Ferrari revives our inner detective with latest update of its GT3 racer

You may not know it upon first glance, but this is the new-for-2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo. Yes, Ferrari decided against building a GT3-spec F8 Tributo, and instead, Michelotto was tasked with updating the 488 GT3.Over 18,000 hours of calculations and CFD simulations went into it, and it now has a longer wheelbase following in the footsteps of the GTE car. Power stays at about 500-550 horsepower as per GT3 regulations, but the car will now be faster in the corners and more stable. Ferrari was also thoughtful enough to include an ’Endurance’ package that works hand in hand with the new ECU, supposedly making the car more reliable and smoother.

Look across Ferrari’s fence and into Mercedes-AMG’s yard, and you’ll see the comprehensively updated AMG GT-based GT3 car. You can’t miss that humongous, viperfish-like grille in the front in much the same way you can’t overlook the overhauled Porsche 911 GT3.R. That one, while still an offspring of the 991 generation, is a different beast from the original unveiled in 2015. But Ferrari isn’t one to bankroll a new racing car that easily. So, Ferrari Corse Clienti customers will have to make do with this. It should be good since Russian squad SMP Racing almost won the European Blancpain Endurance Cup this year with the old car, but just how well will it measure up against its competition?

The 2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo looks even more like the Le Mans-bound 488 GTE now

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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It’s been three years since the Ferrari 488 GT3 was introduced. The first turbocharged GT3 car from the Italians was at the sharp end of an ever-increasing pack of GT3 cars from the get-go. It managed to win 200 times in just three seasons, racking up countless others around the globe throughout 2019 too (including a pair of titles in the GT World Challenge America with R.Ferri Motorsport).

For 2020, however, one of Ferrari's most successful racers designed for customer competition is due an update.

Ferrari suggested back in August through the voice of its Technical Director on the GT racing side of things, Ferdinando Cannizzo, that it’s more likely for Michelotto to push out a ’Double Evo’ package for the 488 GTE rather than developing an all-new racing car around the F8 Tributo’s platform. The original 488 GTE was updated to ’Evo’ specification back in 2018 to make it more driver-friendly and easier to service, and Cannizzo thinks it’s entirely plausible we’ll still see it on the race tracks by 2021. In this context, it’s completely unsurprising to see Ferrari do the same with its GT3 competitor, especially since this is the first ’Evo’ package released for the GT3 car since its debut.

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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Sure, Porsche and others have decided to build new cars or thoroughly update existing ones, but Ferrari isn’t the only one to take a more prudent approach (although, as you’ll see, the 488 GT3 Evo has been improved in many areas) in this BoP-governed world. Acura’s done the same with the U.S.-minded ’Evo’ package released this year that made the NSX GT3 more suitable to the rougher North American tracks than the original that boded well with smoother, F1-grade surfaces. The work put in by HPD paid dividends right away as the GTD driver’s champions for 2019 in IMSA competition drove a Meyer-Shank Racing Acura. So, let’s now take a closer look at this car that almost looks like the old GT3 car and the current GTE car all at once.

Unveiled during last weekend’s Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Mugello, in Italy, the 488 GT3 Evo shared the stage with the latest 488 Challenge.

Ferrari boasted with an improved aerodynamic package that is the result of arduous work in the wind tunnel, modifications being especially visible around the nose section.

The car is also a bit longer than before, and one of the optional extras for the endurance package is the Le Mans-spec 4,500-lumen LED main beams.

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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In the front, the 488 GT3 Evo sports a more sculpted front bumper with a narrower valance under the elongated headlights. The horizontal main grille fills up most of the area in the lower bumper and features two vertical bars that separate the outer vents from the smaller one in the middle. Turning vanes behind the meshes direct air to the front brakes and through the vents that pierce the plunging front lid.

The sculpted sides of the front overhangs allow for the fitting of extra dive planes for added frontal downforce. These winglets work together with the vertical elements of the protruding carbon fiber lip of the splitter. The lip dives lower on either side and actually goes up in the middle of the front fascia, tunneling air underneath the car to reach the generous diffuser in the back.

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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Changes have been executed to the vents on top of the fender flares as well as the shape of the vents aft of the front wheels that allow hot air from the brakes to exit.

The myriad of openings in the rear part of the front flares is slightly different know to better ’cooperate’ with the openings on top. The rocker panel extensions have remained largely unchanged, but the skirt seems wider to the eye because the car is now longer. This was done in order to facilitate both the transformation from GT3 to GTE spec, but also to make the GT3 car kinder on its rubber. This means the GT3 car is now as long as the GTE car measuring 181.63 inches in length with a 106.96-inch wheelbase. Still, the GT3 car isn’t as wide as the GTE model that, at 80.7 inches in width, is actually wider than a 2019 Formula 1 car.

