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There is the first Ferrari 488 Pista in India, and we decided the Rann of Kutch would make for a great backdrop to drive it in
It was deathly silent all around us, except for the wind whipping at our t-shirts and hats. We were waiting in anticipation. The Ferrari 488 Pista, resplendent in Rosso Corsa with a black and yellow racing stripe down the centre is just sitting there, the morning sunlight glinting off its smooth surfaces. It is such a stark contrast — the glistening red with the most sensuous curves against the broken flatland that is the Rann of Kutch. The Pista looks wild even on a racetrack, where big wings and massive ducts don’t raise eyebrows but here in the middle of nowhere, it looked positively otherworldly. Then it happened. The angry woofle of the 4-litre blown V8’s cold start shattered the silence. It isn’t particularly musical, but it has this serrated, industrial edge to it. Out here in the vast openness with no buildings and walls to corrupt the sound with echoes, we were hearing its purest possible soundtrack.
This story was some time in the making. I remember the Ed walking into the evo India office and telling us that we needed to find an epic road to drive Boopesh Reddy of Bren Garage fame’s recent acquisition — the Ferrari 488 Pista. It was the first one of its kind in India, and is super exclusive globally too. The road, and consequently the story needed to be epic. Lots of research was done, lots of roads were scouted and lots of phone calls were made. Nothing epic enough was found. So we dug deeper into the archives looking for inspiration. And there it was, staring us in the face. A story that would be visually epic, a story with legacy and one that would blow everybody’s mind with the sheer audacity of it.
Back in the 90s, when Car UK magazine was at its peak, they attempted something ludicrous — something that is still talked of to this day with a degree of reverence in motoring journalism circles. In 1995, Richard Bremner drove a Ferrari F512M from the Ferrari factory to the Sahara desert, more precisely to the Western Sahara near the Erg Chebbi dunes in Morocco. Now, mind you, this is a time when cars were still analogue, and Italian ones didn’t have a particularly good reputation when it came to reliability. He found the engine misfiring even before he reached France, forget Africa! But they soldiered on, completing the 7500km drive there and back with some epic stories to tell. Years later in 2015, Harry Metcalfe, who co-founded evo magazine in the UK in 1998 recreated this epic story, driving his own 1987 Ferrari Testarossa from the UK to Morocco, pitting at the Yasmina hotel on the edge of the Sahara that Bremner stayed at and drove his car as close as he could get to the dunes. That was inspiration enough for this story. The Yasmina hotel was swapped out for the Rann Riders in Dasada, the Erg Chebbi dunes for the Little Rann of Kutch, and instead of the Testarossa from Harry’s Garage, we had the 488 Pista from Bren Garage.
I was wondering how the Ed convinced Boopesh to bring his track-honed and focussed car to a place where the closest stretch of tarmac was beyond the horizon. Even Bremner and then Metcalfe did all their driving on tarmac only, trundling onto the sand for the pictures. Boopesh, though, has an even wilder strain of driving DNA; he is a man who loves to drive, loves to use his cars, and buys cars to use them. You can tell by the way he spoke about them that he prefers being behind the wheel with the open road in front of him (or in this case, just mud) than letting the cars lie unused in his super-cool Batcave-esqe underground garage. Just the weekend prior to us taking his Pista to the Rann, he had driven his Porsche 911 GT2 RS from Bengaluru to Chennai and back to watch the first round of the Indian National Rally Championship. When you tell him that he can drive his car as fast as he wants, unmolested by the cops and with nothing to hit provided he was driving away from us, he didn’t take too long to agree. Heck, he even teased the Ed saying we forgot he has more than one car and he’d have brought another one down for us if only we had asked!
This is my first exposure to a Pista and I’m trying not to approach it with any baggage (hideously branded or otherwise). I know that it received mixed reviews in the eCoty last year and judging it against the Speciale (one resides in Bren Garage too) also seems inevitable, but equally I think it deserves to be assessed on its own merits first.
That’s made a little harder when you get into the driver’s seat because the interior is very familiar (quite old), but I love the sense of light. It feels as though you’re looking through about three times the acreage of glass compared to the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ (again, there’s one in Bren Garage) like moving out into an amphitheatre after sitting in a downstairs loo. It’s a completely non-mechanical facet that ramps up the anticipation, because shrugging on four-point harnesses instead of pulling across a three-point inertia reel is akin to that moment when a normal knife is replaced with a serrated steak knife in a restaurant. However, Ferrari doesn’t offer both as an option like Porsche do, and Boopesh opted for the three-pointer instead of the harness after his experience with the Speciale. Try dropping your phone, and picking it up once you’re strapped in, he told me. He’s also got the only Pista in the world with a yellow stripe down the centre — and that bit of paint set him back an additional Rs 22 lakh. There’s a focus to the car with its lack of a sound system and liberal use of carbonfibre. Boopesh is a track junkie and his cars are the perfect representation of that. Pista, GT2 RS, SVJ, Speciale, Cayman GT4. Those are garage goals right there.
