Drivers wanted for the Ferrari Challenge: spec’ racing at its finest comes to the Ferrari Essentials Pack
Back in the early-1990s, Ferrari embarked on a racing program for its clients named the Ferrari Challenge. Beginning in Europe in 1993, the series proved an instant hit with Ferrari owners, and it quickly grew into a global phenomenon with series in North America and Asia added for 1994.
The success of the series boiled down to a simple recipe: the cars were all “spec” with hardly any tuning-work permitted; the tracks on which the races were held were all on the “A”-list (Monza, Mugello, Silverstone in Europe; Laguna Seca, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in North America; Shanghai, Fuji in Asia); and the racing was always guaranteed to be fast, furious, and frenetically competitive.
Drivers in the Ferrari Challenge may have been—and continue to be—mostly amateurs, but they didn’t and still don’t mind swapping paint and getting it all cross-upped because all racing drivers are all basically color-blind bulls—green lights always looks a lot like red mist …
For motorsport fans, meanwhile, the kind of hard-edged all-action racing that the Ferrari Challenge provides was also an instant hit, and soon enough the series was running as Formula 1’s only pre-race warm-up event, as well as supporting blue riband events such as the Daytona 24 Hours, and IndyCar races from St Petersburg to Toronto.
Spec’-racing just doesn’t get better than the Ferrari Challenge, and much of the success of the Ferrari Challenge series rests on the broad shoulders of one car, the Ferrari F355 Challenge that comes to the Ferrari Essentials Pack.
This was the Ferrari that built the global racing series into what it is today, and was a car perfectly suited to offer the very best of spec’-racing action—a mid-engined, 380hp, 6-speed manual that had the power and the handling to ensure that the best drivers stood out from the pack.
A Throwback to the Good ol’ Days
Back in the golden age of the late-’50s and early-’60s, entry into the topsy-turvy world of GT-racing was simple enough: when racing fever struck, a driver with a valid racing license (and a bit of leftover cash) could walk to the nearest Ferrari dealership and, with a few minor modifications, go resolve his or her racing dreams on-track with the latest GT-racer from Maranello.
The Ferrari Challenge, at heart, was, and remains, a return to those carefree days. A driver buys a Ferrari from a dealer (all drivers in the Ferrari Challenge must own the car) that has its engine sealed to prohibit any type of modification, and then runs it against other drivers using the same car, fuel, and the self-same racing Pirelli tyres: in other words, pure spec’-racing.
The result, of course, is exactly what you’re going to find in-game with the Ferrari F355 Challenge cars that ran in the series back in the mid-to-late ’90s: really close racing battles using the last street-legal, 6-speed-manual road-based race-cars Ferrari ever built.
And such was the success of the Ferrari Challenge series that that it is, today, the longest-running single-make racing series in North America.
“We are very proud of the history and strength of the Ferrari Challenge North American championship,” Edwin Fenech, President & CEO of Ferrari North America told IMSA’s website in 2017. “Racing is the foundation on which our brand is built, and gentlemen racers have always been important for Ferrari. Ferrari Challenge … provides them an environment to exercise their Ferrari Challenge racecars to the limit …”
And while fans and drivers all have their favorite Ferraris that have highlighted the series through the years (there have been six different Ferrari models used since 1994, each running for about a six-year cycle that began with the Ferrari 348 Challenge, and currently features the Ferrari 488 Challenge which you can already race in Project CARS 2), it’s difficult to argue against the notion that the car that put the Ferrari Challenge series onto the map—the Ferrari F355 Challenge that ran between 1995–2001—was the “purest” of them all.
The F355 Challenge
The Ferrari F355 Challenge was the Ferrari F355 Berlinetta (itself an evolution of the Ferrari 348) on steroids: an ideal machine with which to go racing with its mean-sounding mid-mounted 3.5-litre Tipo F129B V8 (380hp at 8,250rpm) pushing a beautiful-looking two-seater coupe weighing just 1,350 kg.
Even better for racing, the F355 Challenge came with a 6-speed manual only, a steel monocoque, and a body that was styled by over one thousand hours of wind-tunnel work.
