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Man Power

Braving a British isle's sharp turns and mischievous sprites in the rare Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale




NAILED TO THE FRONT DOOR of Aaron House, the stately Victorian inn where I’d been staying, was a hurriedly spliced wooden cross bound with wool. As I studied it, clearly perplexed, the proprietor appeared beside me. “It’s the crosh cuirn,” he said. “We islanders fix one inside our front doors to keep the wicked fairies out.” Then, as an afterthought, he picked up something from the mantel and handed it to me. “You best be taking this lucky sheep bone with you if you want safe passage across the island, what with that fancy car you’ll be driving.”

“That fancy car” was none other than the rare Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale, the street-legal version of the 360 Modena, Ferrari’s extensively reengineered track car. Only 1,278 of them were manufactured between 1999 and 2005, making the Stradale highly sought after by collectors. The island that I’d be traversing in it (under the auspices of my lucky sheep bone) was the Isle of Man, famed for its indigenous Manx Loaghtan sheep, sneaky and malevolent sprites and, most important, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, one of the world’s most prestigious motorcycle races, which takes place every year from late May to early June.

From my inn in Port St. Mary, at the island’s southern tip, I had an easy 27-mile trip via rental car to Ramsey, in the north, along a road tacked to the serrated edge of the island’s east coast. I was to meet Matt Honeysett, my Ferrari man, in Ramsey — specifically, at the start of the A3, whose stretch from Ramsey to Kirk Michael forms part of the race circuit.

While waiting for Honeysett at the rendezvous, I contemplated my surroundings: standing stones left by the Vikings, protruding from the earth like daggers; Celtic forts that predate Christ; ancient burial sites that have frowned over the valleys for 4,000 years.

A distant rumbling disturbed my train of thought. It came again, closer: the distinctive blatting made by downshifting the gears of a supercar. This was followed by an epic wall of noise as the Stradale broadsided around a bend and came to an urgent stop beside me, assuming an aggressive stance. Honeysett stepped out and, after the customary exchange of pleasantries, gestured to the driver’s seat. I obliged, folding myself in and bolting down the shoulder harnesses, the whole process carrying overtones of space travel. I dug the lucky sheep bone out of my pocket and placed it on the center console.

As opposed to starting the engine, the only function of the Stradale’s key is to prime the electronics for ignition. Key inserted, I prodded the prominent red starter button on the console, and immediately brought the V-8 to life. After a noisy throat-clearing, the engine quieted down to a purposeful rumble and awaited orders. I tentatively touched the accelerator — and took off with a velocity seldom seen outside a Road Runner cartoon.

Despite the Stradale’s lean, carbon fiber-muscled body and delicate aluminum bone structure, my plan to stretch its legs along the mountainous road heading west to Kirk Michael gave way to a bronco ride. Approaching 6,000 rpm, its rumble became a howl that grew in intensity until, at 8,000 rpm, my hearing began to distort. At this point, I eyed the “race” button on the console, but Honeysett’s glare dissuaded me. “That,” he yelled, pointing accusingly at the button, “will shake up your internal organs and rearrange your brain.”

I decelerated to meet a sharp turn and the car released a pulse-racing series of what sounded like explosions, startling a flock of peace-seeking tourists convened at a pedestrian crossing. After a quick stop at a tea shop to quiet the nerves, I regretfully turned the car over to Honeysett and climbed into my lowly rental. Still vibrating like a tuning fork, I headed back toward the inn.

En route, I found myself approaching Ballalonna Glen and its famed Fairy Bridge, so named for the creatures reputed to live beneath it. The sight of the quaint structure called to mind something my innkeeper had told me: “The old book says that should you cross the Fairy Bridge without saying so much as laa mie (good day) to them, you cannot be sure of a safe and pleasant journey.”

I considered shouting a greeting out of the driver’s window (a common practice among racers), but thought better of it. Besides, I had my lucky sheep bone, I figured, before realizing that, no, I had left that in the Stradale. As if on cue, a gust swept into the car and blew my map out of the footwell and right into my face; the paper fell away just in time to reveal a fast-approaching ditch. My driving skills honed by the Stradale, I managed to avoid it and return safely home — though, I should add, with the windows up.

CINDY-LOU DALE, a writer based in southeast England, thinks there might be something to that fairy talk after all.

The bells and the whistles

PRICE: Starts at around $155,000
ENGINE: Mid-mounted 3.6-liter V-8
PERFORMANCE: It delivers 425 hp and can do zero to 62 in 4.1 seconds, with a top speed of 186 mph.
FUEL EFFICIENCY: 11 mpg city, 16 highway
INTERIOR: It gleams with carbon fiber panels, and the dashboard and seats are covered in soft-touch black and red Alcantara. The floor is bare, apart from a coat of black paint and a couple of rubber mats.

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