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| Feature Drive | Snowdonia, Wales | Ferrari California |
Shane O' Donoghue. Photography by Max Earey. - 17 Feb 2011
Max Earey, our photographer, is already waiting when I arrive, sitting in the 'Argento Nurburgring' Ferrari California with the roof up and the heater on. We've seen the California plenty in the past, but it never fails to grab attention with its striking looks. This version features a black roof, complemented by about £34,000 worth of black carbon fibre extras elsewhere on the car.
What lies beneath
But it's another less conspicuous option that concerns us today. It's the set of Pirelli Sottozero tyres we're interested in. At a glance you may not notice them, but on closer inspection it's clear that the tread pattern is a little unusual, and the surface of the tyre itself has loads of 'squiggles' in the rubber.
Those are called 'sipes' and they help the tyre bite into surfaces such as mud, snow and ice. However, contrary to popular opinion, winter tyres are not just of use in those conditions. Regular tyres are made of a compound that hardens when it gets cold. This reduces its flexibility and hence its ability to grip to a surface - wet or dry. Winter tyres, however, are softer, thanks to the use of more natural rubber in the compound, and they don't harden until much lower temperatures.
What may be of surprise is that winter tyres are more effective than regular items on all surfaces once the temperature drops below +7 degrees C. So, even on a beautifully dry (but cold) day, the winter tyre will enable better cornering, braking and acceleration.
Finally, it's said that downsides of winter tyres are that they wear quicker and that braking distance is worse. This is only true for warmer weather. Braking distance in the cold is improved with winter tyres and regular tyres wear quicker when the temperatures are lower than seven degrees C.
So what's with the Ferrari?
While the information above may be of use to all drivers, few in the UK and Ireland are going to cough up the extra money needed to change tyres and wheels twice a year. That is except for keen drivers that like the idea of using their pride and joy all year round. Enter the Ferrari California.
The California has been developed to be an everyday, all year round kind of car. In the summer, the slick folding roof stows away behind the rear seats. This makes the most of the glorious sounds coming out of the stacked exhaust pipes. When the weather turns nasty, press a button and the hardtop turns the California into a snug coupé. There's even a usable amount of luggage space. If ever there was a Ferrari to drive every day, this is it.
Proof, pudding, etc.
The rendezvous point is on Anglesey Island in Wales and, given that the aim of this test is to try out a supercar on winter tyres, we're somewhat perversely disappointed that the weather is relatively good. Sure, it's grey and murky, but there's no snow or ice around and the forecast doesn't look like that'll change.
Still, in the interests of research, the roof is dropped, silly woolly hats are donned and we head for the hills. Literally, as Max reckons the temperatures will drop once we get deep into Snowdonia National Park. He's right: we see as low as three degrees C and the roads are slick with cold water and mud.
Despite all that, the California is a cinch to drive quickly. Wisely, the Manettino switch is kept away from 'CST off', but even in the harder Sport mode the car feels utterly unflappable. No doubt the tyres are doing their thing here, though the Ferrari's electronics are subtly assisting too, making the California genuinely huge fun, even in far less than perfect conditions.
After a couple of days in the mountains we head in search of warmer roads and we're rewarded with some sunshine. There is no noticeable lack of grip or composure due to the tyres and the California remains as supple over bumps as ever.
Preaching to the converted
In the interests of full disclosure, it must be said that I am already a massive fan of winter tyres. Several weeks at the wheels of cars with them fitted in the cold snap at the end of 2010 sealed the deal for me. That they also perform when there's no snow on the road may come as a surprise to many, but that they allow cars like the Ferrari California to be driven no matter what the weather is, is something we should all be happy about.