The F355 Challenge racer was first offered to dealerships around the world in “kit” form: that is, Ferrari would sell the kit from which the dealership would then assemble a race-ready F355 Challenge from the Ferrari 355 Berlinetta for their client-drivers. The kit included a racing roll cage, racing seats, safety harnesses, a new steering wheel, exhaust, Ferrari F40-derived Brembo brakes (if you’re interested, a set alone will put you back about $15,000–$20,000 today), and a host of other improvements.
The kit itself cost around $30,000 (added to the sticker price of $124,000) and took an estimated 110 hours to install.
By 1998, though, all these improvements were pre-built into the car before it was shipped (with the exception of the rear wing). Ferrari only built 108 F355 Challenge cars, each with a “F355 Challenge” emblem on the rear. The engine, throughout the car’s evolution, remained untouched. Pure spec’, in other words, although there was a choice of springs. Pirelli and Shell, meanwhile, provided tyres and fuel for each event as part of the entry fee.
During the F355 Challenge era, the series ran a total of 29 races around the world, many of those on tracks that are waiting for you in Project CARS 2. And the close-natured racing meant drivers from all sorts of backgrounds made their way into the series.
In the US alone, during the era of the Ferrari F355 Challenge, 13 Ferrari dealerships out of 29 had racing teams entered into the series, all of whom would assign at least one mechanic for the exclusive use of their Ferrari Challenge drivers.
The drivers themselves came from all sorts of backgrounds, and entry into the real-world series remains open to anyone who can afford it (though a racing license is required). Fortunately for you, neither is required for your entry into the series in Project CARS 2, while the all-action nature of the world’s finest spec’-racing is guaranteed.
The Ferrari Challenge Series
The Ferrari Challenge series remains a true driver’s championship, and the Ferrari F355 Challenge car, in particular, is sure to test your abilities with that manual 6-speed ’box. When you’re crowded by 20-or-so other Ferraris, all sporting the exact same power and all mixing-it-up through the turns, one missed gear-shift is all it takes to go from a podium to nowhere in a hurry.
In real-life, the price to run a season of the Ferrari Challenge back in the late 1990s was, according to the New York Times, around $400,000 for a full season, though that price could rise significantly since owners also paid for their own damage, mechanical or otherwise, and as Ferrari dealership owner and race-team-owner Giuseppe Risi told the New York Times, “This is highly competitive racing,” and, “lots of bodywork gets replaced.”
Which is, of course, the reason why everyone loves spec’-racing—cars that are perfectly matched tend to occupy a lot of the same real-estate with a lot of the inevitable consequences that come from door-to-door-banging action.
A part of that cost is also the shipping fees to the one-off event held in the late fall of every year—the Ferrari Finals or Finali Mondiali, when Ferrari brings together all the drivers from all the series around the world for a one-off super-Ferrari event that, this year, will be held at Monza in November.
And that, of course, may well be the best spec’-racing series in the world as the hardest-charging amateur drivers on the planet get together to see who the is fastest Ferrari Challenge driver of them all.
Leave your excuses at home!
Lead Vehicle Artist Casey Ringley gets to grips with the Ferrari 355 Challenge in Project CARS 2
Very happy with how this turned out! You typically read about how the Ferrari F355 Challenge was beautiful, very fast, even more expensive, but pretty dang difficult to drive at the limit. Perhaps the road models hit that last point, but the Challenge kit certainly fixes any handling issues and makes for a wonderful gentleman’s racer. “FerrariChat”, again, proved immensely useful as some smart people with experience racing and building the F355 Challenge were very open with sharing technical details about the car.
Any Ferrari 355 Berlinetta could be converted to a Ferrari 355 Challenge with a $30k kit which included the usual safety upgrades required for racing, better brakes, race wheels, suspension upgrades, and a rear wing. Perhaps the most important change was swapping out brakes from the Ferrari F40 (which, in turn, came from Group C racing) and the wider, slick race tyres measuring 245mm at the front and a beefy 305mm at the rear. We have also included a ‘Street’ tyre option in addition to the race slick and rain tyres. The Ferrari 355 Challenge was still a street car at its core, and some have converted their Ferrari 355 Berlinettas to Challenge spec’ for street use, so it’s a fun option to have.
