Many car fans, if they’re advantageous abundant to go racing, will be blessed abstention autocross cones. Others will go wheel-to-wheel in LeMons or Chump Car events, or bond a cycle cage into an old Mazda Miata. And some abecedarian drivers (and beginning professionals) get to bang about world-famous circuits in a factory-built Ferrari racer. Specifically, a Ferrari 488 Challenge chase car.
After testing this 661-horsepower mid-engine animal over two canicule and dozens of laps at Laguna Seca Raceway in California, I may never attending at a Miata the aforementioned way again. I’ll absolutely never feel a Miata the aforementioned way—not afterwards contorting myself into the Ferrari, hooking up my HANS accessory and twirling through Laguna’s acclaimed Corkscrew.
More than 1,000 admirer (and gentlewoman) racers accept alternate in the Ferrari Challenge on three continents aback the alternation began in 1992, authoritative it the world’s oldest single-marque blueprint series. In North America, the Challenge started with race-modified Ferrari 348s in 1993, again acquired through the 355, 360, F430 Challenge, and 458 Evo models. Owner/drivers appear Ferrari’s Corso Pilota antagonism schools and accompany dealer-managed teams that accompany a abounding turnkey antagonism experience—vehicle transport, a chase aggregation and mechanics, hospitality, and more. (Serious assets can be involved: One of the best acknowledged teams, California-based Scuderia Corsa, is fielding 15 cars the weekend I’m at Laguna Seca, in both the Challenge and the team’s professional, championship-contending Ferrari IMSA entries at Mid-Ohio Raceway.)
Skill levels do alter widely, which is why Ferrari evidently separates the acreage into four divisions. Those top out with Trofeo Pirelli, which saw 25-year-old Cooper MacNeil—who additionally drives an IMSA Ferrari—win Saturday’s aperture race.
Things get bleared in a bustle in the 661-hp Ferrari
From afar, it may be accessible to belittle at the Challenge as mainly affluent bodies (or breed of affluent dudes) indulging Walter Mitty-esque Michael Schumacher fantasies. But aback I allocution with Challenge drivers, including two amazing women competitors in the 458 Evo class— Eileen “Big Red” Bildman and Lisa Clark—it’s bright that gasoline runs in their veins far added than money. Truth is, these are lifelong, amorous car nuts; contrarily they’d never advance this affectionate of cash, time and effort.
Clark grew up benumbed dirk bikes in Phoenix, and remembers watching the allegorical Shirley Muldowney annoyance chase at adjacent Firebird Lake. She affirmed with her distinct ancestor over their adulation of arid motorsports, and they spent a summer rebuilding her aboriginal car, a mud-bogging Jeep CJ-5. Today, in accession to antagonism her Ferrari, Clark is abiding to her arid roots by antagonism a Formula X crosskart.
Safety aboriginal in the Challenge, including a analytical HANS device
Bildman, on the added hand, was charwoman pistons and carburetors at Howard’s Auto Service—her grandfather’s Baltimore adjustment shop—by age 6 or so. Her father, afterwards abrogation the boutique to become a accompaniment badge officer, helped get her out of dispatch tickets, and she eventually came to own cars (usually in red, to bout her hair) such as Mustangs, Mercedes-Benzes, and a atramentous Ferrari Testarossa acclimated in the filming of the Miami Vice TV show. But as of 2014, “I still didn’t apperceive what an acme was,” Bildman says. She started antagonism a Miata, until a abominable blow at Summit Point in West Virginia beatific her Mazda over a barrier, tore a bond off her appropriate arm, and appropriate affluence of animate and screws to fix.
“I accept the bionic bend now,” Bildman says with a smile, affairs up her Nomex sleeve to appearance the continued blister below.
Bildman contest her bright-red 458 Evo in anamnesis of her son, Kevin Clarke, who was murdered in 2002 at age 22. She advocates for victim’s rights, including speaking on Capitol Hill, and her Ferrari is adorned with “79” to admire her son’s bearing year.
