ROAD WARRIORS

STRIPPED BACK, SEMI-SLICK-SHOD & DRIPPING IN CARBON FIBRE, ITí S OUR SHOWDOWN OF THE ULTIMATE TURBO ROAD RACERS

BY LAURENT CHEVALIER + PICS THOMAS ANTOINE

FERFECTION IS, by nature and by saying, awfully hard to yet the European summer sun is shining, the above the home of Ferrari are twisty and itís our supercars of the moment through their paces. relative, but for anyone with a hint of car nut the fight between Weissach and Maranello in this about as good as it gets. This is an extremely rare and we intend to make the most of it.

The reality is that thereís no way to split the $645,400 Porsche 911 GT2 RS and the $645,000 Ferrari 488 Pista other than to bring them together in a head-to-head battle. Comparing respective spec sheets alone is, ultimately, futile. On paper the Ferrari appears to have the advantage with a dry weight of 1280kg and 530kW to play with. The German is a more portly 1470kg (wet) and is propelled by 515kW. However, you already know that isnít the entire story...

THE FIGHT BETWEEN WEISSACH AND MARANELLO IN THIS LOCATION IS ABOUT AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Given the Pista is supposed to weigh 90kg less than the 488 GTB, we can only assume that once filled and taxed the Ferrari is more like 1450kg. That closes the particular gap to the point of being non-existant. And thatís before considering what we know about Porsche horses being Ďstrongí. So, all told, weíre probably looking at a level playing field to start with.

Donít look to the respective gearboxes, either, to split them apart. Unlike, for example, Aston Martin where the transmissions donít transmit 100 per cent of the engine performance, the íboxes fitted to the Pista and GT2 RS are essentially faultless. Okay, maybe the Italianís setup is slightly smarter with an Auto mode thatís bordering on artificial intelligence. But otherwise they are simply equally as good as each other. Itís an eye for an eye.

A host of other barbaric cliches could be bandied íround to describe the all-nighters and hair pulling the respective engineers would have gone through to get their cars to corner this flat and with this much engagement. Rear-wheel steering and Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) Plus for the GT2 RS fights Ferrariís Dynamic Enhancer (FDE, explained p24) and the latest iteration of the E-Diff in the Pista. In the ESP stakes, Weissach packs Active PASM vs FRS SCM-E out of Maranello. And so on, and so forth.

However, before we find ourselves developing an acronyminduced headache, letís stick to the essentials. Both are kittedout with the best of the best in terms of electronic hardware and software. Mostly the systems are completely discreet, but always casting a benevolent eye over proceedings.

The same applies to the braking. Carbon ceramics are standard, with six-piston front calipers for both. Get to the nitty gritty and the Porsche has a slight advantage thanks to 410mm front discs compared to the Pistaís slightly more effete 398mm dinner plates. But then, the feel is arguably marginally nicer in the Ferrari... And donít go looking to the performance figures to split the difference, either. Just 0.05sec (Porsche leads at 2.8sec) separates the pair to 100km/h and both top out at 340km/h. However, the Pista reaches 200km/h 0.7sec quicker than the GT2 RS.

Getting bogged down in the facts and figures of these two can be easy to do and all consuming. There really is nothing left to do but get behind the wheel and make seat-of-thepants judgements using eyes, ears, feet and hands. Itís a tough gig, but someone has to do it.

I must confess to having a very soft spot for all the naturally aspirated GT3s and GT3 RSs. The reason for noting this is the fact that I wasnít immediately attracted to the wheel of the GT2 RS until that is, I found myself behind it. Call me crazy, but thatís an honest assessment. After only a very short distance itís clear that whilst this car has a stratospheric potential for performance, which shouldnít be a surprise, the way it communicates most certainly is.

Through the first corner, a tight-ish left hander, the GT2 RS dives into the apex and sticks there as if held in place by a prop forward. The next right-hand hairpin is proper racecar stuff as it keeps its head down towards the exit of the bend and then takes off again down the straight like a whirlwind.

With the Sport button selected thereís nothing Ďflatí about the exhaust note, either. Okay, itís not quite the same as 9000rpm in the GT3, but the big-calibre-cannon levels of backfiring on the down changes make up for any aural disappointments you might otherwise have. Certainly, this powertrain gives nothing away to a McLaren 720S Ė quite the opposite, actually.

