed pushes you further, adding in more data analysis and coaching. Graduates progress to the penultimate Evolution, where things get super serious, but it’s all to prep you for Challenge.
There, serious drivers spend 75 percent of the time inside a 458 Challenge EVO. (A full-on race car, for the uninitiated.) Those who demonstrate their prowess are then IMSA-certified and allowed to participate in the Ferrari Challenge series and other races. Basics, first, though. And that’s what the Sport class aims to hammer home.
The sky was dumping sheets of rain the summer morning two dozen fellow participants, plus a dozen significant others, and I gathered at our kick-off briefing. We share nervous glances, but little else. All-save yours truly-were Ferrari owners, of varying ages and personal wealth. Some had palatial stables of hyper and supercars; others piloted Dinos and vintage sheet metal. Some were pushing 70; others barely looked old enough to shave. While some spouses had come to cheer, others were there to drive. All had paid five figures for the privilege. Small talk ranges from whether the Enzo or the LaFerrari was better (a billionaire who actually owns both humbly remained mum) to whether the downpour would also dampen the fun.
The instructors assure us no, we’ll still be able to blast around in the wet. A series of technical lessons follow, covering track safety, basic vehicle dynamics-don’t slam the brakes in a hard corner unless you’re trying to crash-and the run of show for the next two days. We split into groups of six and hit the garages where a dozen 488s and 812 Superfasts are idling, warm and ready for flogging.
Corsa Pilota plants a pro driver instructor in your right seat, no matter what you’re doing. It’s absurdly helpful, especially when you’re trying to learn a track in a supercar in torrential rain. Cleaving Monticello's track into two smaller loops allows more cars out simultaneously but also for us to get a hang of the cars. The 488 is stock and that’s more than ample. A mid-mounted 3.9-liter V-8 twin-turbo sits behind your head, ready to loose all 660 horses the minute the accelerator reaches the floor mat. With the Manettino-the drive mode selector-set to “wet,” we tackle the south loop first.
“Wet” mode is the ultimate nanny. When active, if the 488 senses you stabbing at the throttle, especially in a turn, and thinks it’s losing traction, it just cuts the power instead of complying. You can mash that accelerator through the floorboard; you’re not getting any of that delicious 560 lb-ft of torque flinging you forward like an unhinged freight train. If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s annoying,” consider that most of the time, the car is right; that its ECU can process far faster than your brain. This keeps you on the asphalt.
The first session, I start far too aggressively. “Smooth inputs,” coos Lorenzo Case, my coach and a GT driver. “Too much turning in the corner is slowing you down. You want to turn once at the beginning and try to hold that line with a little throttle modulation.” In a car as balanced and nimble as the 488, that’s easy. It teeters on a knife’s edge, waiting for a feather to push it in any direction. Find you’re running wide in a corner, a minuscule lift of the throttle allows the front end to drop, the tires find grip and the car starts to hook back in. Want the car to run wide on a corner exit to use all the track? Don’t turn, just squeeze on the power and you’ll dart out.
Start to connect the corners and find your flow, and you’ll start to appreciate the 50 percent more downforce Ferrari’s infused in the 488 over its predecessor, the 458. While it’s flickable, it’s glued to the ground. Your confidence in the beast soars seeing you flying into corners faster, hammering straights harder, and coaxing that V-8 into singing its sweet song even louder in your ear.
The laps go by too fast, proverbially. You’re always looking for one more in a car as fun as the 488. We cycle through to evasive braking, where you rip to 60 mph straight at a traffic cone and the instructor waits until truly the last second to tell you which way to turn. You try to push the brake pedal through the floor, while the Brembos chomp down on the carbon-ceramic plates, the ABS crunches, and you jerk the wheel in the right direction. You can avoid that cone every time.
Then comes skidpad work, which should be renamed “Drifts and Donuts.” With the stability control switched completely off, Guy Cosmo, our other instructor and GT driver, coaches us through starting a turn, punching the throttle to induce an oversteer (a drift), holding it for a split-second by steering into the skid, then snapping the wheel back as the car’s unsprung mass unloads and flings you back around. Starting a drift is easy; controlling what happens next is where the skill comes in. Fast hands are your friend, and after a few loops around, it gelled and I was able to hang the backend out for a chunk of the straight before setting it right.
Next, donuts. The official lesson here is control, learning throttle modulation to hold that oversteer in a full circle, but let’s be real: you’re doing drifty donuts in a $250,000 supercar. This proves far harder, as the right amount of throttle is frustratingly elusive. Few from our group are able to complete a full 360. And while you have to pay attention here, you are cackling with laughter the entire time. (Unless you’re Guy Cosmo, whose stomach would prefer he not sit shotgun in a car spinning like a top for prolonged durations. Couldn’t blame him in the least.)
Day two sees us progress to the (considerably-dryer) full track, and I’m pushing the 812 Superfast hard up the esses. Also stock, the 812 Superfast wants for nothing. The $340,000 goliath has a front-mounted 6.5-liter V-12, good for a staggering 789 horsepower and 530 lb-ft of twist. The tear to 60 from a stop clocks in under 3 seconds. “Superfast” is not hyperbole. But speed isn’t everything. While the 812 does handle attacking the track very well, it’s not as lithe and spritely as the 488, with that honking powerplant up front. Nevertheless, it’s stupid fun to thrash something so powerful on such a fast track.
Learnings from the weekend coalesce in the final sessions and Cosmo and Case both notice. “Your smoothness is translating into speed,” Cosmo shouts over a barking downshift as we tear up to a corner. It starts to feel cohesive and instinctual. My head automatically looks to the next corner, my hands automatically following. Emergency throttle corrections have all but vanished.
It’s all evidence that these brilliant machines can produce such wonderfully precise and incredible results in the right hands. Those may not be my hands, yet, but maybe one day, they will.
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