SONY DSC

Unlike many school kids, I’ve only ever ponteng class once in my schooling years. A couple of friends and I got word that the nearest Shell station was chockfull of Ferraris for an event, so we knew we had to rush out to have a look. We slipped out in between periods, climbed over the chicken wire fence and raced straight to the filling station.

I can never forget the sights, the sounds, even the smells that day – they were so evocative that they cemented my love of the Prancing Horse, already brewing at the time. I even managed to win a calendar full of lovely images of Ferrari models, which I believe I still have lying around in the house somewhere.

My 15-year-old self probably wouldn’t believe, then, that eight years later I’d be able to see several times as many Ferraris in both road and race trim, out on a state-of-the-art Grand Prix circuit in the middle of the desert, nearly 5,600 km away. Somehow, in the intervening years I went from a regular schooling boy to being invited to attend the year’s biggest tifosi celebration – the 2014 Finali Mondiali Ferrari.

SONY DSC

The Finali Mondiali Ferrari (literally Ferrari World Finals) is the year-end party Ferrari has thrown at the end of every racing season since 1993, opening itself up to the millions of card-carrying aficionados from around the world with 100-octane Rosso Scuderia running in their veins.

The event hosts the final races of the Ferrari Challenge, a one-make race featuring the company’s mid-engined V8-powered cars, as well as providing some last-minute track time for its various Corsa Clienti clients before the cars are locked up in Maranello for the remainder of the year.

Up to now, the event has been held exclusively in Europe, usually at the company’s own Mugello track, but this year it arrives to the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi for the first time. It makes great sense once you think about it, what with the brand’s Ferrari World theme park literally next door.

Middle Eastern cities like Abu Dhabi take getting used to – barren landscapes and expansive roadways filled with enormous American cars. In a sense, it’s a bit like being in Putrajaya, except the few buildings that are there are much grander both in size and style.

Few properties, however, are grander than the Yas Marina Circuit, a sprawling 1.62 sq km facility that houses the 5.554 km Grand Prix circuit, a go-kart track, a drag strip and the extravagant Yas Viceroy hotel that spills over the racetrack itself. Designed by Hermann Tilke, it entered the Formula One calendar in 2009 as the first day-to-night race, with a start time of 5 pm enabled by the signature triangular spotlights that dot the circuit.

However spectacular the track looked, however, it paled in comparison to what greeted us at the entry gates – the brand new Ferrari FXX K, sitting long and low away from the unyielding sun. The next generation of Ferrari’s XX rolling laboratory, the LaFerrari-based hybrid track monster makes 1,050 PS and costs a cool €2.5mil (RM10.7mil) before taxes. Not you can buy one anyway, as all 32 examples have been sold out.

We had a brief once over the FXX K – along with a beautiful black 365 GTB/4, better known as the Daytona, next to it – but before long we had to head back out to pay a visit to Ferrari World. No time for the roller coasters or the race simulators or the Ferrari-branded camel mascots either – instead, it’s straight to the indoor go-kart track for some friendly bumper-to-bumper racing.

Ferrari dangled an incentive for us in the heats – the fastest drivers get a chance to race with its GT racers, including former F1 driver and 2014 Le Mans winner Giancarlo Fisichella. Unfortunately, yours truly bungled his opportunity on the tight, ice-slick track, and thus had to sit by the sidelines and watch the boys in red pummel the rest of the grid.

After a quick podium ceremony, it was time to go back to the circuit to watch the rest of the event’s activities, starting with the F1 Clienti’s time on track. This is the crème de la crème of Ferrari’s Corsa Clienti programme, where some of the world’s richest people get to snap up older F1 machinery (cars up to two years older than current spec are available), along with a full crew of technicians and engineers to support them just like any other F1 driver.

SONY DSC

At Abu Dhabi, the past three decades were represented with cars like Gilles Villeneuve’s 1980 312 T5 and Gerhard Berger’s 1995 412 T2 (the last F1 car to be powered by a V12 engine). Also present were a swathe of racers from the 2000s that saw the Scuderia pick up six titles in the hands of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Räikkönen, as well as Fernando Alonso‘s F10 that nearly won the driver’s championship in 2010.

Predictably, the combination of all these machines on the track resulted in a wall of ground-shaking high-pitched shriek – you pretty much needed earplugs if you were going to stand by the pit wall without blowing your eardrums out. Special mention has to be made to the tuneful symphony of the V10-powered cars – they made the V8s that came after seem flat in comparison.

Next up, the final races for the Ferrari Challenge series for Asia Pacific, Europe and North America. These races were split into two categories – Coppa Shell for gentlemen drivers and Trofeo Pirelli for professional racers, who all battled it out in Maranello’s newest one-make racer, the 458 Challenge Evoluzione, for class honours. The races were close and action-packed, overlaid with unadulterated Ferrari flat-plane V8 wail.

But it’s not just the F1 and Challenge cars that came out to play, as the current XX track cars, the FXX and the 599XX, also got some valuable track time. They might have been overshadowed by the new FXX K at Abu Dhabi, but they are still magnificent machines in their own right.

The FXX and 599XX are based on the Enzo and the 599 GTB respectively, but are differentiated by far more advanced and aggressive aerodynamic packages, as well as considerably more power from their F140 V12 engines – up to 860 PS in the case of the FXX Evoluzione. Unrestrained by racing or homologation regulations, they have been engineered with only one thing in mind – ultimate track performance.

