The New Privateers

Challenge Club Racing has put a fresh face on Ferrari racing in the U.S.

February 20, 2014
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LAST OCTOBER, the roar of barely muffled Ferrari V8 engines ripped through the air at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans, Louisiana. With more than 2,600 spectators watching, a rainbow field of Ferrari Challenge cars tore around the circuit, slowly stretching out as the faster drivers pulled away from the slower ones. The action at the front was fast and furious, with three classes of cars fighting for the coveted podium positions.

Wait: Three classes? That’s not how Ferrari North America runs its 458 Challenge series. Actually, these Challenge cars weren’t even 458s; they were older, a mix of F430s, 360s and F355s. And a quick look at the calendar reveals the Ferrari Challenge series has never run at NOLA.

So what was this mysterious event? It was the final round of the privately run 2013 Challenge Club Racing series, which is dedicated to putting older Ferrari Challenge cars back on track. For 2014, the series has been renamed the FORZA Tifosi Challenge (as you can read in this issue’s “Commentary,” this magazine is now a sponsor), but much more important is that this series offers a revolutionary, grass-roots, budget-friendly way to race a Ferrari.

OKAY, LET’S BACK UP TO 1993. The Toronto Blue Jays win the World Series. The Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl. Time’s “Man” of the Year are “The Peacemakers,” specifically Yasser Arafat, F. W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin. Schindler’s List wins the Oscar for Best Picture. Beanie Babies debut. And that July, at Lime Rock Park, Ferrari North America introduces a new race car for a new racing series, both called the 348 Challenge.

At the time, Ferrari was in a bit of a slump. The 348 had debuted a few years earlier to mixed reviews and serious quality concerns. As a result, sales were slow, as they were across the board: Mondial production was wrapping up, demand was down for the Testarossa line and the 456 wouldn’t arrive in the United States until 1994, the same year the 550 Maranello would debut. Ferrari needed a boost, so it decided to go racing.

The 348 Challenge series was aimed at wealthy amateurs who wanted to race in an organized series without stepping up to the pro ranks. The cars were standardized—dealers installed Challenge “kits” (i.e., roll cages, racing seats, etc.) on customers’ 348s—professional drivers were banned, contact with other cars was frowned upon and no prize money was awarded. The format proved to be an instant hit.

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