You canít help but want to keep driving the GT2 RS. Keep drinking it in until well after your thirst has been quenched. You want to keep driving until the auxiliary cooling tank (which spritzes the intercoolers with demineralised water when necessary) is drained, too. But as youíd expect of a Porsche it just soaks up the punishment and keeps delivering despite the heatwave conditions that are causing the driver to wilt and the tarmac to melt. This granite-esque fitness for purpose and reliability is beginning to sound like an overused, throwaway line, but we really should remind ourselves of what an incredible feat this really is Ė especially when it is not a given at this price point with some competitors...

YOU WANT TO KEEP DRIVING THE GT2 RS Ė KEEP DRINKING IT IN UNTIL WELL AFTER YOUR THIRST HAS BEEN QUENCHED

On the back roads that lead towards Samone, Italy, wriggling and whirling like a boa constrictor with a food allergy, the GT2 RS bides its time behind a semi-articulated truck. Itís a quick look down the side, indicate and then go. No need to change down, the flat-sixís 750Nm (from just 2500rpm) will happily bury your shoulders into the backrest. It forces you to prepare to jump on the brakes before the next, rapidly approaching, corner if you want any hope of getting through it still pointing in the right direction.

05 Pista vs GT2 RS: cockpit highlights

FERRARI 488 PISTA

ONE In keeping with Ferrari tradition, the central tacho is the largest dial in the instrument cluster, while the digital displays surround it

TWO The leatherclad steering wheel features all the Pistaí vital controls, including the Manettino dial, indicators and paddles

THREE Figurehugging, trackorientated bucket seats feature fourpoint harnesses, which hold you in tight when doing laps of a track

FOUR Loads of carbon fibre features as well as Alcantara and red stitching to raise the quality. Thereí few design changes over a 488

FIVE Doní expect carpets or added sound deadening to come with your $645K Pista... it is a racecar for the road after all

PORSCHE 991.2 911 GT2 RS

ONE Speedo goes to 400km/h for Australian-delivered cars... a bit ambitious given the 340km/h top speed. Red Alcantara can be optioned out

TWO You can choose to delete the infotainment system (to save weight), but the Weissach package will cut overall weight by almost 30kg

THREE Gain driving data on your phone via the Connect Plus module and the Porsche Precision app for detailed recordings and analysis

FOUR You can change the sevenspeed PDK's gears via the sequential-style shifter or the intuitive steering wheelmounted paddles

FIVE The interior is dominated by red Alcantara, carbonweave finish and black leather. It's a certainly a focused cabin that means business

Put simply, the GT2 RS is a beast, a mongrel of a thing needing to be tamed. You need to have a base knowledge of how to get the best out of it to allow the fastest 911 to shine. Thereís nothing wrong with the engine, itís just that the speeds it can generate with such ease require you, the driver, to maintain a cool head at all times. The sounds coming from the engine are interesting, too. As weíve established, it doesnít possess the strident wail of the GT3 unit. However, the bass notes the turbocharged engine produce are just as visceral and perhaps more ominous sounding.

The handling is quite something, too, with a complete and utter lack of understeer in the dry and when driven properly. This means you can forget about the chassis and concentrate on your lines and dosing out the power to match (especially in the lower gears). Do this and youíll soon be transfixed by the feeling of riding an inexhaustible and huge wave as the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s bite into the tarmac.

The only black marks are perhaps the steering, which could be a tad more direct, and a brake pedal feel that has a slight whiff of sponginess about it. For everything else, however, the GT2 RS offers an almost perfect balance between performance, useability and pleasure. A very fine vintage indeed. But that begs the question, can the Pista do better?

THE KEY TO THE PISTA IS TO BANISH THE IDEA THAT ITí S MERELY A TUNED 488 WITH A DUCKBILL AND JAZZY STICKERS

Starting the Pistaís V8 has nothing in common with the cacophony produced by the 360 Challenge, or even 458. The turbos muffle all the high notes from the crankís first turns all the way to the redline. It does feel silly to be nostalgic about acoustics so recent; weíre not talking about the click-clack of an open gearbox from the last century, after all. But letís not get stuck in the past, because thereís plenty of good thatís come from the more recent technology. Itís not like the engine is lacking in character and certainly the level of performance it offers banishes all the rose-tinted thoughts of days long gone.

The key to the Pista is to banish the idea that itís merely a tuned 488 with a duckbill and some jazzy stickers. Think that at your own peril, because the reality is that itís far, far from being a simple case of the men in red turning up the boost. To understand just how specific the car is you need to scratch under the top coat of varnish, starting with the bonnet and the front wings made of carbon fibre (and borrowed from a 488 Challenge racecar, no less).