That’s not to say the cars are solely meant to deliver top thrills on track days – the lessons learnt in building them and the feedback from their immensely wealthy clients are all fed into Ferrari’s newer road cars, making them faster and better to drive. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that both XX cars sound utterly glorious flat out on the track, either.

Later that day, the guests were ushered into Ferrari World for a gala dinner, where awards were presented to the top Challenge drivers, as well as the GT drivers who this year helped Maranello snatch the World Endurance Cup for GT manufacturers in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) for three successive years. Even Räikkönen received an appreciation trophy, despite the F1 team’s less-than-stellar 2014 run.

After dinner, the entire park was open to guests until midnight, and what better way to spend the evening than to try out Ferrari World’s signature ride, the Formula Rossa? Winding its way around the outside of the park, it clinched the world record for the fastest roller coaster in 2010 at 239 km/h, a title it still holds today.

Even more amazing is the acceleration – a hydraulic launcher slingshots the four-car train to 100 km/h in just two seconds before reaching its maximum velocity in 4.9 seconds, subjecting riders to 1.7 g in the process. The speeds are so high that passengers are required to wear safety goggles to protect against airborne insects and debris.

SONY DSC

Riding the Formula Rossa, particularly in the dead of night, is something that has to be experienced to be believed. Launched from a standing start, the acceleration was so brutal that for the first few seconds I was unable to scream, as if my lips had been glued shut. A heart-pounding drop came next, followed by series of sweeping banked corners (at one point I swore I was going to fall out) that hugged the pylons holding the structure up so tightly I instinctively ducked to try and clear the beams (not necessary, of course).

The ride wound down after a minute or so, but not before rocking up and down for one last jolt. The exhilaration that came after it all came to a stop was absolutely incredible. Now, I’m not a natural-born thrill-seeker – in fact I was utterly terrified at the end of this – but since I realised that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I figured I might as well go back on for one last run…

After the adrenaline rush, it was good to be able to sit back and enjoy Ferrari’s best-known attractions – its cars. As befits a Ferrari-branded theme park, Ferrari World was filled with cars of varying vintage, including a 250 GT, a 512 TR (a reworked Testarossa) and the hallowed F40. These sit next to modern machinery like the 458 Speciale and LaFerrari, bringing a sense of perspective to Maranello’s storied history.

The next day brought much of the same running, except the top Challenge drivers from each region came together in the all-out world finals. Italian driver Massimiliano Bianchi became the Coppa Shell world champion, while Monegasque Max Blancardi and Mexican Ricardo Perez swept the Trofeo Pirelli titles for the professional and amateur categories respectively.

With that done, we sat down with Räikkönen to discuss his performance this year, as well as the Scuderia’s outlook in the new year. The 35-year-old Finn has never been much of a team player, but here he took the opportunity to congratulate his GT compatriots over their successes in WEC, which came as a surprise, at least for me.

Räikkönen did not mince his words with regards to how he and the team fared this season. “Obviously, this year was difficult for me but also for the team. You’d expect Ferrari to be in front and winning races, but unfortunately we were very far away from that this year, so we have a whole lot of work to be done. We have the right people to build a good car, a good package; we just need to stick more to each other as a team.

“Next year, I’m sure the car will be a lot better as a package, and the team will be stronger. Is it going to be good enough to fight for championships? Time will tell, I think. We’ll have to wait until the first test to get a better idea. We know more or less what we’re gonna have, but it depends on what the other teams will have,” he said.

Kimi also had some things to say about his new teammate, Sebastian Vettel. “We’ll have to push the team in the same direction. Our first objective will be to try and get Ferrari where it should be. Obviously, we’re going to fight against each other, but the main thing is to get the team up there, and the rest will follow afterwards.”

The sun was beginning to set, and with that, the festival itself, but Ferrari still had a couple of aces up its sleeve. First came the Middle East parade that saw over 200 Prancing Horses from around the region cruise throughout the track. Even though the vast majority of the cars present were built fairly recently, the variety on offer was impressive nonetheless, ranging from the aforementioned LaFerrari to a Dino 246 GTS.

Finally came the event to end all events – the grand finale. Ferrari pulled out all the stops with this one, beginning with a demonstration of the 458 GTE racers by GT champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, as well as teammates Davide Rigon and James Calado. The two cars diced among each other on track, and even performed a simulated pit stop and driver change as on a real endurance race.

Then it was the turn of the XX cars – three FXXs and three 599XXs went out on the circuit, sprinting out the gates at full chat. But a twist was in store, as the FXX K joined in the fracas, hitting the track for the very first time in the hands of test driver Raffaele de Simone. The sound of the latter howling down the main straight was pure magic, a deep, bassy growl interspersed with a hint of a metallic edge.

Last but not least, Räikkönen and test driver Marc Gené took to the track in a pair of 2009 F60s, putting on one last bash for the fans. Racing against each other, performing proper Grand Prix-level pit stops, they left the crowd cheering – and what F1 demo would be complete without a few donuts thrown in for extra measure?

I left Abu Dhabi that night with my heart still pounding from the exhilaration that this eye-opener has given me. I admit it, I’m a tifosi – a full-on Rosso Scuderia-blooded one at that – and I loved every minute it.


Ferrari FXX K
LaFerrari