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Pantera eats Ferrari for lunch.


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Roberto Giordanelli shakes down a pair of high-powered super-racers on the two grand Prix circuits.

There are ghosts in these cars. This Ferrari v DeTomaso shootout echoes the Ferrari v Ford battles at Le Mans in the 60s. The ghost of the GT40 haunts this Pantera, as II Commendatore’s spirit is in the Testarossa. Let us look at the cars individually before making any comparisons . . . Ferrari first.

Amazing how the human body picks up on abnormal occurrences, especially when self-preservation is involved. You know the sort of thing? Sometimes you can sleep through all sorts of noises, but if there is a ‘wrong’ noise you wake instantly. So it was at Brands Hatch with this racing Ferrari. Amidst all the noise and violence that bombards the senses, something barely visible, something so easily missed, something ‘life-and-death’ was noticed a reminder that track testing can suddenly turn very ugly.

Details later . . .

Whether it is the Grand Prix Circuit or the Indy, Brands Hatch is my favourite circuit. Maybe because it was where I lost my ‘proper circuit’ virginity. Despite the changes since the 1967 ‘Initial Trial Course’ at Motor Racing Stables in a lotus Formula Ford, it still feels like my ‘home’ circuit. The ‘bike shed’ paddock is long gone, and Paddock Bend no longer hugs the solid wall of railway sleepers. I wonder if they have a ghost?

Campaigned by Rory Fordyce in 1998, this Testarossa was brought eight years ago as a box of bits with the intention of building it into a Maranello Championship racer. Ferrari racer Mike Sweeney formed ‘Zest Performance’ to buy, build and run the car, with Rory Fordyce driving and bringing in a major sponsor, the rapidly expanding insurance service ‘Time to Insure’ (Tel: 01705 655700). Boss Michael Cloke uses the Testarossa’s outings as opportunities for corporate entertainment and a fun day out.

Mike Sweeney and his crew built the car in only one year and when I say built car, don’t think of a bare shell, think of some steel tubes on the floor and a roof panel! Currently fitted with a standard (except exhaust) 400bhp motor, a 550bhp engine is still being developed. The plan is to fully sort the car before fitting the race engine. Originally a 1986 car, it is fitted with carbon lids and doors, Perspex windows, carbon dash with semi-digital instruments, air jacks, centrelock 17" Dymag peg-drive wheels, huge grooved vented discs with 6-pot Ap calipers, and a race pedal box with bias adjustment. A fuel/air ratio meter gives confidence in knowing what’s going on in the combustion chamber.

Suspension is by double wishbones with coil-overs and Penske adjustable dampers. Anti-roll bars are vane type adjustable. Spring rates for this test were 1,400Ibs front, 1,800Ibs rear; the car still weighs a portly 1,375kg. In the cockpit you see Sparco Pro 2000 seats, Willans belts, a fire system, a quick release steering wheel and the plug for the increasingly popular spy in the cab – ‘Data Acquisition’.

This year the car has been out a handful of times with only a few teething troubles – a hub failed and a lid flew off at a Goodwood test. A first corner accident at the Oulton Park race damaged the car but the opportunity was taken to further modify the red machine. Fordyce has previous experience in Prosport 3000 and the Ferrari Maranello series with a 246GT and a 328. He enjoys the Testarossa and hopes to make it a match for an F40.

With Rory Fordyce on board, I had to be on my best behaviour as we rolled out on to the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit. The Testarossa’s heavy controls either diminish or are forgotten at speed. Torque is everywhere; consequently precisely timed gear changing is less important. Early changes are better, as the Testarossa runs out of puff at the top end. Despite its weight braking is excellent; solid and communicative without locking up the wide Dunlop slicks. Handling is not so good. Turn-in is sharp and accurate but as the apex approaches, despite neutrality, things get a little nervous. By the time lateral ‘g’ forces are at their greatest some choppiness is felt. The rear appears to be working too hard and sudden high speed oversteer tests your reactive power. A post-test de-brief informed me that the car eats left hand rear tyres (Dunlop slicks). This points to too much rear stiffness (or not enough at the front). Zest Performance’s handling expert Colin Davids has since made suspension adjustments exorcising the demons and improving the Testarossa.

Brands is a drivers' circuit. His or her input can make up time where, on more point-n-squirt circuits, power plays a greater role. Briefly, a lap round Brands GP Circuit goes like this. Paddock Bend worries the novice but is wonderfully addictive to the experienced, even with twitchy oversteer. A 'good' Paddock means overtaking on the Druids approach; a slow corner, Druids, the Testarossa is surprisingly good here. Graham Hill Bend and the left turn on to the GP circuit present no real problems. The GP Straight cries out for more power to shift the red machine. Then Hawthorn's - deceptively fast but the Testarossa's potential for high speed oversteer buckles my bravery. Likewise, the fast Westfield turn constricts my courage. Dingle Dell chicane is invisible, being sited immediately over a brow. Provided the entry is accurate (a straight / diagonal approach), this can be taken literally blind and airborne using the kerbs on landing. Once settled you have a split second to turn the car for the Stirling's approach. What happened next is a continuation of the second paragraph.

With no traffic, this was the lap on which I was going to show my passenger how I take a 'flyer' over Dingle Dell. A high speed 120mph approach, a momentary dab on the brakes and then I somehow noticed a barely perceptible puff of thin blue smoke gently rising just over the rapidly expanding horizon. No time to debate about it, it was 'wrong' - instinct slammed my foot on to the brake pedal; those massive brakes losing as much speed as possible before 'the jump'. Just as well, sitting there stationary broadside across the track, exactly where I was going to land was a red Ferrari Boxer. The whites of the Boxer driver's eyes were clearly visible as I just wriggled by at only 60mph. With the mother of all blood-red T-bones averted, it was into Stirling's and the fast run to Clearways. Respecting the mid-corner drop, it's on to the Start/Finish straight in the immaculate red car to complete another - this time more fortunate - lap of the legendary circuit. Now the De Tomaso at Silverstone.

