The Ferrari Challenge bills itself as a series for “gentlemen” drivers—and that’s true insofar as no professional racers can be found on the grid. But professionalism rules every other aspect of the series, and none of the drivers, engineers, and mechanics competing for race wins takes their job any less seriously than their equivalents running in IMSA’s WeatherTech (formerly Tudor) SportsCar Championship.
Spring is in the air as I walk through Sonoma Raceway’s paddock, gently serenaded by the hum of people talking, the clank of tools, and the occasional chatter of an air gun. A long line of closed transporters, adorned with the legends of various Ferrari dealers and stuffed with 458 Challenge Evos and the gear to make them go, sits directly across from the track garages. It’s the second round of the 2015 North America season, and I’m here to talk with former (and, by the end of the year, current) champion Emmanuel Anassis about his recipe for success.
My destination is the small courtyard between two Ferrari of Quebec transporters. There, under a translucent fabric roof, sit four gleaming Challenge cars. Two uniformed mechanics are working feverishly on one of them, which has gone off track and speared a barrier. They’re busy removing damaged parts—front bumper, hood, headlights—and trying to assess if the front-mounted radiators have been damaged. It turns out they have, but all it takes is a trip to Ferrari North America’s support trailer to source brand-new replacements. The parts bill will likely top $30,000, though.
Anassis and his crew chief, Anthony Massari, stand nearby, watching the action. Behind them, another mechanic drains the fuel from Anassis’ car. I don’t think much about it until later in the day, when I spot the same mechanic doing the same thing.
“We do that after every session so we can weigh the fuel left in the car,” Anassis explains. “We know how much we used, so we compare that to the number of laps and get a fuel-consumption reading. Then we weigh the car to make sure we’re within the [allowable] limits, and then we calculate the exact amount of fuel we’re going to put in for the race. You don’t want to put in too much, because weight is your enemy.”
Anassis takes a few minutes to show me around. “I only have two guys working on my car: a race engineer and my crew chief,” he says as we weave around the cars, in and out of the transporters, “but we share. There are probably about ten guys here working on these four cars. There’s a tire guy, an engine guy, a data guy, so the team is pretty lean.
“Between sessions, they are constantly checking and rechecking everything,” he adds. “They have a checklist that goes under the windshield wiper. After qualifying, they found a cut in a tire, which might have caused an accident or cost us a race, so they changed it. Another team probably wouldn’t have found that.”
This is amateur racing?