Despite tearing the serenity of the Styrian hills to shreds during this year’s Challenge & GT Days at the Red Bull Ring, the 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia GTE proved itself to be a surprisingly approachable and absolutely engaging modern-era sports-racing car. Now for the debrief…
The Red Bull Ring, Austria. A racetrack which looks as though it was nonchalantly draped over a pocket of undulating Styrian landscape. A picture of rural serenity. That is until the soul-stirring eight-cylinder symphony of 50-plus Ferrari Challenge and GT cars cuts through the cowbell-dotted stillness like a knife.
Team Girardo & Co. travelled to the Red Bull Ring this week for the 2023 Challenge & GT Days – an event conceived by the Austrian collector Heinz Swoboda to provide owners of modern-era competition Ferraris with a private, relaxed and non-competitive environment in which to enjoy their cars.
Indicative of the broader surge in interest for modern-era endurance competition cars in the collector-car market, these Prancing Horses have become extremely sought after. Besides their historical significance, rarity and (newfound) eligibility, these cars have skyrocketed in desirability for another reason: the ease at which they can be used. And the Challenge & GT Days is the perfect excuse to exploit that fact.
“The Red Bull Ring, Austria. A racetrack which looks as though it was nonchalantly draped over a pocket of undulating Styrian landscape. A picture of rural serenity.”
We’ve supported this intimate event since the very first iteration six years ago. We brought our Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive on multiple occasions and Max has helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars for Wings for Life (click here to find out more about this fantastic cause) by conducting the now-traditional charity auction.
Given we’re currently offering an ex-Works Ferrari 458 Italia GTE for sale, arguably the most special of all the eight-cylinder Ferrari GT cars, the opportunity to bring it to the Red Bull Ring and find out what an ex-Le Mans sports car is like to drive was simply too good to pass up. We also invited our friend and the renowned automotive journalist Henry Catchpole along to have a go. Henry’s going to create some killer cross-platform content about the car – content of a sort which, so far as we can see, simply doesn’t exist right now.
Chassis 2874 has only ever been prepared and maintained by AF Corse and Cristiano Michelotto, the man whose family name has been responsible for almost all of Ferrari’s competition cars since the ultra-rare 308 GTB Group IV rally machines of the 1980s. It seemed only right that he should be the man to look after the car in Austria and help us truly understand and appreciate these most magnificent of Ferraris.
You can read the full (and fascinating) history of this 458 Italia GTE by clicking here but for now, the salient points are these. One of only 11 Works-specification 458s delivered to the de-facto Ferrari factory team AF Corse, chassis number 2874 contested the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, clinching GTE Am pole position on its second outing in 2024.
“When we say the sound strikes you, we mean it literally. It’s a guttural, bassy and deeply loud throb which rises through the rev range with the punch of Ali and the sophisticated tone of Bocelli.”
It racked up seven World Endurance Championship podiums and was instrumental in Ferrari’s manufacturers’ title in 2013. It’s only had one private owner since it was retired from active service – a former AF Works GTE Am racer no less. And it’s not long out of an exhaustive rebuild carried out by Michelotto and AF Corse, which cost in excess of 125,000 euros. Oh, and it’s Ferrari Classiche certified to boot.
With 104 victory notches on its competition belt and almost every peak in the endurance motorsport world summited (it won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, for example), the 458 Italia GTE’s reputation truly precedes it. More so when we arrive at the circuit to the gaggle of quintessentially Italian and ultra-slick Michelotto Automobili ingegneri warming the V8 through.
When we say the sound strikes you, we mean it literally. It’s a guttural, bassy and deeply loud throb which rises through the rev range with the punch of Ali and the sophisticated tone of Andrea Bocelli. It’s utterly, indescribably, laugh-out-loud glorious. Long live natural aspiration! In spite of the above, this Le Mans-winning Ferrari is a remarkably approachable and accessible racing car, as Max was poised to discover.
“Design a car that’s kind to its tyres and it will be kind to its driver,” says Michelotto as he nonchalently puffs on a cigarette in our pit garage. (Excellent.) It’s a casual comment in one of many interactions enjoyed over the course of the two days. But it’s a statement which brilliantly encapsulates what the 458 is all about.
We’ll let Max, who familiarised himself with the car over the course of some 60 laps, put you in the driver’s seat. “My only frame of reference on this circuit and in this genre of car is the Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive – a physical car from a time before digital had superseded analogue and which requires a lot of mental concentration to get the most out of.
“It’s clear the 458 Italia GTE was designed from the ground up to be a car in which any driver could quickly and comfortably get up to speed – and remain there for hours at a time.”
“Purely from a driving perspective, the 458 Italia GTE could not be more different. This genuinely is an approachable and easy car to drive. The sheer speed is not intimidating, the visibility is superb, the steering is light and super-sharp, the air-con is probably better than in my Alfa Romeo Stelvio and the paddle-operated gearchange treads that wonderful tightrope between digital and analogue. The changes themselves are lightning-quick and the sonic blips on the way down the ’box are way sweeter than any human could achieve by way of heel-and-toe (Toni Vilander included). But then there’s a noticeable and satisfyingly analogue clunk with every pull of the tactile paddles.
“I spent a lot of time picking Cristiano’s brain about the development of the 458 and it’s clear it was designed from the ground up to be a car in which any driver could quickly and comfortably get up to speed – and remain there for hours at a time. Michelotto, and in turn Ferrari, had more to gain by making the 458 accessible for the mandated gentleman drivers than razor-sharp for the most seasoned of professionals.
“When it started to rain and we bolted on the wet tyres, I asked if there was any set-up changes we needed to make to help the car deal with the deluge. “No,” came the response from Cristiano, “if the car is balanced in the dry, then it’s balanced in the wet.” With the 550 you’re always driving it on the edge and there are so many variables which can be changed to help you do so. The 458, on the other hand, has been fundamentally designed to adapt with minimal fuss. And you can really tell when you drive it. It’s an extraordinary testament to the rate of technical development in the 2000s and 2010s.”
As Max is keen to point out, in today’s world and for today’s collectors, the raw speed and handling of the car form a small part of the overall experience, however. We all know the 458 Italia GTE won Le Mans – that in the right hands it would wipe the floor with the myriad GT3 and Challenge Ferraris present in Austria. But what’s arguably more important now is how the car makes you feel.
“Even the Michelotto engineers were gasping and giggling when the 458 ripped past the pitlane and that’s telling of how glorious the noise which emanates from the twin exhaust pipes is.”
The way it looks, for example. Cristiano explained that with all the Ferraris Michelotto developed, his first and foremost requirement was that they were beautiful. Apparently the first design concepts for the 458 GTE from the engineers were so ungainly that Cristiano told them to go away and start again. We think you’ll agree that was the right decision – this is a truly gorgeous racing car. Perhaps not as sleek as a 550 Maranello Prodrive or as rakish as an F355, but gorgeous nonetheless.
Then there’s the sound. Even the Michelotto engineers were gasping and giggling when the 458 ripped past the pitlane and that’s telling of how glorious the noise which emanates from the twin exhaust pipes is. Of course, the rarity and historical value speak for themselves. “Most of our clients aren’t going to be setting lap records,” concludes Max. “But it’s what else a car can give you. In that respect, the 458 Italia GTE is the perfect collectable modern-era sports-racing Ferrari. Perhaps going to the Red Bull Ring was a mistake. Now I really wish we could keep this one!”
Photos: Tom Shaxson for Girardo & Co.
You can discover more about the 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia GTE Works AF Corse we’re currently offering for sale by clicking here.