Kyle Marcelli just wrapped up a year racing for Toronto-based R.Ferri Motorsports Racing with Ferrari in the Pirelli World Challenge, North America’s premier GT racing series, piloting the Ferrari 488 GT3.
The debut laps he took around Virginia International Raceway in April 2017 were his first in a Ferrari, and while he’s driven many FIA-GT3-homologated race cars, nothing compares to a track-focused Prancing Horse—save maybe its street-legal sibling, the 488 GTB.
My grandparents, Ralph and Loretta Marcelli, are from Sora, Italy. They came to Canada nearly 50 years ago to work and raise a family, and, like many grandparents, they’re a bit old-fashioned. A roof over your head and food in your stomach is, to them, really all you should ask of life. They never really understood my passion for motorsport or took me seriously as I pursued a racing career.
That was, of course, until they heard I would be racing a Ferrari. Seemingly overnight, the PVR recordings switched from Wheel of Fortune to CBS Sports. Go figure.
There’s no question Ferrari built a winning race car into the DNA of the 488 GTB. The previous-gen car, the 458 Italia, was a very successful road car and race car for six years, with on-track wins that included an FIA World Endurance Championship title and multiple class victories at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
But once you pilot the 488, you quickly realize the 458 is an antique. Everything from the engine to the aerodynamics to the vehicle dynamics has been completely refined, Ferrari leaning on its experience in F1 and GT racing to completely re-design and re-engineer the car. Enzo Ferrari was once asked which was his favourite Ferrari model. “The one that has not been built yet,” came his reply.
So let’s talk about the 488 GTB road car and the 488 GT3 race car. What’s it like to drive? What’s it like to race? As you might expect, my race contract didn’t include a company car—they never do, which is why I was eager for the opportunity to spend some time in the 488 GTB road car.
In June I was asked to take some Ferrari North America clients on “hot laps” of the Detroit Grand Prix of Belle Isle. It wasn’t until about 30 minutes before I met my first passenger that I even sat in the 488 GTB. I didn’t know how to lower the windows or change drive modes, let alone how to start the car. Put me in, Coach!
The 488 GTB – for Gran Turismo Berlinetta – is Ferrari’s first turbocharged mid-engined car since the iconic F40. Honestly, I miss the high-volume scream of a naturally aspirated V8, but let’s face it, that era is reaching its end.
As I rolled out of the pit lane and accelerated down the straight, my first impression was ‘This thing is seriously fast!’ The 3.9-litre power unit is the Prancing Horse’s most high-performance engine ever. Unleashing all 660 horsepower and 560 ft-lbs of torque on a temporary street circuit requires your full attention.
Things happen quickly in this car: the 488 GTB delivers maximum power output just 0.8 seconds after you accelerate to full throttle. Sure, that’s a tenth slower versus the previous-gen 458, but the 488 is also delivering an additional 90 horsepower and a whopping 167 ft-lbs more torque.
The 488 GTB sprints from zero to 100 km/h in 3.0 seconds flat; from zero to 200 km/h in just 8.3; and the top speed comes in at 330 km/h (205 mph). Let’s not forget the seven-speed F1-style dual-clutch trans makes for a near-seamless shift.
In Sport mode the refined vehicle dynamics system does an excellent job of giving the driver just enough to enjoy, but not more than you can handle. That said, if wheel-spin and opposite steering lock is more your style, you can simply switch the Manettino positions to Race Mode or CT Off and Ferrari’s updated Side-Slip Control System (SSC2) will let you hang the rear out and then some.
The SSC2 now also controls the active dampers, rendering the car’s dynamic behaviour during acceleration, braking, and cornering. This all translates into a feeling of greater body control and better bump absorption.
No doubt the Ferrari 488 GT3 is a serious race car and one that’s going to see tremendous success on the track. It does all things well and inspires a ton of confidence when it comes to pushing your limits. The car is not an absolute standout in any one area, but it’s also not weak in any one area.
The previous-gen 458 GT3 was very strong on the straightaways and in the brake zones, but honestly lacked aerodynamic cornering grip. But the 488 GT3 is the whole package. From the temporary street circuit of St. Petersburg, Florida; to the bull ring of Lime Rock Park; to the super speedway of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the Ferrari 488 GT3 was a serious threat to the competition this year.
The most obvious and most significant improvement in my opinion lies in the car’s aerodynamic development. Ferrari improved the downforce on the road car by nearly 50 percent over the previous-gen 458, all while reducing the drag. This was more than evident on the race track.
The biggest weakness was getting the front tires up to temperature. We had to revise our qualifying strategy to ensure we were getting optimal performance from the front and rear tires at the same time. Of course, in a sprint race format, generating tire temperature quick is crucial, as the opening two laps are where you’re most likely to gain or lose position.
With the improved aerodynamic downforce and drag efficiency, the body of the 488 GTB certainly took on a new shape. The front is characterized by the dual grille opening which channels air into the two radiators; and the double front spoiler similar to the one on Ferrari’s F1 race car.
Its large air intakes aft of the door are a nod to the original 308 GTB, and are divided into two sections by a splitter. Obviously my race car borrows most of these functional, good-looking features.
As for the ergonomics: the 488 GT3 race car’s steering wheel is coated with a durable thick rubber grip, which eases the effort needed to steer the car, something very important for endurance racing. The seat is actually fixed to the floor – it’s much safer this way – and the pedal box does the moving.
The biggest challenge on the inside is learning all the buttons, controls, and functions. My first laps were in wet conditions, and, well, it took me nearly two laps to find the wiper switch!
On the 488 GTB road car, the steering wheel features a push-start button, turn signals, and the drive-mode Manettino, and most other controls have been re-positioned to the center console, a la the LaFerrari.
One of the many options on the GTB is the carbon-fibre seats, and they’re a must-have in my opinion. These seats feel like they position the driver lower in the car, and more importantly provide a lot more comfort and security.
All things considered, the 488 GTB is one heck of a road car. There’s no question its beauty will turn heads, and its performance will leave you in awe.
There is a question when it comes to the number of options you want. With a base price of $250,500, you can quickly get lost in the features and find yourself at the fully-loaded price of $465,056. Buona fortuna, they say…