That priceless exhaust system, along with a low-restriction cold air intake system and polished intake ports, contribute to an extra 25 bhp, bringing the total for the Challenge Stradale to 425.

A less apparent, but probably more important component on the car, is a driver-selectable sport/race switch that changes the performance of the car's active shock absorbers and the shift characteristics of its paddle-shift transmission. The company, concerned about ruffling American feathers with the 360's wonderfully uninhibited exhaust note, is also considering tying in the exhaust bypass system. U.S. cars may end up with higher rpm and throttle-opening thresholds for the bypass when in sport mode but will retain the current values when switched to race mode.

Race mode also stiffens the suspension, giving the car a ride that could be considered punishing on the street, but that was fine for track use. More importantly, the switch banishes the surprisingly strong low-speed understeer that is present in sport mode. In race mode the Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires were amazingly responsive and consistent for full-depth treaded street tires, so top marks for the tire company. Repeated hard laps around Fiorano didn't seem to diminish the tires' grip or inflict visible damage.

Switching to race mode also selects a different program for the stability control system. In sport mode the system is too intrusive, even in highway driving. In race mode it seemed ideal for street driving and tolerable for track driving, though it prevented intentionally hanging out the tail in slow corners to offset the remaining understeer.

Sport mode, which is intended for street driving, indulges in leisurely 500-millisecond gear changes, which are necessary for Spic-n-Span emissions. In race mode, the transmission bangs off shifts in 150 ms, which makes for impressive full-throttle upshifts.

The stiffened race mode suspension also reduces nose dive due to forward weight transfer under maximum braking, which is the bane of street cars that venture onto the racetrack because the lightened rear tires are prone to locking and spinning the car. The characteristic is present in race mode but is thankfully reduced to a bit of tail-wagging in the braking zone rather than threatening to swap ends.

The brakes themselves are spectacular carbon ceramic devices courtesy of Brembo, like the ones used on the Enzo. Front rotors are 380mm and rears are 350mm. Extended tag-team lapping of Fiorano by journalists induced no fade, smoke or other symptoms of braking distress. On the street, the pads' friction coefficient feels a little aggressive, making it easy to accidentally brake abruptly in casual driving. But the trade-off is powerful on-track performance, which is, after all, the raison d'etre of the car. Also, that slight grabbiness contributes to shorter emergency stops in street driving.

"These brake pads let you save 2 or 3 meters in braking distance with respect to the other pads," explained Roberto Fedeli, who is responsible for technical development of Ferrari street cars. "Usually those meters make the difference between whether you save the car or not."

And this is a car worth saving.

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