“This city is astonishingly beautiful, and to drive through its streets in silence in a Ferrari is a slightly ... unsettling feeling, but also more than a little magical.”
As the day dawns over Seville’s bustling streets, Michelle Gatting – European Ferrari Challenge champion and GT driver for the all-female Iron Lynx team – climbs into the cockpit of a Ferrari 296 GTB for the very first time.
Go behind-the-scenes with Michelle Gatting as she pilots the 296 GTB through the beating heart of Spain's south
As she starts the car and gently presses on the accelerator, passers-by remain wide-eyed and amazed at the sight of what can only be a Ferrari berlinetta, nudging along with ... an electric whirring sound.
“For someone as passionate as me, it’s certainly a new feeling to turn on the engine and not hear that familiar roar,” admits Michelle. “But the future is heading in that direction, and Maranello has done a superb job here. Even in electric mode, everything around me just screams ‘Ferrari!’ – the controls, the cockpit, the seat, the atmosphere, the driving feel.”
For Michelle Gatting, Ferrari Challenge champion and Iron Lynx team driver, this was the first time behind the wheel of the 296 GTB
The silence of the car enables us to creep discreetly into the monumental open Plaza de Espana, which, along with the Maria Luisa park, serves as the city’s public ‘living room’. Not far away is the Tabacos factory – now part of the university – where opera’s gypsy femme fatale Carmen worked and danced.
Michelle leaves the constraints of the narrow streets behind her, and the car releases that unmistakeable roar as it heads toward the 13th-century Torre de Oro. “I kind of missed it,” Michelle laughs, “but then when you hear that sound, any doubt that you’re behind the wheel of a Ferrari just vanishes.”
Michelle puts the car through its paces, from the streets of Seville out to the curve-rich route of the surrounding countryside
The entire Andalusia region, from Seville to Huelva and Cadiz, is made for cruising. This is something that is immediately evident as you speed along the green roads of the Doñana National Park, where nature is interspersed with human travail in vast, ever-changing landscapes.
Between the softly rolling hills where the undulations of the green fields stretch as far as the eye can see, there are long, deserted stretches of straight road that have an irresistible pull on a ‘pilota’. “Naturally I couldn’t accelerate for as long as I could on the circuit, but I was really impressed by the capacity of this six-cylinder engine to keep pushing without ever letting up – such an intoxicating sensation,” Michelle enthuses.
The barren, almost lunar landscape of Minas de Riotinto offers the opportunity to unleash the 830cv of the 296 GTB
After 50 kilometres of powerful emotions, we reach Niebla. The city is surrounded by robust walls that have protected it from the passage of time, and this is the perfect place for safely trying out all the technologies on the car’s digital dashboard. With the touch of an icon or the swipe of a finger, everything is under control, without ever having to take your hands off the wheel. “It takes a while to get used to the smart features on this car,” observes Michelle. “I’m still used to knobs and buttons for certain functions. But once you’ve got the hang of it, it becomes as automatic as using your smartphone.”
The last stop along our trip are the Minas de Riotinto, where the road winds between bare rocks and sporadic trees on a breathtaking roller-coaster of ups and downs, skirting round curves where the 296 GTB comes into its own.
“You immediately feel the short wheelbase of the chassis, the response to the steering wheel is immediate, it’s impressive. You feel confident that you can go fast, because the car follows you without a second of hesitation,” says Michelle. “I’m really looking forward to testing the race version in the GT and the Challenge races next year. I get the impression that Ferrari is headed in a very interesting direction.”