2023 Ferrari SP3 Daytona
The SP3 Daytona blends Ferrari’s past, present and future in one delectable, V12-powered whole. Does it make history, or merely look longingly to the past?
Words JAMES TAYLOR
Photography JORDAN BUTTERS
Digital supercar, analogue style: the fabulous Ferrari SP3 Daytona
Neo-Nostalgia Is the Ferrari SP3 Daytona an instant classic or just a homage to history?
Ordinarily, this would be the dullest of driving environments. A nondescript stretch of dual carriageway, in steady drizzle, in a forgettable bit of Germany. But in the SP3 Daytona, it feels like a stint at Le Mans in the late Sixties. The trees the other side of the grey armco are rushing past in Cinemascope, and beads of rain elongate and slide across the deeply bowled screen like speedline graphics in a sci-fi jump to hyperspace.
They’re interrupted by a central single wiper blade, just like a classic sports prototype. Two curving humps over the front wheelarches frame the view ahead through the wraparound screen, topped by staggered mirrors. They reflect a rooster-tail of spray, trailing the sound of a big-capacity, naturally aspirated V12.
That’s the entire point of this car: to fire the imagination, to be a wheeled storyteller. This is how I imagine it must feel to be at the wheel of a Ferrari 330 P4, a 512S or another of the golden-era sports racers this car takes its inspiration from. The SP3 Daytona is so named because it’s the third model in Ferrari’s Icona series – low-volume, money-almost-no-object machines inspired by different eras of its history, sold to clients and collectors on first-name terms with the factory, and considered to be ambassadors for the brand. It’s not so much a case of a customer calling Ferrari to put their name down for an Icona; Ferrari calls them.
The SP3’s name comes from the 1967 Daytona 24-hour race where Ferrari, still stung by Ford’s clean sweep at Le Mans ’66, took the top three places with the achingly beautiful 330 P3/4, 330 P4 and 412P. The SP3 follows the Monza SP1 and SP2 in the Icona series, SP standing for Special Project. A run of 599 SP3s are being built, priced at €2m; all were sold before the car was publicly revealed in 2021. Ferrari doesn’t disclose information about customers but does say that more than 90 percent of Monza SP1 and SP2 owners have also decided to buy an SP3.
We meet the SP3 the evening before the drive, basking in the setting sun’s soft light. It’s captivating to behold. Although it’s an homage to racing Ferraris of yesteryear, nostalgia is not really the right term for the SP3. It’s intended to be very much a car of today with futuristic leanings, despite its Sixties inspiration. ‘Conscious of history but futuristic in approach’ is how design lead Stefano de Simone puts it as he shows us around the car. It really comes to life as you inspect it in three dimensions, its carbonfibre surfaces appearing clean and complex at once.
‘We spent a lot of time on the relationship between the top of the wheelarches and the top of the roof – when you first see a car the first thing your eye reads is the profile, even if the first thing you notice is a detail. And if the profile is not right…
‘If you look at the side view, it’s very cab-forward like a jet,’ he adds. ‘And it’s a car you sit in, not on.’ Reach under the three-dimensional door – which incorporates layered aero channels, ducting air from the front of the car through the door’s lower half, and through an upper airbox for the central radiators – for the recessed handle, and lift it upwards. It takes the sill and much of the front wheelarch with it to reveal two seats. Of a sort. They’re actually cushioned sections affixed directly to the moulding of the chassis itself. Their artfully styled shapes, combined with coloured panels on the doors, give the cockpit a wraparound feel. They’re in blue alcantara here – a nod to the blue cloth used in many mid-century Ferrari racers – although customers can choose practically any colour or material.
Choose from two methods to get in. Either extend one leg inside, drop yourself into the seat then yoga the other one in. Or easier, place your backside on the seat first, then swing both legs in. From your fixed chair you adjust the pedals by pulling a cord at the seat base to release the spring-loaded pedalbox. Use your left foot against the footrest to bring them forward or push them away, then let go of the cord and they’re locked in position.
