If the Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the supercar breed, the 296 GTB provides a searing, mind-scrambling reminder that maybe there’s no need to stray too far from the supercar brief as we know it. Ferrari’s twin-turbocharged V-6 hybrid is a stunning achievement. Possessed of outrageous capabilities and completely enthralling, it set the fastest time at Thunderhill and manages to feel ultra-sharp yet intuitive, beautifully balanced but also deliciously scary.
Welcome to our PCOTY track notes. These are the stream-of-consciousness scrawlings from our resident hot shoe, editor-at-large Jethro Bovingdon, following his hot-lap sessions in each contender.
The Ferrari’s rate of response and fast, light steering takes a bit of getting used to. Initially, you’ll take a few bites at every corner, trying to feel the chassis load-up to ease yourself in but instead, you find instant bite and very little roll in this car equipped with the Multimatic spool valve dampers (as opposed to the magnetorheological dampers on the standard car). You need to slow your hands and trust the car as the steering doesn’t significantly weight-up as the lateral forces build. There’s not the gritty, raw feel of, say, a McLaren 750S here. That means calm hands are difficult to achieve as they don’t match the absolutely manic acceleration available and the 296’s ability to change direction with little or no sense of inertia.
Soon it all starts to flow. The Ferrari always feels overwhelmingly fast and responsive, but driving it can be pretty cerebral. Stay cool and precise and the rewards are just unbelievable. So much grip on Cup 2R tires, amazing body control, almost zero understeer and easily controlled oversteer pretty much whenever you want or need it. The Assetto Fiorano package adds a new dimension on track. So configured, it feels every bit as focused as, say, a Porsche Cayman GT4 RS but even more alive. It just zings with energy and whilst there isn’t the downforce of Porsche’s wildest track cars, the Ferrari counters with incredible power and all the exciting adjustability that provides.
Most amazing of all is how it disguises its weight, the brilliance of the hybrid integration, and the raw, pulverizing performance. Ferrari’s core understanding of what makes its cars so exciting is crystal clear and the hybrid technology is used to enhance all the key qualities. The engine is sweet and revs out with such intensity, the gearing is short and the ‘box is so fast that acceleration feels borderline out of control and the chassis is simply sublime. What a car.
It could have easily gone into the 1:16s but on my final attempt, I messed up the last corner when I was about half a second ahead of the previous best lap. But maybe that’s the point with this car… you’ll be trying to master it and match its abilities for years to come.
About PCOTY hot laps:
Our lap times are simple. They are meant to inform us about how these cars perform on track, not to chase an elusive or ‘ultimate’ time that would require multiple sessions in each car. The laps were set after just a few sighting laps and no prior experience on the circuit. Unless a car didn’t get a fair shake, we did one out lap, three hot laps, and a cool-down. Whilst all the cars could go quicker, the times are representative. The delta between the cars would be consistent even with many more laps and sets of tires to burn through.
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