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The not-so-curious case of the Ferrari 488, the Autocar road test and the 'cup' tyres

Autocar logo Autocar 02/08/2017 Matt Saunders
The not-so-curious case of the Ferrari 488, the Autocar road test and the 'cup' tyres © Autocar The not-so-curious case of the Ferrari 488, the Autocar road test and the 'cup' tyres

The Ferrari 488 GTB is a very fast car. You know that. We’ve written those words – a lot. But I’m afraid we won’t be writing them quite so often in future.

I’ve only recently discovered it but, as a result of a decision taken entirely by Ferrari, our road test benchmark figures on the 488 may be a little bit, well, flattering.

So I’m putting them in the naughty corner; not striking the data through entirely, because I think that would be a disproportionate response. I’m just resolving, here and now, never to use them again as a fair basis for comparison – and ‘fair’ is what everyone expects us road testers to always aspire to be.

Related: The Ferrari 488 Spider is mindblowingly good (CNET)

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Here’s why. When Ferrari supplied the 488 GTB for our full road test on the car in 2016, it supplied a left-hand-drive car from the factory in Italy for our benchmark figuring session. Nothing untoward there: it has been our modus operandi for years.

We’re only too happy to allow any manufacturer to ensure a test car is fighting fit and in a representative condition before it hands the car over to us, because the way we test is demanding. It’s when those cars are made unrepresentative that we have a problem.

And, this time, the Ferrari in question had tyres that, I believe, it shouldn’t have been shod with: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s. The reason I know this is because it was written down on the day of the test. Below is a screenshot of the spreadsheet on which the information was recorded.

© Provided by Haymarket Media Group

I wasn’t actually there at the time, otherwise it probably would have been me doing the testing and checking. And because I wasn’t there, our road test of the McLaren 720S earlier this year was my first chance to review the Ferrari’s test data in any detail.

I was surprised to see the Ferrari test car had been on Cup tyres because, well, you would be. They’re usually reserved for Maranello’s ‘special series’ cars: the Scuderias, Speciales and Tour de Frances we’ve come to know and love. Cup tyres probably cut a couple of seconds per lap around most tracks from normal performance road tyres.

So I rang Ferrari and asked for an explanation. I was told that the car we tested was the one that went around all of the big European magazines’ performance tests that summer. “And because we knew you were going to drive it on track," they went on, "we prepared it accordingly.

Cup tyres were part of that preparation. We’d recommend any customer taking his 488 on a track to use them.” Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it?

Except, when you dig a bit deeper, not so much. “So the Cup tyre’s an official option for the 488, then?” I asked. Apparently not. Ferrari won’t supply a 488 on Cup tyres from the factory, I’m told, and would officially discourage people from fitting such tyres to a 488 in an attempt to make some sort of do-it-yourself 488 ‘Clubsport’.

Hang on, though: didn’t you just say you’d expressly advise that a customer did fit those very tyres for track use? Well, yes. But no, not really.

Inevitably, there’s a grey area. If you really want Cup tyres on your 488, you can have 'em – maybe; they are a homologated tyre. And that’s because, for homologation purposes, there’s no difference between a 458 and a 488; and the Cup tyre was homologated as part of the development of the 458 Speciale.

Your Ferrari factory warranty will survive intact if you do fit some – and certain UK Ferrari franchised dealers will even take the factory tyres off your new 488 and put Cup tyres on, before delivery, as a ‘special request’.

© Provided by Haymarket Media Group I hate grey areas. Because of this one, you can take the view that Cup tyres belong on a 488 as a result of a legacy situation; a technicality, almost. Or you can take the view, as I do, that they don’t – because it’s quite plain that the car wasn’t developed for them, or with them, and Ferrari didn’t intend them for the car. It’s up to you.

Likewise, I’ll leave it to you to decide how Ferrari’s decision – using a technicality to gain a performance advantage in a test in which it knew lap times, acceleration and braking would be tested – reflects on the company. True, it's not as if Ferrari fitted non-road-legal hillclimb tyres.

But, chances are, this didn’t just happen once; this was the car used for every performance test in every major publication across Europe.

All I know is, when you’re in the business of being fair to every manufacturer and of testing cars in the condition in which most customers will find them, this isn’t news you can just let slide. If the tyre was on the other rim, to butcher a well-worn phrase, and one of Ferrari's key competitors had done the same thing, how much more or less would Maranello expect from us, I wonder?

The 488 GTB is a superb supercar. We’ve tested it several times since our 2016 road test, on road and on track, and on tyres the development engineers did intend for it – so we know that’s the case.

And we will continue to recommend it, because one bad decision by a PR department shouldn’t cost an outstanding product the credit it deserves.

But I, for one, will be watching a bit more closely the next time a new prancing horse rolls out of the back of an Italian transporter. I now truly understand what it means when people say you can’t take the competitive streak out of a company like Ferrari; one built on a culture of racing – and winning.

And I may not be so quick to defend Ferrari from allegations of cheating performance tests as I have been in the past.

The irony is that, even though the McLaren 720S has beaten its benchmarks by some margin since, back in 2016 the 488 would probably have proved itself the quickest car in its class without the help of Cup tyres. Maranello should simply have had the confidence to let it do that on a level playing field.

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Related: Huge convoy of Ferraris takes over London (Motoring Research)

London Calling: Ferrari is determined not to let its 70th anniversary pass without fanfare. The Prancing Horse is galloping around the world, with a series of events designed to mark 70 years of the world’s favourite supercar brand™. In the UK, Ferrari is the midst of a nationwide tour of the official dealer network, with the London leg the most high profile event since the Goodwood Festival of Speed. We have the photos. Huge convoy of Ferraris takes over London

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