Official Ferrari test driver Raffaele De Simone turned to me and, muffled by a full-face race helmet, said, “We must heat the tires and the brakes, so we do not crash.” He stated this casually, as if every time he gets in a car he puts on his seat belt, checks his mirrors and roasts the tires. He laid into the throttle and we set out to do a warm-up lap around Daytona International Speedway in the 488 GTB, at night, no less.
Navigating the pit exit, which is barely wide enough for the 488, to the road course, De Simone pointed at the once all-white concrete barrier, now zebra-striped with tire marks, and offered another helpful tip: “Be careful here, it’s easy to crash — you can see. No good.” Out on the track, De Simone picked up the driving and speaking pace as I tried to process his calling out brake markers and turn-in points for the first couple of turns on Daytona’s Road Course.
2016 Ferrari 488 GTB
Engine: 3.9–liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: seven-speed Dual-Clutch
Torque: 561 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.0 seconds
Leaving the last left-hander of the infield section, De Simone pinned the throttle and hauled us towards the tidal wave of asphalt commonly known as “NASCAR Turn One.” The entire earth seemed to rotate around the car and, just as the force of Daytona’s famously intimidating banked turns started to settle in, I could feel the g-forces pulling the blood from my face towards my feet. De Simone was feathering the throttle at 150 mph. You know, just to warm up the tires.
Sighting lap over, back in pit lane, we swapped seats. Finding your way around a track you’ve never driven is one thing. Navigating an unfamiliar course, floodlit at night, in an unfamiliar car, is an entirely different beast — and Daytona is known to be a man-eater.
Some race tracks are easy to learn, get a hold of and get a good lap time out of, and then there are tracks that take every bit of your concentration just to get around in one piece. Daytona is the latter.
I took it easy through the infield turns. But the gargantuan bankings at Daytona aren’t just built for speed; they welcome it. I clicked off gears with the paddle shifters — as if they had a direct mechanical connection to the gearbox — all the way into seventh at 160 mph. I was more prepared for the g’s this time around, but that didn’t stop my face from going pale mid-turn while “looking down” the track at the exit point. Thanks to the extreme banking, I had to look through the top left corner of the windshield to see my racing line. I topped out just shy of 165 mph on the back stretch before standing on the brakes for the bus stop chicane. The 488 didn’t seem to care that I braked later than I should have; I simply pointed the car where I wanted it to go and the stability control sorted out my Ferrari-test-driver-wincing mistake. The 488 went through the left-right-left chicane as if it were on rails, without a hint of body roll, then carved up the turn 3–4 banking (a centrifugal repeat of the banked turns 1–2) and through the slight kink in the front stretch to start another lap.
Some race tracks are quick and easy to learn. Then there are tracks that take every bit of your concentration just to get around in one piece. Daytona is the latter. And to think, in under month’s time, a field of 50 cars or so will be racing around here trying to safely and consistently navigate the track for 24 hours straight — at even higher speeds.