Duel in the Desert

Duel in the Desert

Ferrari 2018 Annual Yearbook

Ferrari racing drivers Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina sample the 812 Superfast

The sharp bark of the two V12s, each producing more than 780 horsepower, reverberates off the mountains surrounding the desert valley. This little slice of West Texas looks like it was lifted straight from a Hollywood Western; the cactus, agave and yucca contrasting with the autumnal chill in the air. It would be a peaceful, quiet morning ex-cept for the pair of Ferrari 812 Superfast, one in Giallo Modena and the other in Rosso Corsa, and their expert drivers posing for the camera.

The photographer motions them to swap places. For the drivers on this closed road, keeping the cars in close quarters to make the pictures look dramatic is simple. They’re accustomed to driving inches from other cars at high speeds while exploring the limits of traction on the great tracks of the world, be it in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 12 Hours of Sebring, at Spa or Circuit of the Americas. Compared to 3 a.m. battles at 200mph, this is child’s play.

Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina are Ferrari factory racing drivers competing in the finest offerings from Ferrari Competizioni GT, the 488 GTE and 488 GT3. Among recent accomplishments, together they won the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge SprintX championship, and Vilander won the overall World Challenge GT title for R. Ferri Motorsport. Molina also has a couple of wins in the European Le Mans Series in 2018, and Vilander has a pair of 24 Hours of Le Mans victories in the GTE Pro category in recent years.

On this day, though, there is no pressure to perform. Their job is to follow the photographer’s direction, enjoy the most powerful road-going V12 Ferrari built and savor each crack of the exhaust with every downshift of the F1 dual-clutch transmission. But for drivers who regularly see the cockpit of a highly capable racing Ferrari designed to produce ultimate lap times, what enjoyment is there to be had in a road car?

“The power,” says Vilander. “I wish I had this much power in the race car. It’s a beast when you go full throttle. The power is just so raw. It squeezes you to the seat. On the race car, we need to follow certain rules. We need to adapt the power of the car, the torque of the engine, the turbo to all those rules. We need to follow each championship and those specifics.”

But on the road car, aside from safety and emissions regulations, there are no rules. Thus Ferrari could re-engineer its V12 to produce nearly 800hp and put it in a two-seat GT that is docile on the road and screams on the track.

“Ferrari builds a great compromise between a road car and race car, a car to drive on a normal road or to drive on the track,” explains Molina. “You have the different engine maps, the different tools to play with in the car, different modes on the traction control. I think this is one of the strongest points of a Ferrari – you have a really nice car on the road and amazing performance o the track.

“The power is really controllable, so you can modulate it quite well with the throttle,” the Spaniard continues. “The power is so smooth and that’s good for people that are not used to having this much power. It’s so easy to handle it, and that makes it fun.”

Molina and Vilander demonstrate by drifting the 812s for the photographer. He shows little concern as he fires frame after frame, showing complete confidence in the Ferraris and their expert drivers. The narrow road in the mountainous Chihuahuan desert outside El Paso provides the perfect venue for both driving fun and great photos of beautiful cars.

During a break while the photographer works on a portrait of Molina, Vilander expresses that the landscape would be an interesting place to ride a mountain bike, being in sharp contrast to the flatness of his native Finland or his American home of Florida. The Finnish roads, though, would be a great place to take the 812 Superfast, especially in winter. He might, he says, even want to try it on a frozen lake. This environment, however, is a good reflection of the character of the car he’s spent the last several hours driving – quiet, calm, but with some sharp edges and a degree of ferocity that can be brought out if the driver so desires.

“I like the fact that it rides well on a normal street. But them whatever happens after that…” he says, a grin creeping across his face as he considers the possibilities. “…It’s cool. It’s a Ferrari.”

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