From the side, you’ll notice the sculpted doors with an added aerodynamic appendage close to the rear edge of the door, near the inlets carved into the rear fenders. This all helps air travel smoothly towards those vents that feed air into the engine bay as well as the rear wheels. The carbon fiber exterior rear-view mirrors have remained unchanged.

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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In the back, the vents surrounding the rear lights have been reshaped, but the narrow inlet in the middle immediately below the rear wing arms is the same as before. The rear end’s bulging bumper is formed in such a way to come almost flush with the massive diffuser in the back that features two side tunnels, a big one in the middle and added passages via turning vanes hanging from the bodywork behind the rear wheels to regulate dirty air.

The changes, however, don’t stop on the outside. Jump in the cockpit, and you’ll find a new, 2020-spec bucket seat with a new five-point harness and buckle by Sabelt,

The whole arrangement is 5.3 pounds lighter than before and adds to an overall lighter dry weight as somebody panels have also lost weight.

This doesn’t mean the car can run lighter in the races than it did before as the minimum weight is mandated in the rules and set, in Ferrari’s case, at 2,777.8 pounds or about 33 pounds heavier than a GTE car. But, with a lighter car, what you can do is add more ballast, and the way you manage ballast position can lower your overall center of gravity, which, in turn, aids handling. Am-level drivers will also better cope with those 450 to 500 horsepower that the 488 GT3’s twin-turbocharged 90-degree V-8 produces thanks to better-optimized traction control and ABS.

Ferrari announced that you can purchase an endurance package that includes a bumper with extra light clusters for night-time driving, quick-fill couplings for engine oil and coolant, carbon-fiber clutch, brake calipers adopted from the GTE, and steel wheel nuts. Sensors for the coolant level and refueling completion with in-car idiot lights are optional. The engine, while virtually unchanged, is at the receiving end of a new ECU that supposedly guarantees a smoother, more precise torque delivery.

2020 Ferrari 488 GT3 EVO Exterior
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You’ll be able to buy the 2020 GT3 Evo package if you already happen to own a 488 GT3 or, if you don’t already own the car, you can put in an order for a turn-key 2020 488 GT3 Evo that will be, undoubtedly, more expensive than the 2018/19-spec car. For reference, the 488 GT3 was introduced in 2016 with an MSRP of $614,400, making it one of the pricier GT3 cars. An Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo is about $515,000, a Huracan GT3 Evo is some $525,000, while an NSX GT3 without the latest Evo package comes in at little over $536,000. A soon-to-be-retired AMG GT3 cost last year just $453,510, cheaper even than the 911 GT3.R. Again, even in the racing arena, Ferrari holds its head up high in the clouds with what can be considered as ridiculous price tags but, in fact, the 488 GT3 is one of the most popular GT3 racers out there with much cheaper offerings from Nissan being almost absent from many top-tier series around the world. We’re confident, then, that you’ll see a 488 GT3 Evo at a track near you next year almost certainly!

A Short History of Ferrari’s GT Racing Heritage

Ferrari wasn’t particularly keen on GT racing before the dawn of the new millennium. For whatever reason, the Prancing Horse was mostly reserved for the Ferrari Challenge single-make series throughout the ’90s, bar from those ludicrous F40s that took the fight to the F1 GTR in the BPR series and elsewhere. But then, Italtechnica built a GT-spec Ferrari 550 Maranello. The engine was bored out to 6.0-liters, and output grew to an outrageous 600 horsepower. The protruding splitter, widened wheel arches, and towering rear wing completed the look of a menacing and ear-splittingly loud racing car that caught everyone’s attention by... retiring all too often.

Then, towards the second half of 2001, David Richards' Prodrive unveiled its own interpretation of a racing 550 Maranello.

It looked sleeker with a prettier front end. More importantly, however, it was competitive. Massively so. It was flown to America, Corvette Racing’s playground after ORECA’s decision to send the Vipers to the nursing home, and it managed to kick the Vette’s arriere quickly. How quickly? In only its third North American start, at Laguna Seca in ’02.

Seeing what the Britsh could do, Ferrari itself felt there’s room for more. It contracted N-Technology, the firm responsible for the race and championship-winning Alfa 156 GTA touring cars, to work alongside Michelotto to develop a GT version of the 550 for the ’03 season. Two chassis were built with Italtechnica bodywork. They’d be run alternatively alongside an Italtechnica chassis, both cars prepped for the races by the JMB Racing squad from Monaco. It was all part of Ferrari’s plan to launch its first official racing car in many years, the 575 GTC.

