Admission time. Just occasionally, readers of Autocar’s printed product get more information and insight into cars than users of Autocar.co.uk.
Here’s an example chosen not entirely at random. If you’d read our full road test of the McLaren 650S in print last month, the observant may have noticed something they weren’t expecting in amongst the usual detailed performance numbers: specifically, benchmark laptimes.
And not just for the McLaren, but also for the Ferrari 458 Speciale – which you’ll be able to read an equally detailed full road test on in a couple of weeks.
So, just to add further context to the missive you might have read from Steve Sutcliffe the other week – Maranello was more than happy for us to circuit test its new extra-sharp 458, and to set a laptime we could compare with that of a 650S.
And, conveniently but entirely genuinely, both cars lapped MIRA’s Dunlop circuit in 1min 08.3sec: only three tenths off our old lap record (Radical SR3 SL), which the McLaren P1 smashed into a million pieces earlier this year. Same driver, same ambient temperature, same conditions, different days.
So that’s that. In the end, after all the maneuvering, permission-seeking, permission-denying and complaining, these two supercars set identical fastest laps – to the tenth.
And as usual, those laptimes in themselves end up signifying almost nothing, and informing our impressions of these cars in very tangential terms indeed. The better track car is the Ferrari – which is also the slower car in a straight line, as it happens.
The better road car is the McLaren. Given the choice, I’d have the former – but that’s in part because I like the single-mindedness that such purposeful track cars tend to show.
So why wouldn’t Ferrari let Steve’s video comparison go ahead? The reasons are actually too convoluted and boring to detail, but here’s a flavour.
Ferrari likes to know in advance when their cars are going to be driven on a track – not, I believe, because they habitually supply unrepresentative cars to us, but because they like to be consulted. They like to buy in. They have a duty of care. They didn’t get enough notice of Steve’s Castle Combe circuit test; the right people weren’t given a reasonable chance to say ‘ok’ in advance. Simple as.
They had plenty of notice when we performance tested the Speciale for the road test. They sent some fresh tyres (so the car wouldn’t be driven anywhere on worn or illegal rubber) and a test driver (so they could be happy that we were driving the car to its full potential).
The former were welcome. The latter is an intrusion we’ll suffer if it means we can do our tests in the same way we do them every week – much as it’s unnecessary. We do the driving, we define the program. Nothing untoward goes on.
And for anyone who still suspects Maranello’s boys are employing dodgy tactics to secure favourable publicity, consider this. Shortly after we figured Ferrari’s own Speciale for our road test, we figured another.
The car was supplied by a reader. To tell you who owned it or why they’d risk souring their relationship with Ferrari by lending it to us would be a huge betrayal of confidence – so don’t ask.
But, despite being in less-than-perfect running order, the second Speciale replicated the performance of the first on maximum in-gear acceleration on every 20mph increment between 30- and 90mph in fourth gear to within a tenth of a second.
So there you have it. Ferrari isn’t afraid of track comparisons. Ferrari doesn’t supply bent press cars. And Ferrari certainly doesn’t need to send the cavalry along when we test their new models in future – because even when they don’t, we end up with near-enough identical results. End of.
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