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2024 Ferrari Challenge season begins in Austin, 296 Challenge makes its racing debut

Ferrari Challenge will kick off its 2024 season in North America at the Circuit of the Americas, where the Ferrari 296 Challenge will make its world-wide racing debut.  The first round of the season is always filled with anticipation, but this round is especially heightened between the debut of the new car and also a record entry count of over 80 racing cars between all of the different categories.

New Season, New Car. After its unveiling at last year’s Finali Mondiali, the latest addition to the long lineage of single-make race cars, the 296 Challenge is the ninth addition to the championship and follows the 488 Challenge Evo.  Representing a significant step in every respect, the 296 Challenge leverages the most radical modifications compared to the original model of any of the single-make championship’s race cars to date while still maintaining the ethos of the Ferrari Challenge championship.  Specifically, the development team was able to leverage even more on the experience accrued with the Daytona 24-hour winning 296 GT3 and funnel those lessons into the new challenge model that significantly raises the bar in terms of overall performance and also in its consistency and repeatability throughout practice or racing sessions.

At the Circuit of the Americas, that has been especially appreciated by drivers in the two key areas of the circuit; the long essess section where the downforce of the car has allowed drivers to attack as they have never been able to previously, and also the big braking zones around the circuit where the braking performance and consistency has improved, thanks especially to the new ABS EVO Track, a derivative of the system used on the road-going 296 GTB.

A Familiar Circuit. The now classic 3.426 mile, 20 turn circuit has been one of the most consistent stops to the Ferrari Challenge calendar since its debut in 2012, with the 2024 edition marking the 10th edition of a Challenge race at the circuit.  All of the classic elements of the circuit remain with the lap opening with the dramatic rise to the top of the tight first corner.  After descending back down the hill, the fast essess section will especially benefit the additional downforce of the 296 Challenge before drivers race down to the tight Turn 11 at the back of the circuit.  Following the tight turn 11, the longest straight on the track follows where drivers see their fastest speeds of the weekend before the tight stadium section will challenge the traction capabilities of the cars and drivers.  That leads to the long three-part right hander where again the downforce of the car will be the essential ingredient before two tight lefthanders conclude the lap.

 

Record Entries. The Circuit of the Americas represents a new high-water mark in the history of Ferrari Challenge in North America with fifty-four entries leveraging the new 296 Challenge and an additional twenty-seven using the 488 Challenge Evo, making for 81 total racing entries.  That combines with new records also in Club Challenge where over thirty entries are set to take their Ferrari Challenge cars out for designated lapping sessions throughout the weekend along with thirteen entries in the Club Competizioni GT group, using a combination of 488 GT3 and 488 GT Modificatas.  That brings the total drivers to a staggering 128 Ferrari race cars that will take to the track at some point over the coming weekend.

Trofeo Pirelli. Making use of the new 296 Challenge for the very first time, the Trofeo Pirelli category is stacked with past winners and championship contenders.  Jason McCarthy (Wide World Ferrari) headlines the group as a championship bridesmaid the past few seasons while Dylan Medler (The Collection), Dave Musial Jr. (Ferrari of Lake Forest) and the rest of the top category will have plenty to say as they all work to get acclimated to the new car.  In the AM category meanwhile, Tony Davis (Continental Autosport) leads the charge, but he too will have to deal with a serious set of contenders with 16 all working to take the top step come the end of the season.

Coppa Shell. Similarly in the Coppa Shell category, a lot of familiar names dot the line up.  Mike Louli (Ferrari of Ontario) continues his streak as one of the longest running participants in the championship, having experience in nearly every one of the nine models leveraged by the championship.  He’s joined by last year’s Coppa Shell AM champion, Lisa Clark (Ferrari of Beverly Hills) who makes her debut in the Coppa Shell category.  In the AM category meanwhile its the typical mix of some of the more inexperienced drivers such as Roy Carroll (Foreign Cars Italia) and Helen Chu (Ferrari of San Diego).

488 Challenge Evo to Race in Dedicated Category. While the 296 Challenge is undoubtedly the star of the weekend, the Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo will continue to make its presence felt, running in dedicated racing groups at each of the stand alone weekends in the 2024 season.  At this opening weekend of the 2024 season, the 488 Challenge group features twenty-seven entries, split between two different categories, distinguishing the different levels of experience between the drivers.  The category also features some stalwarts of previous seasons of Challenge competition, including Marc Muzzo (Ferrari of Ontario) and Grey Fauvre, (Ferrari of San Francisco) both race winners in the 488 Challenge Evo in those prior seasons.  There are also a variety of new names who are making their Ferrari Challenge racing debuts, making this a compelling category to spot up and coming talent in the Ferrari Challenge paddock.

Schedule. Ferrari Challenge practice sessions are ongoing throughout Friday with Saturday and Sunday dedicated to qualifying and racing sessions.  Saturday’s Qualifying sessions begin at 8:45 A.M. (all times local) with the Trofeo Pirelli category going first and ending with the 488 Challenge Evo group.  Saturday’s races begin at 1:35 P.M. again with the Trofeo Pirelli group with the podium for all of the races beginning at 4:10 P.M. Sunday’s schedule begins at 9:40 A.M. with Coppa Shell qualifying with all of the grids decided by 10:50 A.M.  Racing action will begin on 1:05 P.M. with the Coppa Shell group and the podium will begin at 3:35 P.M.

Story originally appeared on Racer