I Tested Pirelli's Best Tires In A Ferrari Race Car
Pirelli has been around since the 1870s. (Crazy, right?) And it's been making tires since the 1890s, and those tires have been winning at the highest levels of motorsports for over 100 years.
The brilliance continues. In November, the company dropped its new P-Zero All Season Plus tires, and invited me as part of a group to Las Vegas for testing the tires around Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a bunch of really fast supercars.
And a race car.
As we made our way to the track following a brief presentation of the new tires, we passed several open garages full of, you guessed it, assorted supercars and race cars. They're owned by Dream Racing, provider of the cars Pirelli's letting us play with. Like school children with noses pressed against the glass on a school bus, we collectively wondered if Pirelli was actually going to let us test all-season tires using the racecars.
Nah. But still pretty cool.
Waiting for us instead was a modest fleet of cars, and I was quickly shuffled into a Mercedes CLA250. On track, I learned the course and started to push the car, trying to find the limits of the tires.
Surprisingly, the P-Zero tire I was "testing" performed well on the track for an all-season, and they offered predictable, but strong, handling. After I parked the Mercedes a half dozen laps later, smoke bellowed from the front brakes. I took this as a good sign.
Soon after the smoke cleared, Pirelli set up an autocross course in the parking lot, soaking it with water, and firing up a couple of Camaros. Once I drove it (in a very wet and very tight course) the full extent of the Camaro's heft is evident. Still, even with liberal use of the loud pedal, the tires help the car stay well-mannered, and the stopping power is impressive when you slam the brakes around corners.
Back from the parking lot, suddenly, they're all there. A herd of exotics are basking in the mid-morning sun, all wearing much sportier Pirelli shoes. I am now giddy all over again. A full complement of dream cars to choose from? And a track?
This is as close to Forza as one gets in real life.
I have an insatiable addiction to American V8s, so I started with the Corvette. I pulled out of the pits, finally ready for some real fun as the engine provides a unique growl juxtaposing the high-pitched screams from the exotics. With the suspension set to track mode, the car's handling is neutral. It turns quickly when you ask it to, and it remains stable under hard braking, making it easy to drive quickly and make the tires earn their keep.
I then hopped straight from the 'Vette to a 458 Italia. While both are extremely capable cars, the mid-engined Ferrari provides a completely different feel that requires the driver to throw out most of what you think you know about performance driving. It takes patience on corner exits, since too much throttle induces understeer.
My trail-braking—turning into a corner as I'm still letting off the brakes—provokes the same comment from my instructor lap after lap: “You're going to spin the car!” I think at one point he even said, "I'm just trying to save your life here." Ultimately, all it takes is finesse to drive the 458 at speed, and it's definitely worthwhile.
Truth be told, though, all of this was just a prelude to the last car of the day—The F430GT. This car is a 512 hp factory-built Ferrari race car. Since I was here "testing" tires, it's dressed in brand new Pirelli “sticker” slicks, and we'll be on the Speedway's road course for the "test."
Dear diary: Jackpot.
Inside, the car is raw and cramped. It has a big roll cage and tiny windows that you have to slide open. The clutch is so tricky I feel like I'm learning how to drive all over again. When you're floored, the F430GT is...violent.
On the road course, the Ferrari's huge brakes take full advantage of the grippier tires, and I'm now using about half the braking distance from earlier. I push a little harder than with the street cars, and start reeling in the other drivers.
The first guy I catch spins safely off track, and I lock on to the next one. A lap later I've caught another, and he's instructed to let me pass.
Far and away, this was my favorite car of the day. (Oh, and the tires were pretty great, too.)
Bob Ederer is a contributor to Supercompressor. He's an architect by day, roll cage builder by night, and occasional race car driver on weekends.