When Ferrari unveiled the 599 GTO last week, they described it as 'the fastest road car they had ever built.' This is the sort of statement performance car makers often make in the heat of a press reveal, but in this case, it's a really big deal. Think about it. That makes the 599 quicker than the F40 and the 430 Scuderia, quicker than the F50, and yes, even quicker than the mighty Enzo.
All were road-legal race machines, and every one pulsated with the technical rhythm of Ferrari greatness; power, beauty and soul fused into a blood-red arrowhead of automotive perfection.
So from what we know of the 6.0-litre, 661bhp V12-powered 599, where does the car sit in relation to its esteemed stable mates? We take a look at Fiorano's former lap time leaders and try to decide if the GTO will have what it takes to compete with Ferrari's finest specimens...
What a place to start. Ferrari has arguably failed to build a car as evocative as the F40 since the model ceased production in 1992. The car was Enzo Ferrari's swansong, a sledgehammer 2.9-litre twin-turbo V8 engine cloaked in Pininfarina's Kevlar and carbon fibre body. Thanks to space age materials and a spartan interior, the F40 weighed just 1100kg and developed 475bhp. With a top speed of 201mph it wasn't just the quickest Ferrari of its day, it was the fastest production car in the world when it launched in 1987.
The F40 disappeared in 1992, and it was three years before it was replaced. The F50 isn't usually mentioned in the same breath as its illustrious predecessor, but its innovative engineering earns it a unique place in Ferrari's history. These days, supercars are often lauded for including F1 technology, but the F50 was specifically built using a Formula One car as a template.
The car used a composite monocoque chassis and a naturally aspirated 4.7-litre V12 engine derived from the one used in the 1990 Formula One season. The carbon fibre passenger tub had the front suspension mounted directly to it, while the engine itself was a load bearing structure, supporting the transmission and rear suspension. The F50 developed 520bhp and was the most powerful car Ferrari had ever made. It may have been eclipsed in its day by the Mclaren F1, but the F50 remains a car of singular vision.
If Ferrari's vision of an F1 car for the road originated with the F50, its successor perfected the concept. While the Enzo shared many of the older car's traits, Ferrari's new hyper car added several world firsts, including carbon-fibre brakes, integrated electronic control systems and active aerodynamics which could produce a maximum of 775kg at 185mph.
At the heart of the Enzo was a 6.0-litre V12 engine producing 660bhp. It was the first Ferrari powerplant to boast variable valve timing, and was mated to a 6-speed paddle-shift gearbox. The Enzo's aggressive shape was a product of wind tunnel testing as much as it was Pininfarina, but the car still marked a leap in design as significant as the 250 GT SWB launched forty years before.
Ferrari 430 Scuderia
The Enzo was launched in 2002 with a price tag in excess of £400,000. It was considered a technological behemoth, and was sold by invitation only. Yet just five years later a Ferrari costing less than half as much was matching its times around Fiorano. The 430 Scuderia shares its DNA with the standard F430, but it combined race car capabilities with road car manners in a way that few would have considered possible at the beginning of the decade.
Increasing the Scuderia's power and reducing its weight gave the car a 373bhp-per-tonne power to weight ratio, but blunt force trauma was only half the story. Ferrari's engineers tweaked components and tuned settings until they succeeded in turning an already exceptional chassis into one of the decade's finest examples. They had some help of course - seven-times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher was intimately involved with the car's development.
Ferrari 599 GTO
So how does the GTO measure up? Well, first and foremost, Ferrari has seen fit to tag its new hero with that enigmatic three letter badge. Only two previous cars have carried that moniker - the 1962 250 GTO is charisma made manifest, and probably the last truly dual purpose road/race car Ferrari produced, while the 288 GTO was the car intended to compete with Porsche's ground-breaking 959 and the precursor to the F40.
Making the 599 a GTO is undoubtedly one sign of Ferrari's confidence. The others are to be found in the figures the manufacturer released. The Scuderia's 4.3-litre V8 is one of the great engines of the last decade, but the 599 gets a road-legal version of the 6.0-litre V12 lump that has been breaking hearts and minds under the bonnet of the built-for-the-track 599XX.
That engine develops 661bhp at 8250rpm and 457lb ft of torque, propelling the 599 to 60mph in 3.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 208mph. With a dry weight of 1495kg, the GTO delivers a power to weight ratio of 448bhp per tonne. Those are Enzo rivalling numbers, but once again it will be the adoption of the bleeding-edge tech which makes the latest Ferrari a full second quicker round Fiorano.
The GTO gets second-generation carbon-ceramic brakes, new aerodynamic innovations derived from the 599XX, Michelin-developed Supersports tyres and a Virtual Race Engineer system which feeds the driver with real time information on the car's performance. It will also benefit from the latest-generation F1-Trac traction control system which offers the driver different control parameters regarding the car's electronic assistance, including the option to turn the system off completely
Of course, pace alone does not guarantee the 599 GTO legendary status. The F40 has been superseded by quicker cars for the past two decades, but its savagery and elemental brilliance continue to make it a breed apart. For now Ferrari's latest speed king will have to content itself with sitting on the shoulders of giants, but we remain hopeful that the prancing horse has once again produced something truly special.