The modern automobile is far too fast. Take, for example, the Volvo XC60 R Design. This family-minded compact crossover from a carmaker that espouses safety at every turn arrives on these shores with 325 horsepower under the hood.
In case this sentence doesn’t resonate strongly enough, bear in mind that we’re talking about a Volvo XC60, which is as far removed from a sports car on the sliding scale of vehicle types as anything on the road today, except for perhaps a school bus.
Of course, much of this current push for power has gone to offset the added weight of safety systems, luxury features and the like. But once that lump of metal has a bit of momentum behind it, the engine has effectively overpowered the brakes, the handling, and the parameters of the average stability control system.
If our roads aren’t capable of harnessing the performance potential of a 325-horsepower CUV, the thinking goes, what hope is there for a 730-horsepower Ferrari?
The fine people at Ferrari understand their product well; they know that appropriate venues for experiencing everything their cars have to offer are few and far between. This is why, late last year, the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) was chosen as just the third location for the officially-sanctioned Ferrari Driving Experience program in the world.
This exclusive offering was established in Italy then came to North America in 2006, where it’s based at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec. Make no mistake, that track is a fantastic place: blind corners, elevation changes and a pastoral setting that calls to mind the finest of the classic European tracks. When he visited the circuit during his Ferrari days, Michael Schumacher reportedly called it a “mini-Nürburgring.” The latest venue for the Ferrari Driving Experience shares some of these attributes, but it’s some 50 years newer and thus, the approach is different.
So, yes, there are blind corners and elevation changes at COTA. But the run-off area is vast in comparison to Mont-Tremblant, the pavement is up to five cars wide in spots and many of the key corners have been designed to make it easier for one modern F1 car to pass another. But there’s another critical aspect of COTA that makes it well-suited to the capabilities of a (non-F1) Ferrari: two long straights where speeds can get extreme in a hurry.
On this occasion, that non-F1 is the F12 Berlinetta.
While this GT superstar isn’t likely to see as much track duty as, say, a 458 Italia, it has the performance needed to make a few laps of COTA very interesting. As mentioned, this Ferrari sees 730 horsepower from its 6.3L V12, along with 509 lb-ft of torque, which is achieved at 6,000 rpm. This output is sufficient to propel the F12 Berlinetta from 0-100 km/h in 3.1 seconds and from 0-200 km/h in 8.5 seconds. These figures make the Ferrari one of the very quickest production cars in the world – easily.
In speaking about the car, FDE Chief Instructor Nick Longhi – a racer who has piloted a modern Ferrari F1 car around Monza, no less – refers to its profound acceleration as being like an unstoppable force. He’s right. Where other fast cars start to run out of steam, somewhere between 220 and 260 km/h, the F12 is still gaining ground, still accelerating as if its top speed (an ungodly 340 km/h) is somewhere in the next time zone. It’s incredible – to the point of forcing a re-evaluation of every other GT car on the road today.
On track, the Ferrari needs to be treated with great respect; it requires a delicate touch both in acceleration and in cornering because of its immense power. Through the turns, particularly in the esses, precision is required because the tail end of the car will come around. While this might happen predictably and progressively, it’s also not the way to generate true speed on track.
The F12 is, in fact, very composed at speed, but this characteristic still has the capacity to sucker the driver into pushing too much. Armed with traction control, a very sophisticated stability control system, magnetorheological suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes, the Ferrari is as cutting-edge as it gets. But there are limits – and this is a 730-horsepower, rear-wheel drive car.
While driving the F12 around COTA, the only place I dared peak at the speedometer was at the end of the infamous, uphill front straight – here, the digital readout crested 150 mph (240 km/h).
More was definitely possible. I had barely begun to explore the limits of the brakes. Neither had I tested the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to its fullest; only the first five gears were needed around the track. Also, as the track temperatures were dipping close to zero degrees Celsius and the Pirelli tires weren’t suited to such cold conditions, I never dared place the manettinoswitch in the fully off positions – even in race mode, care had to be taken.
But once the Ferrari’s wheels were pointed straight, it was a matter of gripping it and ripping it. The final corner at COTA resembles the last blast at Laguna Seca in terms of angle and approach. It also sets up the run down the front straight and across the start/finish line, which is slower than the back straight by some 15 to 40 km/h, depending on the car being driven.
Here, the track is bordered by a retaining wall on one side and large grandstands on the other, so the F12 sounded like a true race car as the exhaust note bounced from one side to the other. It was a truly glorious time.
In the final analysis, the Ferrari F12 Berlinetta required an even grander stage upon which to reveal its true potential. Like a place with sunnier skies, warmer weather and an even longer straight – maybe Monza in the month of August. Until that time comes, I’m comforted by the experience of driving what is, arguably, the greatest of all the modern GT cars in an environment that allows such a vehicle to shine a little more brightly.