ĂŠcurie25 Supercar Club
06 | é25 magazine
Photography: Julian Calverley Copy: Aaron Weddell
We may not have the weather, but we’re certainly California Dreamin’ in our Ferrari…
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Something else that catches the eye is the marinetto steering wheel control as seen previously on the F430 only this time one is treated to a ‘Comfort’ setting and not a mention of ‘Race’.
Ferrari builds cars to stir the soul, focused machines in the business of looking great whilst serving up peerless driving thrills and dynamite performance. The first time you snick an open-gate shifter and bury the throttle of a Ferrari is a moment you never forget. Think Ferrari, think scarlet sculpture, think of that classic aluminiumball-topped gear shift and a soundtrack to make a grown man come over all unnecessary. I’m pondering this and reflecting on my good fortune as I recline in an outside hot tub at Northern Ireland’s Galgorm Resort & Spa, listening to the sound of the River Maine surging by as rain gently patters down around me. It’s not quite the thrill I had driving my first Ferrari, but it’s up there on the list and, best of all, I have the latest prancing horse offering at my disposal. Although my steed isn’t a manual, things have moved on in the world of semi-automatic transmissions, possibly more so than in any other area, so we can forgive it that. It isn’t even red. It is the more luxuryfocused 2009 Ferrari California and I have travelled to the Emerald Isle to find out exactly what Ferrari mean when they talk of a ‘sports’ rather than ‘super’ car, complete with references from the stable themselves to luggage space and ‘shopping in the city’. Surely Ferrari hasn’t turned soft? To find out, we need to rewind a little to earlier during the same day. In keeping with the aspirational world inhabited by Ferrari, I would like to say that my day began with a private jet for the short flight from London to Belfast, but, instead, I arrived via the rather less auspicious method of everyone’s favourite orange and white budget airline. The personal service began on my landing at Belfast International, where I was collected by Denise from écurie25 Northern Ireland, who whisked me to their branch of operations based in Ballymoney. After the customary handover and familiarisation routine, I have one key, must-visit destination in mind;
a road familiar with most petrolheads - the Giant’s Causeway. Where better to put the California through its paces than by taking in the sinews of tarmac along the volcanic coastline. I resist the urge to fire up the integrated iPod stereo and pound up some Led Zeppelin - the Houses of the Holy sleeve artwork comprises of images taken around the Causeway and includes ‘The Song Remains the Same’, which is a great track regardless of location. That said, ‘Rain Song’ would probably be more appropriate given the weather, so the foldable hardtop stays firmly in place, safe in the knowledge that it would only take around 14 seconds to drop, should the sun make a guest appearance. Despite the roof being in place, I’m treated to quite the soundtrack as I hit the B66 - the engine gurgles and pops and bangs in a manner quite at odds with the relatively smooth ride quality. Something else that catches the eye is the marinetto steering wheel control, as seen previously on the F430, only this time, one is treated to a ‘Comfort’ setting and there is no mention of a ‘Race’ option. This is apparently a car with a split personality as, despite the added weight of the roof mechanism, any concerns that the California is a lardy concession to similarly lardy consumers are left choking in the dust, along with any would-be trafficlight grand prix racers. 0-62mph comes up in under 4 seconds, and although the speedo needle won’t trouble its 220mph peak, 193mph is a top speed that could be euphemistically termed ‘sufficient’. As I familiarise myself with the car and my route, I allow the Comfort and Automatic modes to demonstrate the California’s more demure side - although the peak horsepower figure is actually down from the F430’s nigh-on 500bhp to a more modest 453bhp, the spread of torque is keenly sited with a view to making the mid-front-mounted 4.3 V8 as tractable as possible in a variety of situations.
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In many ways, the California is a revolution for Ferrari, citing firsts in many areas - their first ever front-mounted V8, their first retractable hardtop and, as fitted to this example, their first 7-speed gearbox, incorporating a further first by way of the double-clutch transmission. But all the talk of ‘firsts’ has whetted my appetite for some elevenses, so it’s time to pull over, grab some refreshment, refuel and take a closer look at the car in the metal, leather and carbon fibre. The split between lovers and haters of the design treatment is as distinct as the car’s own dual personalities. Although it’s not one of the prettiest Ferraris ever made, unlike its 1960s forebear with which it shares a name and front grill treatment, it is a striking beast. Detractors are probably more distressed that this car represents a departure from the norm rather than issues with the overall aesthetics. There are some negative points however; the A-pillars can block visibility around tighter bends and I’m personally not that taken with the rather fussy crease along the side of the car, but despite not being the traditional red, it is unmistakably an Italian thoroughbred from the wide rear haunches to the rakish front. It may not be a car that immediately talks to your heart, but there’s a decent balance between practicality and outright panache. Interior-wise, the luxury focus is clear, with every possible surface being wrapped in cream hide and the driving position being less low-slung than you may anticipate, not to mention the touch-screen navigation and audio controls which fall instinctively to hand thanks to the superb ergonomics. The California does offer rear accommodation, but after giving it a try and being lucky enough not to have an audience as I disembarked somewhat gracelessly, I’d say that they are strictly for children rather than adults for all but the shortest trips.