It’s simplicity itself and the driving position is fantastic – a racecar-style laydown position with your ankles almost in line with your hips. That’s far comfier than it sounds, and the steering wheel adjusts in the normal way with plenty of range for different-sized drivers. The wheel’s smaller than that of most modern Ferraris, and it feels perfect to hold. Like other Ferraris, it’s festooned with switchgear: indicators, wipers, cruise control, infotainment controls and much more besides; mirrors are adjusted via the steering wheel’s trackpad. Behind it is the latest-generation digital display screen. The radio is tinny, but who cares when you have a 6.5-litre V12 to listen to?
Right now, it’s making some rather glorious sounds. We begin our journey near Hockenheimring, where the forests once echoed to Ferrari V12s when this car’s inspiration sources were racing. We’re striking south to the Black Forest, in search of roads and scenery that might put the Daytona in its happiest habitat.
The drizzle has cleared, the autobahn is drying and there’s a gap in traffic. Let’s see how 829 purebred horses feel. The SP3 is not a hybrid. It’s powered solely by a naturally aspirated V12, and is surely among the last Ferraris to be so. Yet, without a turbo or an e-motor in sight, it’s the most powerful roadgoing engine yet made by Ferrari. And it revs to 9500rpm. Pinch me.
The V12 is an evolution of the 812 Competizione’s, with various measures for reduced friction and greater use of titanium components, including the conrods. At low revs it’s not especially sonorous; just a hubbub of mechanical noise (but a relatively quiet one, to its credit on the motorway). Plant your right foot and that changes. A deep, rich sound gains higher-pitched tones as the revs rise and shift lights begin to illuminate on the steering wheel. Zero to 124mph is quoted as 7.4sec, and that feels believable. Traffic calls time before 170mph but the SP3 feels like it could keep going forever.
Which is exactly how its engine response has been engineered: the torque curve has been tuned carefully so it has a neverending feel, with relatively little pull at the bottom of the rev range but the maximum 514lb ft arriving at 7250rpm, handing the baton on to the power curve, which peaks at 9250rpm. So there’s absolute incentive to keep going and going all the way to that 9500rpm ceiling, with 12 big-capacity cylinders soaring away behind you. It’s heady stuff.
The SP3 feels resolutely planted north of 150mph. It’s claimed to be the most aerodynamically efficient ‘passive aero’ car Ferrari has ever made, ie one without the use of active aero devices, to keep its lines unsullied. Like other Ferraris it has relatively fast steering, which feels a little unnervingly edgy either side of the straight-ahead on the autobahn, but you quickly become accustomed to it.
Soon we leave the dual carriageway behind and head for the hills, where there’s a chance for that steering to get to work properly. It’s an electrohydraulic rack, with a decent amount of weight to it, which feels all the better for the wheel’s smaller diameter. Although still as quick-racked as you’d expect from a Ferrari, it does feel slightly more measured in its response than, for example, a 296 or an F8, and the same can be said of the brakes, which demand a little more pressure than normal in deference to the ‘classic racecar feel’ objective. It’s a car with greater communication as a result.
And 829bhp on a country road: terrifying, surely? Not at all, incredibly; the SP3 is thoroughly tractable. The mega power output doesn’t make the engine feel peaky as I’d imagined it might. That smooth torque curve helps, as does the manettino switch, which lengthens the leash of the intelligent traction and stability control systems with each twist from Wet through Sport and Race to CT Off – which allows controlled powerslides thanks to clever programs with names like Side Slip Control 6.1 and Dynamic Enhancer – to ESC Off. Like other modern Ferraris, the SP3 has an electronically controlled e-diff and a host of algorithms to juggle differential, brake vectoring, electronic dampers and powertrain control software to keep €2m of Special Project Ferrari out of the scenery on a tricky road, or balletically sideways on a racetrack, depending on its owner’s desire.
