CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Meet the link between Ferrari’s road cars and racers as Renaldi Hutasoit scores first-hand experience and first place at the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific
Race cars are single-purpose automobiles built with one thing in mind: to finish a race first. The most hardcore of race cars normally are, therefore, designed with minimal consideration for the driver. Be it formula cars, touring cars or grand touring/GT cars, the basic principle of the driver adjusting to the car always applies.
Lately, another breed of race cars has appeared—one prepared by the car manufacturer to compete in a single-marque racing series with as much consideration for driver comfort as lap times. These cars are designed to allow enthusiasts who are new to this brand of racing to have a go at the real thing. Instead of having the driver adjust to the conditions and requirements of a race, these cars were made to provide as much accommodation as possible for the drivers.
As a brand with deep roots in motorsport, it is only natural that Ferrari became one of the first brands to establish this single-marque race series: the Ferrari Challenge. Ferrari started the series back in 1994 and has run it continuously and successfully until today, always using the sportiest of its models, powered by a mid-mounted V8 engine. It all began with the 348 Competizione cars in 1994 (it was still called Competizione back then), later superseded by the 355 Challenge, the 360 Challenge, the 430 Challenge and, since 2011, the 458 Challenge. Ferrari based the 458 Challenge racecars on the amazing 458 Italia. Changes to the road-going 458 Italia were kept to a minimum in order to maximize durability and longevity. Competitive racecars normally need a complete engine overhaul after every second race, while a Challenge car is designed to race for the whole year without any major repairs. Since 2014, the 458 Challenge car was upgraded to the Evoluzione specification, which gives it increased adjustability and improved lap times without reducing durability.
The 458 Challenge Evoluzione race car still uses the 458 Italia’s standard 562bhp 4.5-litre V8 engine, coupled to the same seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, although with different gear ratios. Furthermore, it also uses the same smart electronic differential of the road car, called E-Diff. Race-tuned ABS is always present, but the traction control can be set to one of two settings or fully off by the driver on the fly via the Manettino toggle on the steering wheel. To make getting in and out of the car easier, the driver seat position is adjustable. If the driver was built more like the Hulk than Spiderman, the steering wheel can also be detached to allow for even greater accessibility. Air conditioning is also available, but this feature can only be used when the engine coolant temperature is below 100 Celsius. Above that, it automatically shuts down. The purpose of the AC system is mainly to cool the driver when sitting inside the car on the grid under the sun, not during the race. Temperatures could go as high as 60 Celsius inside the cabin; so, while it may seem insignificant, a few minutes with the AC on is a huge and much needed comfort-boost. But that is as far as the similarities go with the road car.
Make no mistake, the 458 Challenge Evoluzione is a real race car, built by Ferrari to FIA safety standards. So, the cabin is protected by a roll cage structure and push-button fire extinguisher system. The driver sits in a carbon-fiber shell bucket seat. Furthermore, the driver is secured by a five-point racing harness, allowing him to focus more on driving and less on hanging on. Just behind the steering wheel sits a digital racing display with shift lights. The 458 Challenge Evoluzione has a large rear wing, flat under-body aerodynamics and a new front splitter that produces a lot of downforce. These aerodynamic enhancements along with slick tires from Pirelli allows for much higher cornering speeds, which, in turn, translates to incredible G-forces. Body control is handled by a race-tuned coilover suspension with Challenge specific springs that enables the 458 Challenge Evoluzione to sit 50mm lower than the stock 458 Italia. Braking duties are handled by carbon ceramic discs and Brembo calipers. Similar to GT3 racecars, all 458 Challenge racecars are equipped with an air jack, which makes lifting up the car easier and faster. This is especially useful when doing repairs or changing wheels, as the 458 Challenge Evoluzione race car weighs in at only 10kg lighter than its road car cousin.
I’ve become quite familiar with the 458 Challenge Evoluzione due to my participation in the 2015 season of the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific. Not only does it have the right balance of power and grip, when you overstep the limits of the car’s grip, it does so gradually. As such, it’s quite easy to catch a slide. Of course, getting the most out of the car is indeed a challenge, as the drivers would need to adapt to the incredible acceleration and, most importantly, the sky-high grip levels. It’s not easy, but this is where the fun lies—in challenging yourself to tame the car.
The Winning Racer Renaldi Hutasoit (Middle) Posing With Fellow Racers
The Ferrari Challenge race series is a gentlemen series, designed to welcome racers of all skill levels, from novice drivers to professional motorists. The championship is divided into three classes, so drivers could compete with their peers. What’s more, the Ferrari Challenge allows the 458 Challenge Evoluzione to show off its versatility by being perfectly accessible to beginners, while still offering veterans a satisfying time on the track.
SPECS: FERRARI 458
Engine: 4.5-litre V8
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch