If you want to climb the Stelvio Pass, one of the most fascinating routes in the Alps, this is the prospect before you: 48 hairpin bends on the South Tyrol side, 40 on the Lombardy side, where we shot the images on these pages. That’s where you’ll climb more than 1,500 metres to an altitude of 2,758 metres in 21km, an absolute dream for those who like driving uphill. With 483hp, 30 more than before, where better to test the new Ferrari California 30 Handling Speciale, and who better to drive it than Ferrari hill racing champion, Leo Isolani?
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
‘I went up early in the morning and I had two fantastic sensations while driving: on the one hand, I could smell the clean, crisp mountain air and experience the silence broken only by the marvellous sound of the Ferrari engine. And then, on the other, there was the realisation of just how readily and precisely theCalifornia took the corners.’
Describing his experience for The Official Ferrari Magazine, Leo Isolani seems to be almost surprised at the performance of a vehicle that is so different from the 575 GTC he drives, and frequently wins with, in hill-climb racing.
‘The driving technique is different of course,’ Isolani continues. ‘When going uphill, the most important thing is to make the correct use of the road, avoiding the slightest hump, kerb or hollow in order to keep the car, which is very low, as aerodynamically efficient as possible.’
It is a significant point: today’s racing cars have to manage the air that wraps itself round them as they speed along. In order to exploit the ground effect, air is no longer allowed to flow under the car, so that everything that gets under the vehicle in a disorderly fashion becomes a disturbing element as far as performance is concerned.
‘You must drive very cleanly,’ Isolani points out ‘and therefore just as if one were driving on track. With theCalifornia, which is a splendid road GT, it is different: the Stelvio road is narrow and there are some hollows on the surface. In fact, it is more suitable for a rally if we want to make a motor-sport comparison. But what amazed me was the ease and sense of reassurance the car conveyed, even going fast in those very difficult conditions. Among other things, the altitude did not make the slightest difference to the car’s performance, which remained consistent throughout.’
Another very notable achievement was theCalifornia’s dual-clutch transmission, especially when faced with the fast straight stretches and violent deceleration, demanded by the very tight bends. ‘In these very challenging conditions, the gearbox proved to be both very quick and precise, it works perfectly and the ratios are ideally spaced for steep gradients, such as those I found while going up the Stelvio Pass.’
It is also worth remembering that in hill-climb racing one of the most important factors is perfect knowledge of the route: for short races that are often determined within fragments of seconds, what really counts is how the route is laid out and how the competitor overcomes the myriad challenges that a road conceals.
The drivers patiently study the route when it is open to normal traffic and then check speed and the quality of the gears during the official trials on Saturday, usually two or three of them. Then, in the race on Sunday, everything is dramatically decided in a single climb.
Obviously with theCaliforniait is different: going up and down a couple of times, the driver is able to get the feel of some basic characteristics while descending too. ‘The carbon ceramic brakes are perfect, immediate, precise, powerful and tireless. Really surprising for a car intended for daily use as a GT. The brakes are one of the surprises, even compared with those of a race car.’
How does Isolani drive on his climbs? ‘I did the first as if I were a normal Ferrari owner: briskly but behaving like an ordinary road driver. I did the second run in racing driver mode, and therefore played on the brakes and gears even if I had to bear in mind during my manoeuvres that someone else might be coming down. On this second climb the full-blooded sound attracted passers-by. I saw people that had stopped to see me going up and who were applauding the car. Really nice. The beauty of the car did the rest, including the blue colour, very elegant and perhaps a little surprising for a Ferrari that was shooting up the hill as if it were in a race!’
Had it been necessary to demonstrate the dual nature of theCalifornia, we had certainly succeeded. This model, pleasing in appearance and attractively comfortable, with its rear seats and folding roof, which makes it a coupé and a roadster at the same time, is truly a Ferrari, with all the attributes that tradition requires.
The sporting spirit of theCaliforniaemerges at events that reward grit and speed: there are always large numbers of competitors driving this model in the Ferrari Tribute to the Mille Miglia, or the famous Targa Florio, showing that Ferrari, and Ferrari owners, have exactly the same spirit and the same desire to have fun.
TheCalifornia30, inits HS version, with 30hp more and lots of kilos less, has taken another step towards being a race car, pure and simple, without losing that magic possibility of everyday use, for pleasure and for enjoyment.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 19, December 2012