One of the most appealing things about the SP3, however, is that it feels intrinsically mechanical rather than digital. The structure-integrated seats mean you feel the powertrain’s vibrations and the car’s balance through the chassis itself. Ferrari’s head development test driver Raffaele de Simone says the engine’s integration has been tuned to give it a sound and feel more in line with that of the 330 P4’s era. ‘We wanted to focus more on the types of sound of the cars of that period; more mechanical, where moving parts generated the sound. The true mechanics of the valves, the valvetrain, and the intake sound.’ Engineer Gabriele Pritoni reveals that the SP3’s dual-clutch paddleshift gearbox has been given a deliberately more abrupt, emphatic feel when upshifting manually at more than 40 per cent throttle in Race mode, to echo the feel of a classic racecar’s crash gearbox. It’s a fractionally slower shift than it could be optimised for, but that isn’t the point – it’s about feel.
On which, many have asked if the SP3 could have been fitted with a traditional manual gearbox. But it simply wouldn’t have been practical. To give the powertrain the performance it needs, the milliseconds-connection between the DCT gearbox and engine management system allows active spark advancing and ‘very aggressive’ profiles for the variable valve timing to create that dizzying redline and delirious acceleration.
‘One of the most appealing things about the SP3 is that it feels intrinsically mechanical’
Although a bespoke Pirelli P-Zero Corsa tyre has been developed for the SP3 and its mechanical and aerodynamic grip levels are in line with what you’d expect of a cutting-edge supercar, dynamically Ferrari’s engineers deliberately stopped short of outright performance for the sake of performance. De Simone continues, ‘I like the imperfections of the old racing cars and I want this to be similar in feel. I can’t make a car that’s as difficult to drive as those – hot, noisy, no ventilation – but I want to give it some of the same feeling. I want it to be a driver’s car, for the driver to do more. I want to slow down the processes – more time to think, more time to feel the car.’
From your cab-forward vantage point, you’re very aware that there’s a lot of car behind you, and a lot of weight to manage too with that V12. As you get on the power in a corner, you feel the car sit back on its haunches and the nose bobs on its suspension. That sensation is accentuated or reduced depending on which mode you’ve put the adaptive dampers in; choices include a silky-smooth Bumpy Road mode. Although even in CT Off mode you sense digital angels subtly intervening to keep you safe, you do also have the sense at all times that you’re driving the car; you’re more than a passenger along for the ride.
There’s one scenario in which the process could be perhaps slowed down even further. Through this section of the Black Forest, the road is wide and carves its way through a series of left-right meandering S-bends. Tackling roads like this in some supercars – a McLaren 600LT or 720S, for example – there’s a sensation of pouring the car from corner to corner, smoothly blending from brake to throttle and back again, managing the weight transferring to and from the car’s nose as you turn the wheel. It’s more difficult to get into a rhythm in the SP3, because the brakes have an abrupt bite as you blend on – and crucially, off – the pedal, making it harder to feel at one with the car.
Still, this is after a pocketful of miles, and really we’re only just getting to know the SP3. At any speed it feels special because of what it is. And it feels yet more special if you remove the carbonfibre roof panel, the better to feel the air around you and hear the V12 at work. Not that there’s anywhere to put it. There’s zero luggage space in the SP3; the nose compartment is taken up by an emergency fabric roof cover. You’ll need to leave the targa panel at home, or put it in a friend’s car. Likewise your luggage.
Time for a breather, before reluctantly turning tail to give the car back. Lift the door and gravel pours out of the lower aerodynamic channel, and you hear stones spattering against the front of the door – which doubles as the back of the distinctively shaped wheelarch – whenever you pull away. Walking around the SP3, the €2m price quickly begins to add up. Take the rear deck alone, a huge one-piece carbonfibre moulding. Creating it in big numbers for a high-volume production car simply wouldn’t be possible. Lift it upwards and it reveals gigantic, all-carbonfibre plenums and a glimpse of evocative red-crackle cam covers below. The engine’s prodigious power output is despite tight modern emissions and drive-by noise regulations, and the need for latest-generation catalysts and particulate filters. And those lines and proportions are concept-car spectacular despite being subject to the same pedestrian impact regulations as a regular production car.