Then there are the Inconel exhaust manifolds, lightweight crank and flywheel, titanium conrods and roller-bearing turbos with dynamic rev sensors to improve spool times. In use the difference between the Pista and the 488 is marked with a much reduced inertia when revs change Ė either when rising or falling. And then thereís the sudden, last-gasp, extra boost of power thrillingly hidden at the very top of the rev range. Crikey, this is an engine in fine health. It almost feels like the 3.9-litre is spinning on its own axis out of pure joy whilst the gearbox keeps pouring more oil onto the fire with each new ratio.

The sheer power and vivacity combined with mechanical lightness makes you wonder how this can possibly hold up over time. But letís not worry about that now, the Pista keeps rocketing off, seemingly going stronger and harder each time. Okay, so there isnít quite the top-end drama youíd get with an atmo 458 Speciale, but the sheer force with which this engine shoves you along easily makes up for any missing Ďcharmí. The Pistaís blood is still boiling... and thatís the main thing.

Compared the GT2 RS flat-six, the Ferrari V8 feels like a more rounded engine and quicker on the draw. Same goes for the gearbox whose modes are more intuitive than the Porscheís. At low speeds the Pista is just as user-friendly as the GT2 RS, however, as the pace increases the Italian just gets sharper and sharper. The braking also feels far more natural. And the same applies to the steering, which feels less assisted.

06 unforgettable Ferrari & Porsche road racers

1. FERRARI 250 LM

The last Ferrari to win the Le Mans 24 Hour. Just 32 were built, but the 250 LM (powered by a 3.3-litre, 238kW atmo V8) started the Prancing Horse's mid-engine heritage as well as being an endurance hero.

2. FERRARI 288 GTO

Built for the stillborn Group B racing series, the 272 288 GTOs that were made sadly never raced. The mid-mounted, twin-turbo V8 (a version of it powered the F40) makes it a spiritual forebear to the manic 488 Pista we have today.

3. FERRARI 348 GT COMPETIZIONE

With a dogleg manual and a highly strung 3.4-litre atmo V8 (235kW at 7200rpm, 324Nm at 5000rpm), this stripped-out road car (1180kg) is special. Only 50 were made (two for racing) and just eight were RHD Ė one lives Down Under.

4. PORSCHE 911R

This is where it all began for lightweight, track-ready 911s. In fact, itís the lightest production 911. The R weighed just 800kg and was powered by an air cooled flat-six. It made 154kW at 8000rpm and hit 100km/h in 5.9sec... in 1966.

5. PORSCHE 930 911 TURBO

Born in an era where turbo production cars were in their infancy, the mega 930 Turbo quickly became a supercar scarer by using experience gained via racing. Only 400 were meant to be made, but the Turbo nameplate still lives on.

6. PORSCHE 993 911 GT2

The original air-cooled GT2 was a homologation special to meet international racing requirements. Just 57 (seven in right hook) were built. It was a 331kW weapon on the road and the track, becoming Porsche's first 'racing' turbo 911.

Over a long series of corners leading to Samone, itís like night and day. To illustrate simply, the Porsche has steering that could be described as being from a Ďnormal carí, whereas the Ferrari feels like youíre racing a go-kart. Gone, too, is the mention of understeer. If the GT2 RS can occasionally provide reminder hints of a whiff of ploughing on, the Pista simply wouldnít know how to begin to explain what it is. Just how theyíve managed this is quite an incomprehensible feat.

IN REALITY THE PISTA AND GT2 RS ARE MASTERPIECES GETTING DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO PERFECTION

As for the FDE, when combined with the stability control and dynamic active suspension, it certainly, if imperceptibly, helps boost all systems. It works by gently applying the inside calipers to make the car pivot more keenly into corners. No rear-steer like on the Porsche here, but the result ends up being the same. And in the purest tradition of Ferrari, the electronics are quasi-invisible. The 488ís reactions are predictable and intuitive, which summarises what the Pista does so well. Not only does it push the performance boundaries, but it also allows the driver to get closer to them at the same time.

While I have to conclude that as much as Iíve had my cage thoroughly rattled by the GT2 RS, the Pista wins here. I simply prefer the steering in the Pista, which I feel is less assisted and therefore more appropriate in this situation. The Ferrari is sharper, finer and more communicative than the GT2 RS. It may be yet another cliche, but the Ferrari can match everything the Porsche has to offer, but with more feeling and more emotion.

When two of the greatest sportscar brands go head to head in terms of philosophy and characteristics, the debate goes far beyond the tangible. Never have power, effectiveness and single-minded performance been available in such useable packages. Picking a winner comes down to finer details and personal preferences. The reality is, both on the spec sheet and out on the open road, the GT2 RS and the Pista are masterpieces getting dangerously close to perfection.