December 1, 2020
Ferrari F355 Challenge and Lamborghini Diablo GTR: Which is Your Favourite Spec-racer?
Around the year 2000, those who’d survived the full horrors of the Y2K pandemic and had a bit of cash still lying around were confronted with a tantalising choice: which one-spec’ racing series should they sink a few hundred K into?
Why? Because two of Italy’s greatest marques were running their own individual spec’-racing series back then, one with the Ferrari F355 Challenge, the other with the Lamborghini Diablo GTR. Both would lay the groundwork for their individual customer racing programmes that continue with so much success to this day.
These pure, raw, factory-prepped, built from the bottom-up for nothing else but racing cars are both in Project CARS 3.
Ferrari F355 Challenge
Stats first: This is a Pininfarina-designed mid-engined 6-speed manual 3.5L V8 Ferrari with 380hp at 8,250RPM and max torque at 6,000RPM weighing just 1,351kgs.
Back in the early-1990s, Ferrari embarked on a racing program for its clients named the “Ferrari Challenge”. Starting out in Europe in 1993, the series proved an instant hit, 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, and the tracks used were all “A”-list ones (Monza, Mugello, Silverstone in Europe; Laguna Seca in North America; and Shanghai and Fuji in Asia).
And while fans and drivers all have their favourite Ferraris that have taken part in the Ferrari Challenge series through the years (there have been six different Ferrari models used since 1994), it’s difficult to argue with the notion that the car that put the series into the big time was the Ferrari F355 Challenge that ran between 1995–2001.
This really was a pure racer (manual-only!) from an era that would soon leave us only with the fondest of memories. The car itself was built around the Ferrari F355 Berlinetta (itself an evolution of the Ferrari 348) with that 6-speed manual-only box, steel monocoque, and a body that was styled by over one thousand hours of wind-tunnel work. But better than that, of course, was the scarcity of any driver aids.
The F355 Challenge cars enjoyed a limited run, 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 for the suspension.
The racing—often at F1 events—was simply sublime. Mostly driven by amateurs in fields that boasted 40- and sometimes even 50-car fields, the Ferrari Challenge series’ reputation for hard-charging racing was sealed forever by this truly special era.
1999 Lamborghini Diablo GTR
Stats first: Designed by Marcello Gandini, the Lamborghini GTR is a mid-engined 6L V12 Lamborghini with around 582hp at 7,300 rpm, and max torque of 640Nm at around 5,500 rpm. It weighs 1,395kgs.
The year 1999 was an epic one for Lamborghini. In just a short few months, the Sant’Agata Bolognese-based manufacturer would unveil two cars that would set the world’s press abuzz and impassion fans of the marque like never before.
In March, at the Geneva Auto Show, they unveiled the limited-to-only 83 units Lamborghini Diablo GT. That car was simply astounding with a shape and performance figures that were manna for the world’s press. But before anyone could even expand on what they’d just seen, Lamborghini went to the Bologna Auto Show and unveiled the racing version of the Diablo GT—the Diablo GTR.
And if the Diablo GT was rare, the Diablo GTR was like searching for treasure: it would only be made available to 32 drivers in the world, and provided solely for racing in Lamborghini’s very own spec’-racing series, the Lamborghini Diablo GTR Supertrophy.
The car and the series proved a phenomenon and would set the scene for the single-spec’ Lamborghini Super Trofeo series that began eight years after the Diablo GTR series folded in 2001.
However, really, it was the car the fans came to see: with that unmistakable V12 Lamborghini sound, a race-tuned chassis, body made of carbon fibre, Plexiglass windows, a top speed of around 338kmh, and a manual 5-speed box with no driver aids at all aside from ABS, the racing was as pure and loud as anyone would ever want. A special time and a special car that raced at many of the world’s greatest venues—Monza and the Nürburgring amongst them.
The Lamborghini Diablo GTR was also one of Lamborghini’s first forays into racing as a fully-backed factory effort, and the car itself would soon branch out from its one-spec series to race in GT classes in Australia with much success.
Spec’-racing at its purest!