First drive: 2014 Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale at Yas Marina Abu Dhabi
Maserati, the brand better known as playing second-fiddle to Ferrari, is adamant to prove that it is anything but. The Italian carmaker has its own racing heritage, and therefore they currently runs their own racing series, the Maserati Trofeo MC World Series, whose final was held at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi last December. During that event, we even got to hit the track in between races, with a street-legal Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale, the car on which the racing series is built.
After six rounds across three continents, the final race of the Maserati Trofeo MC World Series saw Ange Barde win in Abu Dhabi. But based on overall points, it was Renaud Kuppens who claimed the 2013 Maserati Trofeo MC World Series world title. Incidentally, the awards ceremony also coincided with the start of Maserati’s 100-year celebrations.
The Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale we did exactly one lap in, with an instructor in the passenger seat, is an aggressive lightweight version of the GranTurismo, with a 454 hp version of the old-school 4.7-litre V8 mated to a 6-speed automanual transmission
The Stradale isn’t a full-blown plexi-glass-and-big-winged racer like the Trofeo cars, but it is still 110 kg lighter lighter than the regular Granturismo, and more aerodynamic with addition of slits in the bonnet, a front splitter and a rear air-dam. Other features include stiffer suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes, a lower ride height and wider tyres for the unique 20-inch wheels.
Slipping into the tight bucket seat, the controls can be confusing at first glance, especially as we were kept on a tight schedule. There is no shift-knob, with just three buttons in its place for “auto”, “1” and “R”, as well as an electronic parking brake. After doing a finger-dance with the paddle-shifters and buttons as per the instructor’s instructions, we set off with a sudden jerk, which was a sign that it was either in “sport” or “race” mode. And it was a sign that it behaves like a race car when given the chance, aggressive in its actions and raring to go.
Driving out from the pit lane and flooring it, the car was absolutely bonkers as the high-strung V8 roared loud enough to wake the dead. A gran-tourer this ain’t any more. In Stradale guise, it’s the closest thing to a Ferrari F430 I’ve ever driven, at least in terms of atmosphere.
The 6-speed automatic is really a “robotised” manual gearbox without a clutch pedal, apparently sharing a few bits with the Ferrari 599 GTO. In ‘race’ mode, it can shift in as low as 60 milliseconds. Pulling on the hefty paddle-shifters with a satisfying “click-click”, gear-changes are handled quickly and efficiently, with the ever-enjoyable accompanying vrooms on downshifts before entering corners.
The controls are very sensitive in the sportier modes. The sharp steering, throttle and brakes need a certain amount of finesse to keep the proceedings smooth, something that I was not prepared for. So my lap was pretty pathetic by my own standards. But just when I thought I was starting to get the hang of it, my solitary lap was over and I had to pull in.
The Maserati MC Stradale is a very expensive car, but when you start looking at it as something of a not-as-expensive Ferrari alternative, it starts to make a lot more sense.
For GCC prices and specs, visit the Maserati buyer guide.