Winter is without question the most dangerous time of the year on the roads. There are countless problems to watch out for, and of course it is essential to take good care of your car, both for your safety and in order to maintain high performance. This is particularly true for sports cars, a category where performance levels are not just simple characteristics but represent the fundamental spirit of the car.
Pirelli has always given special consideration to winter tyres, precisely because of the basic need to match performance with safety on a surface more treacherous than ever. This year, in Iceland, Pirelli has launched its new Cinturato Winter tyres, which use cutting edge technology to combat water, ice and snow. However, when it comes to sports cars, while the tyres are still incredibly important, they aren't enough on their own to ensure the highest level of safety we expect. With deeper grooves and modern compounds, the new Cinturato Winter tyres ensure a superior grip and extremely precise control, but in no way can they replace the driver. Especially in an era when the most advanced cars are so automated that at times it means you can lose your instinct for emergency manoeuvres.
One important issue relates to braking distances. Sports cars are usually well equipped in terms of safety. There are systems which are considered standard like ABS and ESP (which in any case lose a significant amount of their efficiency in adverse weather and with summer tyres), but also emergency braking systems which at the top range can even predict the best manoeuvre available, taking into account the speed of other cars. Even so, safe braking distances should be adapted to the situation and can be as much as five times greater than the norm. Remember, we're not talking about fixed rules, but simple good sense. It always makes sense to rely on your own judgement, especially given the fact that every car behaves differently and according to its own characteristics, its condition, the state of the tyres and its traction. Don't forget that even with a four-wheel drive car you can't be sure it won't skid if it loses its grip on the road. Even if the car registers big changes when on a straight, bends in the road should still be dealt with using a big dose of caution and close attention relative to the conditions.
Any driver will tell you that one of the best habits you can have while driving a sports car is to always prepare for the next corner as you're taking the first. Of course this doesn't mean you should get distracted from what you're doing, especially given that going taking a corner in winter is the hardest thing in driving. Yet knowing what's coming up next is essential so you can avoid sudden changes of direction, which can be particularly violent and difficult to control when driving a sports car.This is also why maximum visibility is important: the windscreen and the glass in general have to be clean, and if it's icy when you set off, be careful not to switch on the windscreen wipers before having first removed the ice (using an ice scraper or the warm air of the heating system). Not doing so risks causing problems with the cleaning fluid and potentially realising it only later in a moment of extreme danger.
The moment of departure is also extremely important. Even with all the checks and controls in the world, an over aggressive start can be very dangerous on a slippery surface, be it snow or ice. Some experts, for example, use ESP or TCS to make a controlled start. Paradoxically, it can also be helpful to start off in second rather than first gear. This will help you more precisely calibrate the pressure brought to the accelerator, giving you a controlled, risk-free start. So it makes sense to play with the clutch and accelerator. Adjusting the input of the electronic stability control is only necessary if the car is unable to move even when the motor is running.
Some final advice: when you're on your way, perhaps when there aren't too many people around and you don't have to go fast, try testing out your brakes. It will help you understand the level of grip on the road, when to go faster and when to exercise caution. If you can it's also a good idea to follow in the tracks left by other cars, where the road is relatively clear. Always keep in mind, however, that the body of a sports car is much lower than normal cars, so there is always the risk of rolling through the snow left in the centre line of other cars, causing you to lose control. Once again, the only real solution is to exercise caution, in combination with a nice bit of good old experience.