The engine and gearbox were largely unchanged from the road car. You get a 3.5L flat-crank V8 producing 375hp @ 8,250rpm and a very wide power band with the 365Nm torque peak being more of a plateau between 4,500-7,500rpm. Dyno’ tests show very little power drop off right up to fuel cut at 9,000rpm.
Power runs through a 6-speed H-pattern gearbox (later cars could run the F1 sequential) and the usual clutch & ramp limited-slip differential. The Ferrari 355 Challenge has some big, sticky slick tyres at the rear which make differential-tuning a powerful setup tool in controlling the turn-in under/oversteer balance.
Gearing is evenly spaced and runs out right around the 300km/h top speed; perfect for track use.
The Ferrari 355 Challenge went through an intensive wind tunnel program and the claim is that it produces 220lb downforce at 183mph thanks to the flat floor and various air management tricks. The Challenge kit then adds a rear wing which, according to those who know the car well, doesn’t do a whole lot. Positioning it behind a vertical rear window and above a slew of engine heat vents put the wing in some dirty up-wash flow … a recipe for wing stall. Still, it will have a small effect and the combination of its light downforce and drag can be useful as a fine-tuning tool, shifting the aero balance about 20 percent rearward for stability at the maximum setting.
Suspension design has been well studied by the folks at “FerrariChat” and we used dimensioned blueprints to clone the behavior of roll centers and everything into our model.
The most notable aspects are how the roll axis shifts some load forward when cornering for a smooth, comfortable understeer as you approach the limit, and also that the rear roll center is quite responsive to ride height changes. This makes ride height one of your primary tools for adjusting chassis balance: higher rear equals more oversteer, lower rear equals more understeer.
Changes at the front have a similar-but-opposite effect and with smaller impact; the rear-end is your prime dial in this car. Rear ride height, camber, and toe angle on this one have a stronger effect on handling than just about any other parts of the setup.
The other notable thing about the Ferrari 355 Challenge in-game’s suspension is just how crazy stiff it is. Teams were allowed to use two sets of springs best described as “Stiff” (1800lb/in front, 700lb/in rear) and “Super Stiff” (2200/900). That’s about eight times stiffer than the road car springs—it even required beefing up the chassis mounts to handle the suspension loads as part of the kit—and in the range you might expect a modern GT3 car to run with their large aero loads and lower ride height.
Can’t argue with results, though, and the setup gives nice, easy, predictable handling when combined with the light anti-roll bars this car used.
I think this would make an excellent league racing car, which was the whole point of it after all. Very easy to get up to 95 percent of its performance potential, and getting the last few tenths takes a lot of effort and skill but without it ever feeling like it’s going to bite your head off.
Handling QA Lead Jussi Karjalainen’s Default Setup Notes on the Project CARS 2 Ferrari F355 Challenge
The Ferrari 355 Challenge is an interesting design from somewhat of a bygone era. The springs, especially at the front, are super-duper stiff—we’re talking about a slightly modified road car without any real aero running on springs rivaling some modern prototype racers. This type of design was seen in a few Group A/DTM cars in the late ’80s/early ’90s. This results in an in-game car where the front responds quickly, but not that progressively.
The car has basically no need for ARBs, and generally has some understeer tendencies, which makes it a good fit for gentleman racers. Camber, ride height and tyre pressures do allow a decent control over the handling balance, and I do find it quite satisfying to drive. If I were to put my engineering hat on, I would still like to try it with softer fronts/stiffer rears for a more naturally neutral spring balance.
This was originally on the GTO tyre set in-game, but after some testing we found that, with the relatively low power output of the engine, it was better to limit the car to the hard compound to make it a bit livelier and more interesting to drive.
There’s still plenty of grip, but the car doesn’t just feel like it’s on rails now. The hard compound works better with the understeer tendencies in reducing front-end wear too. And since it’s essentially a modified road car, we put in some road rubber as an option too (some people have made their Ferrrai 355 Challenge cars road legal, so it’d be interesting to see how harsh the ride feels with those massive spring rates!).
The Project CARS 2 Season Pass offers all four DLCs plus the Motorsport Bonus Pack, all at a discounted price.
The Ferrari Essentials Pack is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and (PC Steam).
*The Pista di Fiorano is a Ferrari-only track, both in real-life and, of course, in Project CARS 2.