Ferrari Racing Days 2019
Not since 2004 have we had such a religious experience at the track. That August, at the Monterey Historics featuring the cars of Ferrari, we saw scores of amazing and historic Ferraris and also some, at that time, modern F1 hardware. Back then, we were completely plugged into all things F1. Neither of us had yet to go to a race and we’d wake up at 4:30 am to watch the races live on SPEEDVISION. In 2004, F1 seemed very far away from us both literally and figuratively. The U.S. had its own race, but neither of us had the time or money to get to Indianapolis to witness it, so the thought of seeing the circus anywhere was a non-starter. We were both fans of Ferrari and Williams and sucked up every second of every race, watched every grainy video available on the internet, and bought every punitively priced F1 trade rag in sight to get all of news and conjecture we could find. (We appreciate that some of our younger followers might not be able to appreciate the struggle).
But we digress…
Anyway, all of a sudden, we were up close and personal with real F1 cars, Ferraris no less, and we were only 3 hours from home. What Ferrari factory driver Andrea Bertolini did for us that weekend in an F2002B and an ex-Schumacher F2003GA will remain forever etched in our brains by the banshee-like scream that emanated from some magnificent Ferrari V10s . (The hoots heard in this grainy video (below) were saturated with human tears #tifositears)
So now we fast forward to May of 2019 as the stuff of the Ferrari Racing Days occupied Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca for one glorious weekend. Ironically, our video technology has improved, yet it was the now 15 year old V10 in the Ferraris that made the day for every single person at the track. Sadly, F1 has become so advanced in the modern era it is often times unwatchable and lacking the audible and visual spectacle of the normally aspirated era.
This wasn’t the garden variety Ferrari Challenge weekend we’ve experienced several times in the past, both at Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway. This was the full beans, double barreled, tour de force “Ferrari Racing Days,” featuring the Ferrari Challenge cars, Clienti Program and XX Program(me) cars. As the 2004 Historics event and aforementioned F1 exhibition was a function of the Clienti program, we had some idea of what to expect. We thought we’d see “some” FXXs, maybe a handful of the La Ferrari based FXXK Evos, and maybe a few more cars from Ferrari’s fabled past. No matter the proportion of any of these things, it was going to be good.
What we got was a little bit more. Granted we didn’t see many pre 1990 (what happened to the carburetors?) cars anywhere at the event, we couldn’t begin to tell you now what was missing from the cars that Ferrari did bring for some of their most valued customers to drive around our most favorite racetrack. There was a single stunning Enzo based FXX and a gaggle of Curvy and winged 599XXs, but there were over 20 La Ferrari based FXXK Evos crowding the pit garages and unbelievably, that wasn’t even the best part. The best part were the 3 cars at the south end of the garage complex.
There rested two glorious F2004Ms, one ex Michael Schumacher (5 RACE WINNER) and the other ex Barrichello, and a gorgeous V12 powered 333 SP prototype. We’re not entirely sure what the cars in that garage complex were worth in money and history, but damn, it was breathtaking….literally. There was a moment before the the three cars went out to warm up on Saturday morning. One of the Clienti mechanics was warming up the 333 SP. That sound alone summoned us to record the moment on video. A few moments later, a group team of Clienti techs started one of the 04 F1 cars and the sounds began to ebb and wane, periodically drowning each other out. The concrete pillar I used to steady myself to shoot the video began to roil with every free rev and blip of the waking V12 and V10. A few moments later the second of the two cars was shut off and I looked over at the mechanic in charge of the 333 and said simply, '“Thank you.” Looking around at the other onlookers in the garage, we all nodded at each other with an unspoken understanding that we’d just witnessed something special to us…something that we probably won’t ever experience again.
How does one acquire a piece of the Scuderia? Ferrari has offered its F1 Clienti program since 2003 where the uber wealthy could pay for the ultimate uber toy, a former Ferrari F1 racecar. Prices are not advertised, but information indicates that median prices approach $4-5 million are grow from there based on provenance of the specific car. This is a lot of money for sure, but consider that this program provides for not the only costs as running a Formula 1 car, but also a full crew of factory mechanics with old laptops, spares, all the associated kit and institutional memory of Ferrari, depending on the vintage of car. The program manages all logistics associated with moving the cars around to various events. Most owners store their car at Maranello where Ferrari technicians maintain and service the cars and do the appropriate safety checks before the owner takes to a race weekend. As formula technology has advanced utilized hybrid technology Ferrari has suspended the sale of their modern F1 cars due to the risk associated with the electric technology.
The demonstration of the Ferrari F1 cars was an amazing reminder of the power and sound of Ferrari’s previous dominance of F1. That alone made the weekend. At one point we said to each other, “I’ve seen what I needed to see.”
But we weren’t done.
What made this event monumental is that it was the first time the rocket-ship-like Ferrari FXXK Evo cars have appeared in California. Year after year we’ve seen Ferrari bring out its XX program at other foreign and domestic tracks and events, just to be disappointed that California, home of great race tracks and and a solid car culture, has been left out of the celebration of this fantastic beast. What makes these XX cars so special? You can’t drive them on the road as they are not street legal. You can’t walk into a Ferrari dealership and buy one. Ferrari chooses/invites you to purchase one of these pinnacles of unregulated technological development. The latest maddening creation of the XX program is the Ferrari FXX K Evo, with over a 1000 horsepower, and only 40 examples ever made. It was sold out before it was even built, and buyers were chosen not just for their ability to foot the near $3 million dollar price tag, but also based on their history of Ferrari ownership and passion for the brand. The FXX K is the third XX model from Ferrari in the past decade. The Enzo morphed into the FXX in 2005 and the 599 GTB Fiorano spawned the 599XX in 2009.
For a long time the rumor was you could buy an XX Ferrari but that it had to be stored at the factory, and that as owner one had to request permission from Ferrari to bring it out on track. In 2016, Road & Track Magazine published an article on just that subject and even got a response from Ferrari:
The majority of the cars are stored in Maranello in the Corse Clienti department, but customers are free to have them at home. It is mandatory, however, to have a full review of the car by the Ferrari crew team before the car hits the track in any event or private testing session. Anytime the car is taken to the track, for an official Ferrari event or personal test session, there is always a mechanic and technician. He'll do the full check up when the car arrives at that said track.
The bread and butter….
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 and Ferrari Club members etc.) for an additional motivation to put and keep the event on our calendar. (Sometimes the parking lot and/or car corals at Laguna Seca are worth a three hour dive)
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 these days 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 (relatively speaking), 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.
The Ferrari Racing Days at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca briefly pulled back the curtain on the mystery and aura of the XX and Corsa Clienti programs and lived up to its jaw dropping display of technological mastery exhibited by the folks at Maranello. We witnessed about half of the Ferrari FXXK’s ever manufactured, lot’s of other things with “X” in their name, more 488s and 456s than you could shake a stick at and a car corral with enough supercars in it to make you think Ferraris were as common as Honda Civics. The sensory overload was so much that we forgot bout the Ferrari Challenge itself. Its easy to forget when seeing these track designed thoroughbreds that Ferrari is one of the smallest automakers in the world.
Finally, we want to give a shout out to the management, media relations department and all the staff at Laguna Seca for hosting this event and for putting up with us for a weekend.
As always, we encourage you to scroll down to see our gallery, as our pictures usually much better than our prose.