Route Napoleon, Solo

IMG_2522_495a7cc25ece9-lightboxIt was clear that the front ride height had been set very high in order to reduce the number of owners complaining about the front end grounding out on the UK’s plethora of speed humps.
I decided to visit local Ferrari race specialists QV London ( who despite their name are based in Ascot, Berkshire.

Mike told me that a lot of F430 owners had complained about their cars’ handling, which seems entirely down to Ferrari UK’s specification of the front ride height.
After an hour or so, he and Phil had dialled out the best part of an inch on the fully adjustable coilovers and reset the geometry.

The result was the return of the fantastically sharp, precise and grippy front end that I remembered from the F430 coupe I had driven extensively in 2005.

I put the new handling to immediate good use as I decided to go on a family holiday to the South of France. However, much like the gentry who “send their luggage on”, I had to send my wife and daughter on as the F430 is somewhat lacking in the rear seat department.

So I made my lonely and boring way down to Grenoble via the autoroutes, the Spider proving to be a competent highway cruiser, albeit missing cruise control, having pretty low gearing and obviously wind noise starts becoming intrusive from the leading edge of the roof at higher speeds.

The following morning, I edged the Ferrari out of the tight underground hotel car park (still no grounding of the nose despite the drop in ride height) and headed off for the true purpose of the trip (don’t tell The Brunette though): the Route Napoleon.

This stunning, ancient road winds its way from Grenoble to Cannes via the foothills of the Alps and has been the venue for many a car magazine test.
I first tackled it in my beloved F355 Spider many years ago and have returned whenever a trip to the South of France has beckoned.

However, this time the weather was highly variable and the early part of the Route was drenched in heavy, persistent rain. This was a stern test of the handling balance of the just-fettled mid-engined roadster, but it proved to be sure-footed, predictable, all-weather transport with the relatively narrow 225 section front tyres scything their way through the standing water and the very impressive traction control keeping the rears under control.

I didn’t even feel the need for the Wet setting on the manettino, Sport providing easily enough electronic safety net. I was very pleased indeed I had taken the car to QV, as I knew that part of the journey would otherwise have been a torture of understeer and excessively slow entry speeds.

As the Route wound its way further south, the rain began to dry up and at last I had the test I had driven so far for.
I pulled over so I could put the roof down, the manettino was clicked over to Race and I started to attack the twisting, tumbling road in earnest.

I’d never hesitated to order the Spider over the Coupe as half the enjoyment of driving a Ferrari is the noise and that is always best appreciated without a roof.
With warm Alpine air, dry tarmac and blue skies finally, the 4.3 litre V8 was given full rein and the F430 began to work its magic on my soul.

There was virtually no traffic anyway, but what little there was, provided no obstacle to the 490 prancing horses galloping away just behind my head.
Reach 8,600rpm in each short gear and the beautifully finished aluminium paddles engaged the next one within the blink of an eye.

The utterly fabulous carbon-ceramic brakes provided consistent, powerful retardation with brake pedal feel exactly how I like it; firm with almost no movement, just the harder you push, the harder you are thrown forward into your seat belt.

By the way, forget the Luddites who say that modern CCM brakes still need to warm up in order to work. The Ferrari’s Brembos worked under all conditions and much better than their iron counterparts. (Okay, a proper pressure washing would fill in all the gaps in the matrix so they needed a few applications to dry out, but that was it.)

The dampers were firm in Race and, as I mentioned in my last entry, sometimes it would have been nice to have had the option of the damping softened to Sport whilst retaining Race’s gearshift and traction/stability control settings- something Herr Shoemaker insisted they sort for the 430 Scuderia -but on smooth-ish tarmac it was far from uncomfortable and there was no discernible shimmying from the windscreen header rail or anything else unseemly from the convertible’s chassis.

The handling was divine with amazing levels of grip being eeked out of the P-Zeros and an entirely neutral balance once they eventually let go. Understeer was never an issue and the rear end was faithful yet playful on demand.

As I eventually pulled into the lovely Mas d’Artigny hotel in Saint Paul-de-Vence, I had, at last, truly bonded with the Spider from Mars, er, Maranello.




David Yu

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