The 458 Italia is the best Ferrari I have ever driven. It may not be as charismatic in some respects as the brutal F40 or make as nice a noise as the spectacular Enzo, but as an all-around, state-of-the-art supercar at a relatively affordable price, it is unmatched, both within the Prancing Horse stable and against its marketplace rivals.
All this means that any changes made by the aftermarket must be very carefully executed. Last summer, British tuner Oakley Design decided to try its hand in the Italia game, tweaking the 458’s engine, suspension, wheels and aerodynamics. And in October, I traveled to the Silverstone racetrack, home of the Formula 1 British Grand Prix, to sample its handiwork.
As much as I like the looks of the standard Italia, I was absolutely stunned by the Oakley version. The company started with a white car, then added a black carbon-fiber roof panel, black carbon-fiber aerodynamic bits and black forged-alloy wheels. (This is Oakley’s basic “house look.”) However, the 458’s arched cant rail remains white and accentuates the sweeping roofline over the door glass. The overall effect is sensational and radically changes the Italia’s appearance, making it look even lighter and more stylish.
I was most interested in the new aero bits, however. With each generation of road car, Ferrari increases its focus on aerodynamics, but the Oakley team, led by company founder Jon Oakley, wanted to develop more downforce without unnecessarily increasing drag. To that end, they took the Ferrari to the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) wind tunnel. There, they established that the stock Italia produced 540 pounds of downforce over the front axle and 280 pounds over the rear axle at 180 mph.
The Oakley crew returned home, and began work on their new aerodynamic addenda. Soon, with prototype parts in hand, they returned to MIRA. More wind-tunnel time revealed that their new spoiler lip added 55 pounds of downforce over the front axle, while a combination of extended side sills, a rear Gurney flap and a longer, deeper rear diffuser increased downforce over the rear axle by 51 pounds.
They also discovered that the car’s aerodynamic center had moved forward to just aft of the car’s centerline, closer to its center of gravity. In addition, the aerodynamic center of pressure had moved back towards the center of gravity. Both of these changes would improve high-speed stability.
As expected, the Italia’s drag coefficient suffered, increasing from a stock .33 to .36. However, the MIRA engineers calculated that overcoming the additional drag would require only 10 hp extra at the car’s top speed. As it turned out, that wouldn’t be a problem.