Chewton Glen to Thruxton in a Ferrari California T

Soft leather and alcantara seats are a pleasure

Soft leather and alcantara seats are a pleasure - Credit: Archant

This month, Mark Whitchurch travels from the lap of luxury to laps of exhilaration as he journeys in a Ferrari California T between Chewton Glen and Thruxton race track

Chewton Glen, one of the best hotels in the world

Chewton Glen, one of the best hotels in the world - Credit: Archant

The route

First impressions compound Chewton Glen’s enviable reputation with umbrellas held high to shield us from a stormy shower as we exit the car that is then valet parked. We are shown to our suite to find our luggage already there with breathtaking views over the croquet lawns and gardens from our private balcony. The feeling of being in a hotel rated by Conde Nast Traveller readers as one of the best in the world was one of euphoria and extreme privilege.

A glass of champagne before an exploratory tour of the grounds and spa helped us to acclimatise to our new found haven of tranquillity. For dinner we were recommended the taster menu with matched wines, which was themed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Chewton Glen being the country retreat of the rich and famous. A decadent experience that will be salivated over for years to come!

A heaven sent night’s sleep and a morning massage set us up for a day of sunshine and roofless motoring! Join the A337 in the direction of Christchurch to pick up the Ringwood Road through Walkford, across the A35 and on to Bransgore. Hang a right onto Burley Road to Burley, where I can recommend the fudge!

Lyndhurst Road continues the relaxed theme through the New Forest and back to the A35. Follow this artery towards Lyndhurst, turning left with signposts for Emery Down shortly before entering this picturesque town at the centre of the New Forest. Follow this road to Newtown and then Stoney Cross by travelling under the A31.

Now on Forest Road, continue over the B3078 to Nomansland and Plaitford before turning right onto the A36 in the direction of the M27. At the roundabout with the A3090, follow the signposts for Romsey and negotiate the town to locate the A3057, now with a bearing on Stockbridge.

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On arriving in this charming market town, pick up the A30 with signposts for Salisbury. Shortly after joining the A30 and on a short section of dual carriageway, turn right with brown tourism signposts to the Museum of Army Flying. Pass over the A343 to join the B3084 to Palestine. Continue onwards on the B3084 to a T-Junction to turn right, remaining on the B3084 to pick up signs for Thruxton Circuit and our final destination.

With over 30 years experience of conducting track days, the Thruxton Motorsport Centre is well placed to ensure its guests enjoy the thrills of the race track whilst maximising safety. There is a wide range of current supercars on offer, which are immaculately presented and mechanically prepared.

A 25-minute classroom briefing is followed by friendly staff providing familiarisation laps in a school car before unleashing you on the track in a Porsche Cayman S, with an experienced instructor at your side.

Now up to speed, I slide into the seat of a Ferrari 458 Italia for some spirited laps. Following the instructor’s guidance, I was allowed to stretch the legs of the 458 - arguably one of the most focused and capable supercars ever produced. With adrenaline pumping, I was handed over to Tiff Needell of Top Gear and Fifth Gear fame who supports the majority of Thruxton Motorsport’s experience days. Strapped into a BMW M4 and starring on ‘Tiff TV’, I experienced first-hand the driving talent of this legendary motoring TV presenter.

We spent the majority of the time with the M4 scrabbling for grip and conducting lurid slides with pin-point accuracy. Poetry in motion! Apparently he gets through 12 sets of tyres a day and with his superb skill, showed me how slowly I was driving that Ferrari!

The car

By introducing the California in 2009 Ferrari revived one of its most evocative names from its illustrious past. In 1958 the California was the car to own, encapsulating all of the romantic connotations associated with roofless grand touring - wind in your hair, breathtaking performance whilst giving a cursory glance to creature comforts. The 21st Century revival looks to pick up where the 1950s playboy left off!

Evolved into California T specification in 2014 (T for turbo), this elegant machine pushes Ferrari’s latest design philosophy whilst incorporating design cues and undertones from the road racing Ferraris of the 1950s.

Tested in silver with a contrasting black retractable hard top roof, sublime elegance and sporting intention oozes from the form. I am drawn to the Intricate 19 inch wheel rims that shroud huge carbon fibre brake discs, the combination for me sums up the beauty of a modern Ferrari - delicate design that elegantly cloaks the Ferrari’s F1 engineering genius that lies within.

Whilst a 488 GTB or its predecessor the 458 Italia may feel sharper, more ‘Ferrari’ on first impressions, the California T retains the essence of the marque whilst pushing innovation and those GT qualities which, in turn, makes this Italian stallion an everyday prospect.

The California T boasts revised steering and suspension, providing a greater sense of sportiness. However, it also manages to soak up the undulations of Hampshire’s by-ways with superb composure. Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes and the upgraded F1-Trac traction control system work in harmony, helping to maintain the California T’s composure and the nerves of your passenger!

Let’s say with 553bhp on tap, performance is aligned with Ferrari’s USPs! With rest to 60mph being covered in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 196mph, you are rarely looking for more punch! This is the first turbo charged Ferrari since the legendary F40 of the 1980s, where the turbo was all about providing maximum performance. However, the California T uses its turbo to optimise performance whilst saving the planet! Only giving full boost in the upper gears of the 7-speed dual clutch gearbox, the turbo now complements the power curve of the 3.9 litre V8 engine. The result is a charismatic engine note, overlaid with theatrical whooshes and pops that come with turbocharging and more importantly less CO2 emissions, 250g/km on a combined cycle to be precise.

Within the cabin the California T uses the latest technology and innovation to provide an unrivalled grand turismo experience. Contoured soft leather and alcantara seats cosset your bottom, with Ferrari’s unique take on dashboard design laid out in front of you. Tactile leather is punctuated with glossy carbon fiber details including some beautiful air vents. The steering wheel, of which the design has become iconic within modern Ferraris, houses indicators, lights and wiper controls where a F1 car would have adjustment for brake bias and aero.

The intuitive touch sensitive screen that adorns the centre console addresses any ICE failings of previous Ferrari experiences. The Apple CarPlay functionality, which allows you to plug in your Apple device, accessing your standard Apple icons on the Ferrari’s screen, was a halleluiah moment!

The words practical and Ferrari are not normally associated and that’s a good thing! However the California T, with its 2+2 seating configuration, ample boot, folding hard top roof and relaxed road manners really do make this a Ferrari that you could use for the daily commute as well as the drive to San Tropez!

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