It might be a love letter to Sports Prototypes, but it’s no lazy tribute act. In technology and approach, the SP3 is more than a few retrograded design cues on a rebodied chassis. Its carbon structure is related to that of 2016’s LaFerrari Aperta, and since the majority of Ferraris use aluminium chassis, this is the first carbonfibre mid-engined V12 Ferrari since that flagship hybrid hypercar. It’s not a simple repurposing of the LaFerrari’s tub: with new windscreen and rollover structures, no hybrid components to package on the SP3 and modern crash-test demands, only ‘two or three’ small components are interchangeable between the two cars.
Maybe I’m not the most objective person to be writing this story. I tried (and failed) to draw the 330 P4 in school art lessons when I was supposed to be drawing more curriculumappropriate things, and I have a 512S model on my desk. So a road-legal car with the ethos of those epochal racers and a more challenging dynamic make-up than Ferrari’s modern cars, but equipped with the best bits of their chassis and powertrain tech, is a bit of a dream made real. That it also has stop-the-world styling, an unhybridised naturally aspirated V12 and hydraulic steering makes it all the more so. Ferrari’s official line is that the Icona series is ‘a bridge of past, present and future’, and the way it makes intelligent use of the company’s aerodynamic, powertrain and chassis engineering knowledge without using tech for tech’s sake makes that claim credible.
It’s not as agile as an F8 or a 296 but that’s not the point. It’s all about celebrating driving enjoyment, design and engineering, from a company that operates in the highest spheres of all three. Which in some ways makes the SP3 the ultimate expression of what a sports car can be. Whether on a stretch of anonymous motorway or on a dream driving road, it’s a master storyteller.
TECHNICAL DATA 2023 Ferrari SP3 Daytona
- Engine 6496cc 48v V12, dohc, electronic fuel injection
- Max Power 829bhp @ 9250rpm
- Max Torque 514lb ft @ 7250rpm
- Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
- Steering Electro-hydraulic rack and pinion
- Suspension Front: double wishbone, coil springs, hydraulic dampers, titanium anti-roll bar Rear: multi-link, coil springs, hydraulic dampers, titanium anti-roll bar
- Brakes Discs all round, 398mm diameter front, 380mm rear
- Performance Top speed: 211mph+
- Acceleration 0-60mph: 2.9sec
- Weight 1485kg (dry)
- Fuel consumption 17.4mpg
- Cost new €2m (£1.7m), all sold
Historic styling tributes aplenty, but there’s substance behind them.
Spine’ is stylish, but functional too – it cools V12 Blue-trim seats inspired by mid-centry racers. About as physical as the gearchange gets Exposed rear tyres another nod to sports prototypes. Door takes part of the wheelarch with it on the upswing.
Staggered mirrors a revisited Ferrari flourish of old.
5 CARS THAT SHAPED THE SP3 DAYTONA
1966 330 P3
Evolved from the P2, but with a new tubular chassis, glassfibre tub and a lighter, fuel-injected version of the 3967cc V12 engine mounted as a structural element
1967 330 P4
Similarly stunning evolution of the 330 P3 but with a shorter chassis and new suspension. The most beautiful Ferrari racing car there’s ever been?
We think so
1967 350 Can Am
Built for the wild Canadian- American sportscar championship, where it raced against 8.0-litre monsters. Most cars in the series were brutal, blunt objects, but not this one
1970 512 S
The Porsche 917’s scarlet sparring partner was raced by greats including Derek Bell, Ronnie Petersen and Mario Andretti. It evolved into the squarer, more brutish 512M
1971 312 P
With race regs banning 5.0-litre engines, Ferrari downsized with a 3.0-litre 12-cylinder boxer engine inside a neat, short chassis. In 1972 the 312 won every race it entered
Open top for enjoying unimpeded V12 symphony – but where to stash the roof?
Peak torque at 7250rpm; max power 2k rpm later Eyelids retract when full beams are turned on Pedal box comes to you with the pull of a cord Electronic dampers part of the SP3’s superbrain Strake of genius?
Rear references 1968’s 250 P5 concept Stunning carbon plenums crown the 6.5-litre V12.