2003 Ferrari 575 GTC
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Ferrari 575 GTC
This time, Ferrari allowed no one else to build GT-spec versions of the 575, and thus the N-Technology car debuted in 2004 to do battle with Prodrive's 550.

While older, the 550 more than had the measure of the factory-backed 575 GTC and, presumably, Ferrari disliked that so much that it never offered a follow-up to the 575 GTC based on the 575’s road-going replacement, the 612 Scaglietti.

Instead, from 2006, Ferrari’s Customer Racing department, Ferrari Corse Clienti, focused on offering GT2 and GT3 cars. Michelotto had more experience at building racing versions of Ferrari’s junior mid-engine models as it turned both the 355 and the 360 into rather successful weapons for the race track. In spite of all that, it was JMB Racing that built the first batch of F430 GT3 cars while Michelotto focused on the GT2 cars. These first GT3s were heavily based upon the F430 Challenge. Then, in ’09, Kessel Racing took over and developed the 430 Scuderia GT3 as the replacement for the F430 GT3.

2013 Ferrari 458 GT3 Exterior
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Two years later, Michelotto became the sole builder of Ferrari GT cars, being tasked with the development of both the 458 GT2 (later GTE) and 458 GT3.

The latter was very popular, especially among amateur (Bronze-rated, as per the FIA) drivers and won numerous races and titles in the Pro-Am and Am classes. The 458 was naturally followed by the 488 GT3, although some teams stuck with the race-proven 458 with its wonderful naturally aspirated V-8 for one extra season.

The new version of the 488 GT3, which will compete in the main international GT championships in 2020, has just been unveiled at the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Mugello. The new Evo package is the result of Ferrari’s desire to further refine certain aspects of one of the most successful cars in the marque’s history. This has been achieved using innovative concepts derived from its track experience and feedback from the teams competing with the 488 GT3.

Aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics, ergonomics, safety and reliability were the main focuses of development, all, of course, in compliance with the strict power and aerodynamic efficiency performance limits imposed by FIA regulations.

The engineers honed the 488 GT3 Evo 2020’s aerodynamics to boost the car’s stability with the new front-end design making a significant contribution. Over 18,000 hours of calculations and CFD simulations, followed by wind tunnel testing, went into the design of a new bumper with a smaller frontal section under the headlights. This has allowed the introduction of a pair of flicks to generate more downforce, making the car more stable without modifying the aero balance thanks in part to turning vanes inside the splitter. Aerodynamic development also extended to other areas of the front of the 488 GT3: the vents on top the wings are larger than the current model and the front section of the door is now more tapered to more efficiently channel lateral flows. The vents on the rear wing have also been completely redesigned.

The 488 GT3’s vehicle dynamics have been key in its success, and this area has been further improved in the new 488 GT3 Evo 2020. The wheelbase is longer, as in the 488 GTE, to optimise tyre use, reduce tyre wear and facilitate the conversion from GT3 to GTE. The engineers also focused on reducing the car’s weight with the result that more ballast can be used to attain the minimum weight imposed by the Balance of Performance, thus lowering the centre of gravity. In addition all the vehicle dynamic controls, including the traction control and ABS, have been optimised.

No performance upgrades have been made to the engine, a twin-turbo V8 with a 90-degree angle between the cylinder banks, nor have any components been modified. However, it does benefit from a new engine management system which improves reliability and guarantees smoother, more precise torque delivery.

Endurance racing has evolved to the extent that it is increasingly resembling extended sprint racing. This demands meticulous attention to detail, including in the cockpit. The 488 GT3 Evo 2020 debuts a new seat which meets the new FIA safety regulations. Developed jointly with Sabelt for both the GT3 and GTE, it is not only more rigid and robust but is also 2.4 kg lighter with new belts and a new buckle.

The additional 24H/Endurance package is specifically designed for clients interested in that particular type of racing. The basic equipment includes a front bumper with additional headlights, quick-fill couplings for engine oil and coolant, carbon-fibre clutch, brake callipers adopted from the GTE and steel wheel nuts. Optional features include sensors for the coolant level and refuelling completion with warning lights, and Le Mans-type, 4,500 lumen LED main headlights.

The new components and improvements introduced in the 2020 version of the 488 GT3 Evo are also available as upgrade kits for existing cars.

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