Supercar face off - Ferrari 458 vs McLaren 12C

Watch what happened when EDGAR tested both supercars at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi.

Neil Churchill November 2, 2014

"Which one did you prefer?"

That was the perennial question doing the rounds of the racing suit-clad journalists as we stood in the pit lane of Yas Marina Circuit, the supercars we had just thrashed around the track lying motionless in front of us.

The answer though was not that easy. When you're faced with the soulful Ferrari 458 Challenge and the technically brilliant McLaren 12C Sprint - both race versions of their road car siblings - it seemed ridiculous and unnecessary to label one of them second best.

The better question was "which one would you take home?" We'll get to that later... We were in Abu Dhabi at the invitation of Dragon Racing International – a Dubai-based GT3 and endurance motor racing team that has ventured into individual and corporate driving days. 

Founded by Leon Price, CEO of Macsteel International – one of the world’s biggest steel trading companies – Dragon Racing has not gone into the driving days business lightly. Its fleet of cars includes several McLaren GT 12C Sprints and Ferrari 458 Challenges; a handful of their GT3 siblings; a Radical SR8 LM and a rare Ferrari 333 SP.

A stable of motors like that requires a world class track – we had exclusive use of Yas Marina’s north circuit and the F1 pit lane, including the paddock and garages, home every November since 2009 to the Formula One Abu Dhabi GP. From the brilliantly bizarre tunnel on the pit lane exit, the wide sweeping turn three, the technicalities of the corkscrew before the back straight and final few bends before crossing the start/finish line, it was hard not to think of the last three F1 winners here: Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton.

Ferrari or McLaren?

Dragon5 The easy way to compare cars of course is with statistics. In the red corner, the Ferrari has a 4.5-litre V8 powered, 562bhp engine. It goes from 0-100 km/h in 3.3 seconds with a top speed of 309 km/h. With a weight of just 1,218 kilograms it has torque of 540 Nm at 6,000 rpm.

In the yellow corner, the McLaren uses a 3.8-litre twin turbo that produces 625bhp. It does 0-100 km/h in around three seconds and maxes out at 299 km/h. With a weight of 1,350 kilograms it boasts torque of 601 Nm.

All square on paper then. But statistics tend to tell you what your mind should think; not necessarily what your heart feels. Dragon1 The Ferrari immediately grabs you with its racing-credible roar on start-up – the McLaren was more of a bark in comparison. 1-0 Ferrari.

Both cars had huge front-end grip with their slick tyres, although they corned differently. The Ferrari required a firmer grip of its metaphorical reins and more committed decision making, while the McLaren felt like it already knew where you wanted to go.

On paper the McLaren is faster on the straights though the difference wasn’t hugely noticeable. The braking power of both cars was phenomenal – the Ferrari loses 150 km/h in an aggressive and loud couple of seconds while the McLaren made the impressive stopping distance with minimal effort. Dragon2

So ‘which one did you prefer’ isn’t a fair question. It’s like asking a child if he prefers his siren emitting, remote controlled fire truck or the Candy Crush app on his parent’s iPad.

But, ‘which one would you take home’, well that question we could answer: the Ferrari.

Why? Put it this way: if you compare a Rolling Stones album in its original LP format to a digitally enhanced download version, sure the latter is smoother and without flaw, but it lacks the grainy heart and soul of the original; the chance that if you turn the volume up to max you’ll hear Keith Richards smoking.

Why Dragon Racing?

There are other track day experiences out there of course, many of which are very good. But let’s be honest, when you put a wishful racer at the wheel of a high-performance car and let them loose on racing asphalt, it’s hard for the experience to be anything but enjoyable. Dragon4 With that in mind, there were a few differences that made Dragon’s version extra special. First of all the cars – these aren’t everyday versions of their respective namesakes.

Ferrari made the Challenge for its single-series racing programme. It differs from its road legal sibling with a racing cockpit, air-jack mounting, racing rims and various weight reduction through thinner body panels, carbon fiber replacement and polycarbonate windows and windshield.

The McLaren was made by the British firm’s GT arm to fill the middle child slot between the road legal MP4-12C and the GT3; it gives the feel of the latter to a driver more suited to the former. It too has undergone various weight stripping, uses a GT3-inspired hood and lower suspension. Both cars use a FIA-approved roll cage and slick racing tyres.

Inside each vehicle is an on-board camera, the recordings of which are yours to keep as a memory – and critique – of your driving. Watch the bad language though as audio is included. Dragon3 The instructors and coaches are current racing drivers – one having won the Dubai 24 Hour earlier this year – who have a fantastic understanding of who their guests are and how to treat them. They encourage you to push the cars and never give the impression that they’re there to stop you from putting it in the wall, which of course, they are.

The packages aren’t limited to just driver coaching either. Dragon offers options for both cars to be used for local race weekends, including the Gulf 12 Hour and the Dubai 24 Hour, with on hand race car technicians and data engineers – you just pick up the tab.

What Dragon Racing, namely Leon Price, has done is to offer a track day that really leaves no expenses spared. The venues are genuinely world class – they operate out of the Dubai Autodrome as well as Yas Marina Circuit – as are the cars. The only regret I had was not having a few more laps in that Ferrari.

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