Hampton Downs set for Ferrari Challenge debut
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The Ferrari Challenge is one of the most spectacular one-make motor racing categories in the world and it’s coming to Hampton Downs this weekend.
On April 14-15, the famous Italian car marque will take centre stage at Hampton Downs in Round 2 of the Asia Pacific Series.
“This has taken 12 months to put together and the prospect of having over 30 Ferraris on the starting grid at Hampton Downs will be very impressive,” says Tony Elsmore, the dealer principal at Continental Cars Ferrari in Auckland.
“Fans can expect to see a festival of all things Ferrari at this event,” he says. “The racing will undoubtedly be the highlight but there will be a huge number of Ferraris on display and doing exhibition stuff on track.”
Grant Baker, the former executive chairman of 42 Below vodka and current chairman of Turners Automotive Group, is the only New Zealand driver competing.
“Nothing drives like a Ferrari,” says Baker. “I’ve driven lots of nice cars but driving a Ferrari is a real experience. They’re nimble, they look good and they make a beautiful noise. They’re a little bit edgy, especially if you drive them fast, which is what I get to do as part of the Ferrari Challenge.”
Racing in a Ferrari is a far cry from where Baker started his motorsport career, in a second hand Peugeot 105 in a 6-Hour endurance race at Pukekohe.
“I was 42-years-old and myself and a friend of mine decided to enter,” he says. “Neither of us had driven a race car before. We didn't finish the race but I was bitten by the bug. I raced for the next four or five years in the NZ V8s and Porsche Carrera Cup and I went back to Pukekohe and won the 6-Hour endurance race a couple of times.”
“One of the reasons I started racing was I got to the stage where I could afford nice cars and I wanted to be able to drive them properly. I think a lot of people buy a sports car and don’t really know how to get the best out of them.”
Life and work put a halt to Baker’s motor racing dreams for quite a few years but it also gave him the opportunity to invest in his passion for fast cars. He bought his first Ferrari, a 550 Maranello in 1999 and he will race a Ferrari 488 in the Ferrari Challenge series.
The 2017 488 Challenge is the sixth model to participate in the Ferrari Challenge which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Since the event was first held in 1993, it has grown to encompass three race series on three continents: Europe, which is the oldest, North America and Asia-Pacific.
Ferrari Challenge events are FIA approved, thus ensuring very high safety standards and excellent organization and the cars are very closely matched, putting the focus on the drivers instead of the car.
“It’s an arrive and drive deal,” says Baker. “I just pull on my race suit and my helmet and drive. Ferrari transports the car to the different circuits and they supply mechanics, engineers and tyres. I could race in endurance races in Australia and New Zealand but what I like about the Ferrari Challenge is you get to drive on some fantastic circuits,” says Baker. “I love the Japanese tracks like Suzuka and Fuji. They’re just fantastic. They’re big, fast, open tracks and they’re lightning quick. You’re cornering at 250 km/h in some parts of Fuji.”
The first race of the 2018 Ferrari Challenge season was in Melbourne last month as a support category to the Formula 1 Grand Prix. David Dicker, an Australian technology guru who is designing and building what he hopes will be the fastest race car in the world from his facility in North Canterbury, won his class.
“It’s always good to go into these things with the lowest possible expectations and then it’s very hard to be disappointed,” says Dicker. “I spend a lot of time in New Zealand where we’ve got a private track so I’ve been able to do a lot of miles in the car and we’ve done a lot of work on the setup. Last year the car was awful and I struggled to even get through the races. Going to Melbourne I knew the car was in good shape and I could get the car to do what I wanted it to do for a change.”
Last year was Dicker’s first season competing in the Ferrari Challenge but like Baker he’s got a long history with the brand.
“I bought a used Ferrari in 1983 and unfortunately I sold it. I haven't sold any since then and I’ve bought a few. There’s no other car brand like Ferrari. It’s the aura, the image, the marketing and the history. The cars are just fantastic as well. I wouldn't buy them if the cars weren't good.”
Dicker spends a lot of time in New Zealand these days but he’s never driven the Hampton Downs circuit before.
“I saw Hampton Downs once from the motorway so I haven't got a clue what to expect from the track. The car is going well and I just lowered the track record at our home track recently so I feel like I’m in pretty good form. I’ve got no expectations but I’ll be doing the best that I can.”
The Ferrari Challenge consists of two races. There will be one race and a qualifying session on both Saturday and Sunday.