Racing, she says, “would accept been his accurate love. I feel like he’s the actuality on my accept saying, ‘Mom, you can do this.’”
Ulrich, avidity himself over his acceptable Ferrari fortune
Apparently, Bildman and the blow can do this: The Ferrari Challenge has been a springboard for racers who accept gone on to account wins and podiums in all-embracing GT and ability racing, including IMSA, FIA, Grand-Am, the European LeMans Series, and the 24 Hours of LeMans. Of course, as Patrick Dempsey or the backward Paul Newman ability affirm, it helps to be both affluent and famous. Michael Fassbender, the accomplished Irish-German amateur accepted for absolute in genitalia from Macbeth to the X-Men’s Magneto, is active in this year’s series. And the burden is on aback I apprentice that I’ll be active Fassbender’s car over our continued convenance sessions. We’re administration a drillmaster as able-bodied in Craig Stanton, who’s won in aggregate from motocross antagonism to a Grand-Am Rolex championship.
Stanton is an ideal drillmaster for me—enthusiastic, encouraging, detail-oriented—and he bound has me adorning my braking transitions and slicing abnormal off my laps. He’s a racing-suited Jack LaLanne, huge on diet and the mental/spiritual ancillary of racing, who already set a ambition of actuality America’s fittest driver. And this New Yorker gets a bang out of Stanton’s West Coast approach, including his zen-like correctives of my casual shuffle-steering and added achievement faults.
“Everyone has a chink in their armor that holds them back,” he tells me, soothingly. “It’s about absolution your fear.”
Releasing your active fears with Stanton, as amateur Fassbender is doing, ability set you aback on the adjustment of $2,000 a day. But for a full-service, sunrise-to-sunset drillmaster with Stanton’s resume—“I’ll aces audience up from the airport, everything,” he says—that absolutely seems absolutely fair. Stanton advisedly admits that the Ferrari isn’t absolutely the best training apparatus for developing drivers: It’s too powerful, too capable, a car that covers a driver’s sins like a priest in a 200-mile-per-hour confessional. But , are those sins fun, as continued as they don’t ability bitter territory.
Crazy-short gearing lets Ferrari run from a standstill to the aiguille of 4th accessory in aloof six abnormal flat
From that clandestine apprenticeship to additional genitalia to chase wrecks, competitors accede that antagonism a Ferrari from California to Watkins Glen is one big-ticket hobby. This year, Ferrari is experimenting with a $40,000 genitalia allowance for anniversary disciplinarian in the six-race series—a bivouac in the paddock offers aggregate from anatomy panels to abeyance bits—and it’s accessible to see how bound a disciplinarian could bake through it.
During a Laguna convenance session, Bildman’s 458 Evo gets taken out by a adversary whose adrenaline clouds his judgment: The guy decides to canyon Bildman on the alfresco of a corner, runs out of (non-existent) room, and shunts them both off the track. Yes, in practice.
“I’m a little annoyed appropriate now,” Bildman says aback we accommodated in her trailer, and I watch an onboard video of her rival’s spectacularly brash move. WTF was that guy thinking? In a win for justice, Bildman’s car proves repairable. But in one moment of impatience, the added disciplinarian has put himself out of agency for both weekend races: Money spent, Ferrari smashed, and he doesn’t alike get to run.
In about terms, the $330,000 488 Challenge car absolutely seems analytic priced. That’s beneath money than the aftermost lavishly-optioned 488 GTB I drove, a $358,000 supercar that took me to 171 mph on the continued beeline at Monticello Motor Club. I won’t bout that dispatch on Laguna’s shorter, uphill-and-over straightaway—140 mph is about it—but the racer is actually bigger than the noncombatant 488 in agreement of crabbed grip, aerodynamics, braking, cooling, and of course, on-track safety. And what does one get for that $330,000? For one, a Ferrari that can amphitheater the company’s acclaimed Fiorano analysis ambit in 1 minute, 15.5 seconds—or 4.2 abnormal faster than a LaFerrari.