Once the fluids were warmed up, it was only a matter of time before the Ferrari was a speck in the distance receding behind a plume of dust. It was quite a sight — the four-litre engine with 710bhp had nothing holding it back except the lack of traction from the track-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s on mud. Setting off was a spectacle in itself — Boopesh turned the Mannetino to full ESC off, floored it, and the revs rose instantly, the tacho needle ricocheting off the redline. This violence was supplemented by the chunks of mud exploding into dust as they were spat out on the carbonfibre diffuser. It sounded even more destructive inside the stripped-out cabin. The wheels were spinning, scrambling for traction — and it was only when he shifted up to second that the tyres actually managed to put down some of that torque and propel the car forward. Third. Fourth. The bottom of the car was being given a good sandblasting. I wasn’t sure what speeds he was doing but I could hear an engine that was being squeezed for all it had, and there was no sign of it letting up as it got softer and softer in the distance.
Getting the car sideways was no trouble at all. You had to but breathe on the throttle and give it the mere hint of steering angle and you had the tail whipping out behind you. That’s what 770Nm on mud can do. There would be collectors who would be left aghast if you asked them to send their Pista sideways on a salt flat, their brains working overtime to figure out how much value was being slashed off their car for every chunk of mud it spat up. At the other end of the spectrum is Boopesh whose willingness to go sideways was only topped by the photographer’s willingness to shoot him going sideways. Sure, he got overzealous once or twice and chunks of soil rained down on the glass engine cover. He’d back off for a few minutes, but then get back to sliding around.
The 488 Pista is dialled in on the road too. Boopesh insisted on driving it from Dasada to Ahmedabad for an impromptu fan meet, and save for a few ugly speedbrakers that gave the massive carbonfibre diffuser a headache, the roads are smooth and winding — appropriate for a Ferrari. Louder than the other V8s of its kind, the way the sound fills the cabin speaks of paring back and stripping out. I’m a big fan of the big paddles in the Ferrari. Pull back for first and the lightish action and longish throw feel suitably theatrical, but also in keeping with the other razor-sharp control weightings.
Talking of which, even when you’re familiar with the alacrity of a modern Ferrari’s steering, expecting the distinctively direct, darty response, it still takes a few minutes to adjust your inputs when you get back into one. But while you’re recalibrating your hand movements, it gives you time to take in the rest of the character of the car and it feels like more of a change over a standard 488 than I was expecting. The front end feels firmer over the bumps. Get on the throttle early and you can feel the E-Diff tightening and the rear tyres clawing aggressively at the ground. Fiddle with the modes and you’ll find little differentiation between the standard and Bumpy Road damper settings. There’s just a general increase in focus. And boy is it fast.
Ferrari may not have killed turbo lag, but it was probably seen driving the getaway car. The throttle response in any gear is incredible and as a result it’s perfectly possible to slice down a road intimidatingly quickly using gears two or three higher than optimum. Fifth provides ample kick out of a third-gear corner.
Dare to pull the left-hand paddle a couple more times, perhaps ignite the red LEDs at the top of the steering wheel occasionally, and the performance is hypercar level. Back off to catch your breath and you feel like the Ferrari is drumming its fingers, waiting for you to ramp things back up to vicious wasp mode. It can do pottering, but it doesn’t really involve you when you’re going slowly, and that super-sharp steering is always inciting you to attack turns rather than merely travel through them. And it really rewards when you push it too.
Not that understeer feels like an option in the Pista. Flashing through a sequence of bends the whole car changes direction like it weighs about 500kg and has aggressive rear-wheel steering. It’s astonishing. If you’re in Race or CT‑Off mode you’ve got more than enough torque to trigger oversteer, but instinct has an ally in the alertness of the steering, which easily lets you add enough lock to contain the swing.
Back at the Rann though, even six hours into fooling around in the mud, and the Ferrari still looked suitably out-of-place. It was now covered in a layer of fine dust and the edges of its aggressive aero addenda were showing signs of being subject to conditions they only saw when someone made an embarrassing boo-boo on track. The engine bay was filled with dust too, and I’m sure the air filters were choked and needed a good cleaning. I was too scared to look at the diffuser. But when you saw the smile on Boopesh’s face, none of that seemed to matter. Later in the evening, he said that he was taking it easy because it was a Ferrari. That he was going to come back here in one of his Porsches and really let loose.
It isn’t long before the sight of a Ferrari off-road won’t be as ludicrous as it is now. The company already has its SUV/crossover/whatever-you-want-to-call-it in the works and will probably eat trails for breakfast. But it will never look as outrageous as the Pista in the Rann. Or a Testarossa in the Sahara. The sheer nerve to take something usually locked up in collections, or restricted to hot laps at the best tracks in the world to somewhere as outlandish as a desert is what makes this drive so special. It’s like showing that stuck up collector’s club the proverbial middle finger. It continues the legacy of Metcalfe and the Testarossa, and Bremner and F512M. It takes their stories and adds another page of its own. The Pista in the Rann. Nothing so outlandish has been attempted yet, but this shouldn’t be where it ends. I hope someone out there attempts to go beyond. And I hope I’m there to witness it.