Zest Performance took several cars to Silverstone, including their Ferrari 308, 328 and the Testarossa we tested at Brands, but here we test their De Tomaso Pantera. You may recognise this yellow monster as that built by ADA Engineering; then run by Superpower (we tested it in Issue 10). Since then, the Pantera has undergone several changes and may run next year in the Privilege Insurance GT Championship. Apart from the ghost of the GT40, this Pantera later revealed another - much nastier - gremlin in its mechanical components.

Battle proven Pantera

The Pantera is battle proven, having competed in FIA GT Rounds including the Le Mans 24-hours. Recent mods include carbon brakes and a sequential gearbox. The car's construction and layout is quite simple and was DeTomaso's most successful model; they made 10,000 Panteras and most are still running, and the factory will still make you a brand new one to special order. The fabricated sheet steel monocoque is fitted with good ol' US iron. This particular car is fitted with a 5-litre Ford V8 which produces 600bhp with the GT Championship restrictors removed, although plans to fit a 700bhp motor are being considered. It's easy with American V8s, you just pick up the phone, have your credit card ready and a complete (and I mean complete) motor arrives with all the horses you desire.

When I tell you that the aerospace standard radiator horse clips (you might call them jubilee clips) cost £150 each, you will understand the level of preparation. Nevertheless, racing cars always go wrong and this one is no exception. On his first run Mike Sweeney lost all the brake fluid from the front circuit through a leaky caliper seal. With the rear brakes working overtime Sweeney (and the car) were lucky to survive the ensuing high-speed spin. Apart from this bit of excitement Sweeney declared it a "happy car". With a fluid top-up and bleed it was my turn. Re-acquainting myself with the yellow peril, I quickly felt comfortable in the car. With a steel rear 'window', you still have only poor door mirrors for rear visibility - don't like that, especially on a left hand drive racing car. And I always moan about pathetic cockpit ventilation on racers.

The gearbox is a Jaguar CI 'box which has had a sequential system fitted to it. For those who are unfamiliar with a sequential 'box, they are similar to motor cycle gear levers. The lever in the Pantera is close to the perfectly positioned steering wheel; you pull it towards you for down-changes and push it away for up-changes. Although the lever clicks through the gears, it always remains in exactly the same vertical position. There are 5 forward speeds and reverse. The layout is R, N, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Ideally there should be an illuminated 'gear chosen' indicator in the driver's line of sight. An instant 'neutral' button (a la F1) is also a good idea. The Pantera has neither but it does have a little red lever next to the main gear lever - unfortunately nobody (except for the mischievous gremlins) knew what it was for. More later.

My session in the Pantera on Silverstone's Grand Prix Circuit was shared mainly with road-going Ferraris. This negated the poor rear visibility as the Pantera sliced through the Ferraris like a fat woman in a jumble sale. The Pantera was great, with good straight line performance. Huge carbon brakes instantly sliced off vast chunks of speed from the relatively lightweight (1,150 kg) machine. Gear changing was quicker and easier with the new system. Anyone with the slightest hint of dyslexia should not go anywhere near the car. Imagine taking it to 7,500rpm, in say, 4th and then going for 5th by pulling the lever back - that would mean accidentally selecting 3rd and about 15,000rpm! Instant disaster, as there is no computer or rev limiter or anything to stop you. The on-board rev limiter is for up-changes, it won't help you if you select the wrong gear. Now that we have Data Logging, driver errors are blatantly obvious, as is his 'actual' performance.

Having fun now, too easy, I'm in the fastest car on the track, no challenge, the others may as well be parked, better get on with the job. Does it understeer? No. Does it oversteer? No. On Silverstone's billiard table it's neutral. There is some high frequency bouncing. Maybe the dampers are too weak for the springs? 600bhp in 1,150kilos makes you lazy...encourages point-n-squirt. I need a gear indicator. It's also a bit short on gearing. Getting close to the rev limiter in top gear on Hangar Straight...said it was fast. Time to push corner speed to the limit. But what's that? Yellow lights, yellow flags, then red lights, red flags, session stopped. Hang on, I haven't got going yet. A Ferrari has run out of fuel and is in a 'dangerous position'. By the time the tow truck does the business, the session is over. Blast, have to wait till the next session. Mike Sweeney takes the car out before 'my' session but comes in early. Just before he went out, reverse failed to engage. Now he's in early complaining about spooky handling. The oil all over the back end and rear tyres explains that. Off with the engine cover and there is a golf ball sized hole in the side of the gear box. An exact repeat of what put it out of the Le Mans race...bugger.

A week later when the gearbox goes to the menders, we learn what the red lever was for...remember the red lever? It does something to the reverse gear to stop it bursting out of the side of the gearbox. Motor racing!

Compared to the Pantera, the Testarossa feels tame; more refined and quieter, certainly, but heavier and less powerful than the amazing yellow machine. Power to weight ratio is 522bhp/ton for the Pantera and 291bhp/ton for the Testarossa. Even when the Ferrari gets its 550bhp, its weight will still make it no match for the DeTomaso. The DeTomaso is also capable of much higher cornering speeds. Exactly how competitive the car could be in the GT Series will not be known until it has done some serious testing with the lap times compared to the opposition's...maybe next time?

(TAKEN FROM AutoItalia October 1998)

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