2018 Ferrari Challenge: The Return
It seemed like the day would never come, but our racing season finally began last weekend at the first race at the newly badged WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. After the last few years of uncertainty about the track's future, it was awesome to see signs of the changes to come at our favorite place in the world. And what better way to kick things off than watching scores of Ferraris battling their way around the 2.23 mile track...we note that the very first car to win at Laguna Seca was Ferrari, driven by Pete Lovely in 1957. Spirits were high, and it was great to check in with track staff, shod in their fresh new WeatherTech gear, after the long off season.
The Ferrari Challenge is the longest-running single-marque racing series, and it's featured in three different regions around the world - North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. The events also include a paddock of road going Ferraris (for participants etc.) for an additional motivation to put and keep the event on our calendar.
The series was established in 1993 and races on tracks in FiA approved events around the world. Participants are Ferrari dealers or authorized race shops with three classes racing through a racing weekend.
There are also three categories for each race: Trofeo Pirelli, Trofeo Pirelli Am and Coppa Shell, which includes further classes like the Gentlemen Cup, for drivers over 55, and the Ladies Cup for women (available in Europe and Asia). This seemingly all inclusive format provides all who can foot the bill for participation, with an opportunity to race among those with their relative skill level, and also with some of the best sportscar talent on the planet. Competitors from each series are brought together at the annual World Finals (Finali Mondiali) event.
The foundation of the series is Ferrari's 488 Challenge, the first turbo powered car to be raced in the challenge. The 488 Challenge is based on the 488 GTB road car, with 670HP, just over the road car’s 660HP. That alone doesn't seem like much, but the Challenge has other tricks. Optimized engine mapping and shorter gear ratios provide power off the line while body work inspired by the the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship-winning 488 GTE provides better downforce and stability. It’s eight seconds faster around the Fiorano test circuit than the 488GTB road car. That's all fine and good...he 488 is no slouch and continues to be a usable platform for the evolution of the model...but all the power and performance in the world isn't a guarantee of victory. On that note, we spotted veteran sportscar racers Stefan Johansson and Gunnar Jeanette in the Scuderia Corse garages lending their expertise to help their stable of drivers lower their lap times. Those two gentlemen have probably forgotten more than many of us will ever know about the racing arts.
The series also fields of semi-pros and highly skilled amateur racers in previous generation 458 Challenge cars. (And speaking of previous generations, the picture below is a shot of a Ferrari Challenge paddock from the mid 1990s. Notice the 355 Challenges on the right, the 348 challenge on the left, the F40 and the F50 in the way way back)
The weekend started with a real iron-man performance. Cooper MacNeil flew in on Saturday from Ohio arriving just an hour and 20 minutes before the pre-grid. Driving for Scuderia Corsa-Ferrari Beverly Hills MacNeil would claim victory in the first week of the weekend. After the race he flew back to Ohio to race in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship on Sunday in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.
The race winners on Sunday were Peter Ludwig (Trofeo Pirelli), John Boyd (Trofeo Pirelli AM), Thomas Tippl (Coppa Shell), John Megrue (Coppa Shell AM), and Martin Burroues (458 Challenge).
The weekend presented an added bonus. Actor Michael Fassbender (Shame, Prometheus, X-Men: First Class, Steve Jobs), returned in his second season with the Ferrari Challenge. He arrived this season on a hot streak with one Coppa Shell win and three podium finishes from the first two events in Daytona and Austin. In 2013 he narrated the Formula 1 documentary "1" (Trailer). It was a return to where he started as he made his debut in the Ferrari Challenge at Laguna Seca in 2017.
But it wasn't all chianti pasta and roses...
The only downer for us was the fact that the event didn't feature the array of show, display and corral cars that are usually part of a Ferrari Challenge event. Granted we only attended the races on Saturday, we were really bummed that we didn't see anything older than a 308 and the vast majority of the F-cars in attendance were less than 10 years old. (Is there a carbuerator in the house?...um no) We've come to expect their presence over the years, but alas none were anywhere to be seen. On the other hand, there were at least 2 F12tdfs in the paddock, and a stunning new 812 Superfast on display with other current models from the factory. They helped...a little...
The newly branded WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway provided a warm-up to the racing season in the hills of Monterey. The future of 2018 at the track looks good as beginning of summer will see a line-up of events that include the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round featuring MotoAmerica Battle of Monterey, June 22-24; Monterey Pre-Reunion, August 18-19; Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, August 23-26; Porsche Rennsport Reunion VI, Sept. 27-30; and California 8 Hours presented by Pirelli World Challenge, Oct. 25-27.