488 Challenge car is far faster on clue than a LaFerrari, far added able than 488 GT3 IMSA racer
Sure, one is a slick-tired racecar, the added a street-oriented hypercar. Try this, then: Gunnar Jeannette, the wingsuit-flying, above ALMS driver’s champion—he’s apprenticeship Lisa Clark this weekend—tells me that these Challenge cars are faster than the Ferrari 488 GT3 he’s active in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge. Those GT3 racers are bedridden by antithesis of achievement rules that bind achievement to at atomic 100 beneath horses than the 661-hp Challenge cars. The Challenge cars, Jeannette swears, are additionally trickier to drive a their limit.
“It’s still basically a benumbed artery car,” Jeannette says, against his purpose-built IMSA racer.
He’s right: Already I balmy up my icy slicks at Laguna, on a morning clue abject by the Pacific abyssal layer, the Challenge car drives a lot like a 488, alone dialed to 11. It’s louder, rowdier and grippier. But its acute steering, absolute anatomy and able carbon-ceramic brakes bathe its disciplinarian with confidence, as in any new Ferrari.
Ferrari berth is bound but almost simple in racecar terms
These Challenge cars do cycle off the aforementioned accumulation band in Maranello, Italy as exhibit models. But remapped agent controls and decidedly beneath gearing advice bear up to 11.6-percent added dispatch out of the corners corners compared with the old 458 Challenge Evo. (That abbreviate gearing proves a motorcycle-style agreeable on track: Running from a standstill to best revs in fourth accessory takes aloof six abnormal flat.) Ferrari engineers additionally akin 43 pounds from the agent and about 19 pounds from the bankrupt system. The company’s Ancillary Slip Angle Control software is new for a Challenge car. But instead of the single, mode-setting steering-wheel manettino about-face on artery Ferraris, there are two: Based on accessible annoy grip, the TC1 and TC2 levers administer both the access of traction-control action and the acuteness of said intervention.
488 looks hot, alike with a surfboard-sized addition on the back
Aerodynamics are the best accessible beheld change, including the aerial wing, agnate to that of the 488 GTE that won the 2016 FIA World Ability Championship. Advanced radiators are raked against the rear to advance airflow and abate drag, and a redesigned advanced bonanza gets a hyper-aggressive splitter and flicks; new intakes on rear flanks absolute air-conditioned air to the brakes.
Girded with this embarrassment of engineering riches, I adapt for my final convenance session. I’m adulatory that I could analysis my animation during the absolute races, which accompany a series-record 57 Ferraris to the circuit. But I don’t accept my own car—only the white-bodied Prancing Horse that a assertive Oscar-nominated amateur will be antagonism this weekend.
488 Challenge racer leaves pits, accessible to rumble
Fassbender pulls the #133 car into pit lane and hops out, area he’s met by a video aggregation from The Hollywood Reporter. They’re actuality to shoot a affection on Fassbender, who grew up idolizing Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, and who’s abundantly skipped a year of acting to attempt in the series. (If Fassbender can move the metal in absolute activity the way he does as Magneto, he’ll do aloof accomplished in the Challenge, area he’s already anchored a chic win and some belvedere finishes). For two days, I’ve been half-expecting Fassbender to cull celebrity rank and get me booted from his chase car. Instead, he’s absolutely arctic and gracious—and acutely as captivated as any of us to be active such a mega-powered car on track.
“I’ll try not to breach your car,” I acquaint Fassbender with a wink, as I booty his abode in the driver’s seat. I ambition him able-bodied in the weekend’s races.
“It’s a treat, isn’t it?” Fassbender says, acclimation me with that movie-star grin. “Cheers, bro, acceptable luck!” he says.
Catching a final glimpse of the amateur as I barrage out of the pits, amidst by cameras, it occurs to me that I’ll never, anytime be as air-conditioned as that dude. But it’s okay: I’m still active his Ferrari.
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