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The Man Who Test-Drives Ferraris

Raffaele De Simone’s job is to make sure driving a Ferrari feels like driving a Ferrari—in other words, like one of the world’s fastest, most powerful cars

2015 California T
De Simone tests models the 2015 California T.
2015 California T
De Simone began working for Ferrari in 2003, under the mentorship of Dario Benuzzi (left, with head of vehicle dynamics and control systems Stefano Varisco).

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RAFFAELE DE SIMONE puts the thrill of the race into every shiny new Ferrari road car.

A former race car driver with a degree in mechanical engineering, De Simone became Ferrari’s head test driver two years ago. He is responsible for ensuring that the handling, gadgetry and even sound of each new model—costing upward of $200,000—meet expectations.

The 35-year-old Italian spends his days speeding around the Ferrari test track near the company’s factory in Maranello, Italy, perfecting the features—from the steering to the technology adopted from Formula 1 cars—that together generate the sensation of muscle and finesse in equal measure. (On average, the company launches only one new model a year; the latest, the 488 GTB, debuted at the Geneva auto show earlier this month.) After spending a few hours behind the wheel, De Simone tells a team of engineers if, for example, he wants more noise at the higher rpms, a smoother downshift or more down force when coming off a corner.

“It’s not a Ferrari just because it’s red, low to the ground, has lots of technology and goes very fast,” says De Simone. “There must be the human touch that brings out emotion in the driver.”

He also helps ensure that each model has the distinctive roar of a Ferrari engine—a rumble that’s music to the ears of aficionados. The team will tinker with the motor and tailpipe to satisfy De Simone’s demands.

De Simone developed a passion for fast cars as a teenager and once dreamed of breaking into the top tier of racing. Dario Benuzzi, who tested Ferraris from the late 1960s until a few years ago, handpicked and then mentored De Simone beginning in 2003, after watching him compete. Now, says De Simone, it’s hard to imagine any other job he’d rather do.

For Ferrari’s clientele, there’s a way—expensive though it is—to get tantalizingly close to experiencing what De Simone gets to do on a daily basis. Repeat customers and buyers of special-edition models—with price tags exceeding $1 million—are often offered a spin around the track, with a test driver giving pointers from the passenger seat. But De Simone will switch places only for a few laps—then it’s back to the driver’s seat.

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