Regardless of what my current job title may be, I don’t regularly get the chance nor invite to drive a supercar the likes of the Ferrari 296 GTB around the Sepang circuit so when Ferrari Malaysia’s e-mail dropped into my inbox, I was a little giddy with excitement.
From previous track experiences, I remembered how overawed and frantic the whole session was, it was hard for journalists to form an opinion let alone have anything of worth to put down on paper from that track session. It all passes by in a blur and before you know it your session is over…so while I was excited about Esperienza Ferrari of 296 GTB, I was also a little apprehensive about how it would all go down and sure enough I left disappointed!
Having had some previous track experience with the 458 Speciale before, I was acutely aware of how fast a 5-lap or 20-minute track day would fly past, I wanted to slow this whole experience down a notch - I wasn’t chasing speed, I was chasing smooth and precision because I knew with that would come speed.
Just before the track, here are the specifications for the Ferrari 296 Grand Tourer Berlinetta (GTB)
Each driver/ journalist had an instructor paired with them to help them understand the car, what we were doing, help us pick our braking as well as acceleration points. I got paired with Giovanni and my first request was for him to drive me around Sepang so I could truly appreciate the 296 GTB under the control of an experienced hand.
Giovanni first had the e-Manettino in eDrive mode (full electric) and we set off in the quietest most uneventful manner, unbefitting of a Ferrari. He then progressively took us through Hybrid, Performance, very quickly landing on the most ‘extreme' drive mode, Qualify - heck, we were on Sepang after all!
He opened up the throttle and from thereon it was Highway to Hell! OH MY WORD the g-forces (despite how securely strapped in you were in the 296 GTB) had me swaying left to right, front to back but with the biggest grin on my face! It was so so much fun and I knew I had made the right call by having Gio drive me around Sepang first. Experiencing how expertly he caught the slide as we went into the corners around Sepang is hard to truly encapsulate with words. The 296 GTB’s eSSC (electronic Side Slip Control) and the new six-way Chassis Dynamic Sensor (6w-CDS) just brought a whole new level to the amount of fun you could have in it - Ferrari does say the 296 GTB is defining fun to drive.
I would however highly recommend if you were so privileged to own one that you get some seat time with a qualified instructor in order to fully enjoy the car safely.
And then it was my turn. I got strapped in, took a deep breath, adjusted the seat, and off we went! Gio had me immediately put the 296 GTB in Qualify, just before I got into the driver’s seat I mentioned to him that I wasn’t interested in going flat out, I wanted to be smooth with my throttle and steering input, that was my objective this afternoon. He nodded his head (in agreement I hoped but he’s Italian so who really knows?).
Braking points, apex, acceleration points were all expertly pointed out by Gio and I was consumed by it, I enjoyed both the bark and grunt from the V6 + electric motor, the direct steering, the (what turbo lag?) instant acceleration, and of course the occasion of doing this all in a Ferrari, on a track. What a privilege! And to top it off I even managed to step the rear out more than once but all it took was a flick of the steering wheel to get the car back in line.
My first Ferrari memory was building a Tamiya model of the Ferrari Testarossa. Since then I've come to appreciate Ferrari's from afar until my not so recent 458 experience. My point is I grew up with the growl of the legendary Ferrari V12's, V10's, V8's - from the F40 to the Enzo, to the 360 Modena - never in my younger days would I have envisioned a 'quiet' V6 PHEV Ferrari - but out on the track (and dare I say even on the streets) it was simply sublime. In the words of my colleague, Sep, "Gila wei, they managed to churn out 221ps per litre from the engine (exluding the hybrid)." And yes, for the most part the F163 engine in the 296 GTB is gila, but it's a very manageable gila, a gila that you can use everyday if you so wanted to.
With European emission regulations, the world's push towards more sustainable mobility solutions and Ferrari's own pledge of 40% full-electric vehicles and 40% hybrid models by 2030, electrification is inevitable. I've not had the privilege of driving Ferrari's first PHEV model, the SF90 yet but if their second attempt, the 296 GTB is anything to go by then I say good luck to their competition!
Before I knew it, my time was up. In parting, I asked Gio if the 296 GTB is the everyday Ferrari and he resoundingly said, Yes! If I could afford one, I might have resoundingly agreed with him too! And that brings me to the disappointing part of the afternoon, after the high of the 296 GTB on track, I got to drive home in my 308...plus I was also a little sore (driving a supercar aggressively on track takes more out of you than you imagine).
Thank you once again Ferrari Malaysia for the flawless organisation of the Esperienza Ferrari of 296 GTB and the privilege of taking the first Ferrari V6 rear-wheel-drive PHEV mid-engined Ferrari road car out on track.
If you're more of a drop-top fella, then the 296 GTS might be more your cuppa!