Portofino M on Track – COTA

Portofino M on Track – COTA

On Friday we took our Portofino M to a Longhorn Racing Academy event at Circuit of the Americas. Varun and everyone at LRA run a great event and it's a joy to come out with them.

I had some concerns about the Porto M on track. On the street it will spin the drive tires easily, sliding around when all I wanted to do was accelerate in a straight line. And in some curves, if I trailbraked, the nose tucked in aggressively, possibly too aggressively. All of these happened with stability and traction control active, and even in "Comfort" mode. I was concerned the car would be an oversteery, sliding mess until the rear tires overheated, and then it'd just be uncontrollable.

The car also dynamically changes its shifting behaviors depending on what its various sensors detect. With hard cornering or firm braking it uses lower gears while with gentle inputs it'll upshift to quite high gears. This car seems to make these decisions on the fly, rapidly adjusting its behavior to changing driver inputs. A minor change in driver behavior will lead to a change in shift behavior within a fraction of a second at times. It's great to have the car throw itself into low gear when that's what I want, but how predictable will this highly dynamic shifting behavior be on track? Will it do what I want, or will I have to take it out of auto-mode and shift myself?

But I shouldn't assume. I should test. Nugget took the car out first for some easy, re-acclimation laps. I rode with him, and it took just a couple of laps for the Michelin PS4S on the car to overheat. We also quickly smelled hot brakes, but neither of those are surprising in a 3700 pound, 612 horsepower car on COTA. Nugget had the car in Race mode, ESC on, with the transmission remaining in Auto the entire time. It seemed to be pretty well behaved from the passenger seat.

After giving the car a chance to cool down I took it for a few laps. The massive weight and engine up in the front meant I had to brake early, the weight of the car really showed. Turn-in is quick, as expected, and the car really goes where I point it.

As I accelerate out of turns I find this car will turn and accelerate... at the same time? How... does that work? Oh, right, a big V8 up in the front, not the engine behind the rear axle. I'm very gentle, gradual, smooth on the throttle. On the street this'd mean the car upshifted quickly, racing to 8th gear. But the sensors detected the lateral G, the programming kept the car in a reasonably low gear because of it. The car did short shift to third from the hairpin (turn 11 before the back straight). That's a good decision by the transmission, though. The tires are still managing the cornering load and can't handle the full power of the engine yet. The higher gear makes it easier to modulate the throttle effectively, keeping the tires from going past 100% of available grip. It's exactly the choice I'd have made.

That was the reality with the transmission no matter what I was doing. Hot laps, cool down, moderate pace behind another car, whatever. Whatever I was doing, the car was always in the correct gear, the gear I'd have chosen. The transmission doesn't manage to do that on the street, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Handling balance is predictable and precise. I had no moments of worry about oversteer. I did get some push through 16/17/18, but that's a result of me being a bit too eager on the throttle and proper balance from the car.

Braking was easy to sort out. I wasn't pushing in the more risky braking zones, but when I did ask the car for all the braking it had, I could feel what the brakes were doing without issue. The big ceramic brakes do have a lot of grip, and the progression is well tuned for speed, but those PS4S just cannot slow down 3700 pounds like I want. Put it on R-comp tires and a track alignment and it'd do better, but you'll always be fighting that high weight. And it's a GT car, so it can just do short sessions instead.

All in all, the Portofino M exceeded my expectations on track. Ferrari's logo is that prancing horse. A horse lively, eager, sidestepping as the rider tries to hold it back. But when the race starts, the horse runs, straight and true, fast. That is exactly what I felt from the Portofino. Lively and sideways when holding back, on the proper line and behaving wonderfully when asked to move fast.