Ferrari doesn't phone it in when developing hardcore, track-ready versions of its mid-engine V8 cars. For cars like the 430 Scuderia and 458 Speciale, it wasn't just a matter of cranking up the power, stiffening the suspension and calling it a day. According to Ferrari's Chief Technical Officer, Michael Leiters, the same is true of the latest track-optimized Ferrari, the 488 Pista.
The Pista represents a pretty radical rework of the 488 GTB, a car that can't be accused of being sluggish. The Pista's numbers—710 hp and a curb weight barely over 3000 lbs—tell some of the story, but the true beauty is in the details.
Leiters is particularly excited about the Pista's radical aerodynamics. The most obvious aero change is at the front. Ferrari calls the air channel created by the plunging hood the "S-Duct," because air is routed through the bodywork in an S-shape, increasing downforce on the front axle. Confused? Just follow the stripes: They outline how the air flows over the car.
Those stripes proved to be a challenge for Ferrari. Leiters noted that the company refuses to use vinyl for body accents, so masking off the stripe line on two separate body panels was challenging. The trunk lid is made of two pieces of carbon fiber glued together, and it's a pretty complex piece. Despite all the aero changes here, trunk space isn't impacted all that much.
The Pista gets integrated dive planes ahead of the front wheels, but those are mainly there to accommodate the S-Duct. Things get really interesting on the side. On the 488 GTB, those big ducts aft of the doors were engine air intakes, but on the Pista, they mainly direct airflow to the intercoolers. Ferrari moved the engine intakes to the very back of the Pista, similar to what we've seen on—say it quietly—the McLaren 720S.
According to Leiters, moving the intake helps increase thermodynamic efficiency, and it also helps the Pista's 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8 make more power. There are other aerodynamic changes around the back, too. The diffuser is derived from that of the Ferrari 488 GTE race car, generating massive downforce. The Pista also retains the 488 GTB's active diffuser flaps, which deploy at high speed to reduce drag.
There's a bigger fixed rear spoiler, with a channel for air to pass under, increasing rear-axle downforce even further. The prancing horse logo floats in this channel, which is just a damn cool detail. Big ducts behind the rear wheels helps reduce turbulence, Leiters explained.
The new intake location plays a role in helping Ferrari squeeze 50 more horsepower out of this 3.9-liter twin-turbo V8, but there are other changes too. The intake plenum actually sits closer to the block, creating a shorter passage for air to travel, thereby quickening throttle response. There's also a new exhaust system that reduces backpressure, which allows an increase in revs. Now, the V8 spins to 8000 rpm, notably high for a turbocharged engine.
Ferrari actually moved the Pista's two turbos further away from the cylinder head, a seemingly counterintuitive decision that Leiters says helps with sound. And while we're on the subject of noise, the Pista uses a system of tubes to pipe engine noise into the cabin.
One of Leiter's biggest goals with the 488 Pista was reducing rotating mass, which is why the engine now uses titanium connecting rods. There's also new, optional carbon-fiber wheels, which help reduce unsprung mass, but Leiters is quick to note that the reduce in rotational mass is more important here.
All of these changes make the 488 Pista quicker, with a 1:21.5 lap time around Ferrari's Fiorano test track. That makes the Pista 1.5 seconds faster than the 488 GTB, and puts it on par . But for Leiters, improved numbers come second to enjoyment.
"Apart from performance, driving emotion is important to us," Leiters told us. "For us, emotion in driving comes from sound, perceived acceleration—not 0-100, but perceived acceleration and deceleration—and a go-kart feeling."
The Pista's chassis electronics are also tuned to enhance fun. Select "CT Off" on the Pista's steering-wheel Manettino switch and Ferrari's ultra-clever Side-Slip Control (SSC) system kicks in. SSC lets you hold sweet drifts, but engages the inside brakes when the driver does a sharp countersteer, helping to pull the car straight.
Leiters took an interesting approach with this car. A track-focused car like this is usually all about the numbers—acceleration times, power figures, minute changes in quantifiable data. Leiters paid attention to these, but he never lost sight of what makes enthusiasts love driving.
“We have to do the performance, because obviously this car has to be fast on the race track,” he said. “But the most important thing is driving emotion.”