10 | ĂŠ25 magazine
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With what looks like a potentially good five minute break in the clouds I even opt for a bit of topless fun â€“ in seconds the hard top GT car from before I paused for a cuppa, has become a convertibleâ€Ś
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My stop-off is not without a tourist trap, nor is the early break in my journey not entirely without forethought, and I take a breather whilst enjoying a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery, a place so entrenched in the history of Northern Ireland that it finds pride of place on a selection of the Bank of Ireland’s notes. For passengers who wish to follow in my tread blocks, the tour concludes with a free sample from a selection of their famed malts; I opted for a mere sniff of the 21-year-old malt and, instead, appraise a soft drink. Given my early start, it was only 10.30am by the end of the tour and, regardless of whether I’m driving or not, single malt should not be enjoyed before 11am - it’s just a rule of mine. If whiskey facts aren’t your thing, then a slight variation on my route would be to head to Portrush, where the famous North West 200 motorcycle race is held in mid-May each year. The full route runs between the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, and with crowds of over 150,000, it is presumably best avoided during this time if you’re not looking to be part of the action! With the tank brimmed and a promise to myself to grab a cheeky whiskey after dinner, it’s time to try out the Sport setting and paddle-shift - I’ve seen how she can trickle merrily on light throttle, changing into 7th gear at a mere 50mph or so in the Comfort setting, but the real fireworks hinted at by that engine note earlier should now come to the fore. With what looks like a potentially good five-minute break in the clouds, I even opt for a bit of topless fun - in seconds, the GT car from before I paused for a cuppa has become a convertible - potentially another first in the form of Ferrari’s first buy-one-get-one-free offer. Pressing on and enjoying that glorious V8 bark unencumbered by a roof confirms that hanging onto each gear that little bit longer allows you to not only enjoy the sonic delights, but it also allows the California to seemingly shrug off that extra weight and, with the twin-clutch system, acceleration comes in a nigh-on seamless surge. The carbon-ceramic brakes, which
at low speeds can be a little grabby and sensitive, tirelessly shed speed for corner entry or unexpected encounters with the wildlife. Going fast and stopping effectively accounts for nowt if the Ferrari can’t cut it in the corners. Initially, the softer-than-usual set-up puts one more in the mind of a radically breathed on super-saloon with the accurate yet light steering further reinforcing this feel, but as the speed increases, this firms up and provides one with the confidence to lean on the suspension a touch more and see how it reacts. Given the dry-wet combination of the road, I wasn’t looking to adopt any ridiculous angles, but you can feel that this is a friendlier, less spiky car than the F430, even at moderate speeds, with a degree of slight roll factored in before the suspension loads up. You are probably rolling your eyes about now - a Ferrari with a touch of body roll (and, really, it’s just a touch) factored into its make-up? It’s just so un-Ferrari but, realistically, we can’t all be heroic road testers power oversteering from bend to bend wondering why there aren’t wipers on the side windows. That’s not to say that oversteer isn’t there to be had should you wish, but you have to provoke it with a fairly Neanderthal degree of delicacy - with the torque spread over a broad range, there is no sudden aggressive spike of power to catch you unawares. If anything, as the speed increases, you can really settle into a graceful flow between bends that belies the beyond-599 weight. Without wanting to sound like a wimp, I’d say that this set-up suits me just fine on a drizzly day, driving over £150,000-worth of car a couple of metres from a cliff-edge. One of the benefits of the route I set myself is that you can follow the coastal road all the way back along the A2 via Ballycastle and down through Slemish mountain, before a short jaunt to the Galgorm Resort & Spa. There’s plenty of breathtaking scenery and stop-off points along the way, and the destination provides the ideal base to unwind and reflect once you’ve had your fill of great driving.
Set in 163 acres of lush parkland and with the aforementioned River Maine flowing through the estate, Galgorm Resort & Spa is the perfect setting to truly relax and get away from it all, with a recent and comprehensive £11m refurbishment programme having transformed the former residence to an opulent 4-star deluxe resort and spa complex. You really can unload your bags from the California’s ample load space and settle into a decadent yet relaxed world with everything you require on site. There’s the obvious (and award-winning) spa facilities, a choice of two restaurants before which you can explore the grounds via foot, horse or mountain bike, or just take the load off in one of the 75 luxuriously appointed bedrooms and plan your road trip for the following day. If you are particularly taken with the opulent lifestyle the California encapsulates, then you can even opt for a helicopter trip to review the coastline from a different vantage point. Of course, you simply must try the outdoor hot tub, which is where we began. So, before I hit the bar for that single malt nightcap, I muse on one last point - is the Ferrari California a true Ferrari? It’s a great car without question, as practical as you could hope as it swallows luggage, copes with slurring the gears itself for around-town duties and, given a clear stretch, it goes, sounds and stops like a Ferrari. What more could you want? Really? Well, you’re in luck, as écurie25 also have it in red.
ĂŠ25 magazine | 13
You really can unload your bags from the Californiaâ€™s ample load space and settle into a decadent yet relaxed world with everything you require on site.