It’s not easy to miss the tourist-friendly hotel advertisements along Shanghai Pudong International Airport with most proclaiming to have English-speaking staff.
The rise of Asia’s largest economy has proven to be a magnet for all and sundry and knowing an additional language is always an advantage.
For the scores of expatriates working in China, the storyline is a bit different; many have picked up Mandarin as a second language.
|The Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale ahead of the GranTurismo S on the Shanghai International Circuit.
Along the streets of Shanghai’s swanky Pudong financial district, it isn’t uncommon to hear Mat Sallehs
speaking in Mandarin into their Apple iPhones, albeit with a strange accent.
At the Shanghai International Circuit however, the dominant language is not always readily apparent. Rather it blows according to the winds.
On June 23, it was pretty much Italian as the Maserati brigade was in town.
Tipo (type), Corsa (race), Trofeo (trophy) and the likes were freely thrown into the mix as the Italian car maker took the opportunity to
refresh the memories of motoring hacks on its proud history. The main entree for the event however, was a chance to sample on the track the full flavours of the fastest production Maserati to date - the GranTurismo MC Stradale variant.
Touted as Maserati’s first production car to break the 300kph speed barrier, the MC Stradale peaks at 301kph.
Based on the current road-going 2+2 seater GranTurismo S, the MC Stradale has been infused with the racing experience from the Trofeo GranTurismo MC and the GT4 motorsports models.
What has emerged is something that strikes a balance between a useable daily car and a blistering track-racer.
To exemplify the track car underpinnings, the two rear seats are removed, giving space for the installation of an optional roll-over cage with four-point safety harness.
Other racing-inspired equipment include Brembo carbon-ceramic brake discs, custom-developed 20-inch Pirelli PZero Corsa tyres and light weight carbon fibre race seats.
Front anti-roll bar is now thicker at 25mm, spring ratings stiffer by 8% and the car is lowered by 10mm at the front axle and 12mm at the rear.
With revised braking system featuring a larger brake master pump with carbon-ceramic discs and grippier Pirelli rubbers, Maserati claims that the MC Stradale can decelerate from 100kph to a full stop in 33m, or 6% shorter than the GranTurismo S.
Outside, the MC Stradale gets a new front splitter, bonnet with air intakes, side sills and skirts, rear boot spoiler and rear bumper with repositioned twin exhaust pipes to tell it apart from the GranTurismo S.
While the styling revisions do increase the sex appeal of the Pininfarina-styled body, they are also functional.
The revised aerodynamics package gives the front and rear axle 25% and 50% more downforce at 200kph respectively without increasing drag.
The familiar 4.7-litre V8 block from the GranTurismo S now gets one-way flaps in the oil sump and a diamond-like coating on engine’s tappets and camshaft lobes to reduce friction.
The end result is an increase of 10bhp to 450bhp at 7,000rpm and 20Nm of torque to 510Nm at 4,750rpm while returning a 13% lower combined cycle fuel consumption at 14.4 litre per 100km.
The MC Stradale’s 0-100kph dash is slashed to 4.6 seconds versus the GranTurismo S’ 4.9 seconds.
More importantly, 80% of the maximum torque kicks in at revs of 2,500rpm for a lot of useful grunt during city driving.
That’s not all, the MC Stradale’s weight loss programme trimmed 110kg for a new weight of 1,770kg.
Getting to drive a powerful car on one of Formula 1’s newer circuits is always a thrill.
Hailed as a “gentleman racer’s drive,” the interior of our MC Stradale unit came fully leathered - and done tastefully at the dashboard, interior panelling, seats, steering wheel and even the ceiling.
With abundant reserves from the V8 block, the MC Stradale surges forward without much urging.
Picking up speed, the low exhaust rumble during idle is not just louder but has assumed a menacing tone.
For a more thunderous and pulse raising roar, switch on Sport mode - which opens up the flaps for the exhaust gasses to bypass the silencers at 4,000rpm and exit directly through the tail pipes.
If the new “Race” mode feature is selected, the bypass flaps are opened regardless of engine speed.
Race mode also delays the activation of the electronic stability programme for the driver to test his skills.
The MC Stradale’s front engine with rear transaxle set-up allows an ideal front-rear weight distribution ratio of 48:52.
The planted ride and sharp steering response gave us the confidence to push the car faster turn after turn.
At the grandstand straight, we managed from a slow rolling start, to reach 190kph before slamming hard on the brakes to take a sharp right-hand turn.
Using an improved six-speed automated manual transmission, Maserati claims that gear shifts are swifter.
In Race mode, gear shifts can be completed in an ultrafast 60 milliseconds while Sport and Automatic modes are a tad slower at 100ms and 140ms respectively.
Though the transmission is the single clutch type it has two clutch plates instead of one which promises longer life and durability.
Upward gear shifting via the paddle shifters at flat-out acceleration will result in a transmission thump that heightens the intensity of the driving experience.
In Automatic mode and with a more civilised driving style, gear shifts can be quite smooth.
The car is not stingy on features, among them four airbags, anti-lock braking system, Maserati Stability Programme, bi-xenon headlights, multimedia system with seven-inch screen and 30Gb hard drive, single CD player, sat-nav, voice control, Bluetooth, USB and AUX.
Maserati also prepared several of its models such as the GranTurismo S, GranCabrio and Quattroporte GT S for us to sample.
The Maserati brand was founded in the Italian town of Bologna in 1914 by the Maserati brothers – Alfieri, Ettore, Ernesto and Bindo.
Maserati is now part of the Fiat Automobiles group which also owns Ferrari.
Both the Prancing Horse and Trident are known to share technologies.
Local distributor of Maserati cars, Naza Italia Sdn Bhd, says the MC Stradale is already available in Malaysia.
For a car that gives you a touch of Ferrari without the sky-high Prancing Horse price tag, the MC Stradale starts at RM1.7mil.