July 12, 2012

Ferrari Challenge Montreal: The Epic Week End.

It was an epic, epic week end for Team Axis in Montreal as CG raced in both IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup and Ferrari Challenge before the Formula One paddock, a tracktard's dream.

Exclusively for you Axis readers, we have onboard pictures from the Sunday Challenge race. Read Carlos' story and catch part 2 of the race after the jump. 

Along with Montecarlo, Montreal is my favorite venue for an F1 race. A track in a beautiful setting, close to a walk-around friendly city makes the whole experience better (and definitively wife approved, so you get an eager companion for the race weekend)

A year ago, the 2011 F1 weekend in Montreal was the very first race in my then brand new Porsche GT3 Cup but the big monsoon we got that day left me wanting a good dry race for 2012 in that non-ABS beast.

I have always been curious about racing Ferrari Challenge, especially since the 430 Scuderia has been my favorite and the best street/track car I've owned. I do love the midengine platform as I have tracked and raced mid engine cars (Lotus Elise, Exige S, Cayman S) for the last 8 years, which is a lot longer than what I've been racing Porsche 911s.

Lucky for me, one of my NGT Motorsports teammates who now races Ferrari Challenge, could not make the Canadian races this year so, one last minute phone call to him and another to Scuderia Corsa and we were all set to race in Montreal.  Ferrari Challenge is sanctioned by GrandAm so my having a Rolex GT license from the Daytona 24 eased everything.

Ferrari, being an active Formula One player gets two races during the F1 weekend while our IMSA Porsche schedule gets restricted to only one so, despite a bit of overlap and the need for some quick car changes it was very feasible to race both series on the same week end.

Had to show up as early as Thursday for the mandatory Ferrari PR events. All dressed up in our official driver suits (provided by Ferrari) we went to the start finish line to have our picture taken with the F1 team. Alonso, Massa, Domenicali and Marco Mattiacci, head of Ferrari N.A. were there with us and a had chance to chat briefly. Coolness factor so far: 110%!

Back to civilian clothes for a track walk with Ferrari driver's coach Didier Thyes. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is relatively simple to learn. It's a sequence of three basic chicanes where the trick is to get on the power early on exit, two left - right complexes that require a lot of patience on exit of the second part (Turn 2 for example), One slow hairpin (probably slowest corner on any track I've raced on) and just one fast corner that requires commitment and throttle modulation (Turn 5).

Friday morning after an amazing run around Mont Royal (Did I tell you I love this city?) I was ready for Ferrari Challenge practice 1. 
The day before I had tried the seat and belts in the 458 Challenge and found it easy to adjust all to my driving position. The 458 Challenge has great ergonomics. it's the same as the street version but with a simplified dashboard, 2 position traction control, a roll cage, stiffer springs and suspension. 
The chassis is built with the same stronger welds as the 458 GT2 but, other than that, all mechanical components are 100% from the street car.

Once on track, I felt right at home in the 458. It felt just like my Scuderia but with more power, a stiffer, more forgiving chassis and smoother transmission (I personally prefer the F1 single clutch than the DoubleClutch).

Started pushing hard right away and felt totally comfortable taking off the traction control completely. Although its a very good 3 step system (Rain, TC On, TC Off), Roberto, the Italian engineer working with me over the weekend, says its definitively faster with the TC OFF. The key advice was to be gentle with the car and not to overwork the tires.

Pushed hard and made a lot of little mistakes here and there but was surprised to fin myself in P2 less than 1/10th sec off P1. Things were looking promising.

What a CAR!! The car feels miles ahead in evolution compared to a 911.  Much more sorted out, better balance and no vices despite having 120hp more. 

2nd practice was rained out but an incredible and sudden deluge. We had reached the pitlane (in F1 weekend it takes 45mins from our behind the hairpin paddock to pitlane!) with slicks on and faced 6 inches of water within 5 minutes!

It didn't dry much as I switched to Porsche Cup for 1st practice later in the afternoon, so we went out on rain tires. We were top 3 while it was wet but when a dry line formed most people put on slicks and I dropped back in the time sheets but I was not concern. The fastest dry pace was still 3-4 secs off to what it should be, so I considered it not worthy to swap tires other than for gaining track knowledge.

Really enjoyed driving the GT3 Cup. Its' a lot more work than the Ferrari but highly enjoyable and rewarding. However, endurance races must be a walk in the park in the Ferrari compared to driving a Porsche Cup for 24 hours! It probably took me 3-4 races in the Porsche to get as comfortable as I was in the Ferrari within 2 track sessions.

Went back to the City for a nice dinner in the city with Wife, AC, and friends from NY. This is what makes Montreal a great GP location. Great track within a European type city where nice places to walk to, stroll around town and dine.

Ferrari qualifying was 1st on the Saturday schedule. We are allowed to use the two sets of race tires for Quali, so you have two chances other than just one in Porsche Cup.

Much needed, as apparently the Pirellis are at their peak only for 2 laps within the first four you do on any set.
We decided to start from pitlane to allow for traffic and find a clear lap. Went out when everyone was on their 2nd lap and just did a full warm up lap in 1:43.0 and pushing hard on my flyer (42.2 pace per the telemetry) but we caught traffic and decided to come in and wait for the 2nd attempt. Unfortunately we got caught in pitlane with a red flag that never turned to green so my warm up turned out to be my qualifying lap for P6 but with the frustration knowing I had the pace for pole (Pole was 1:42.6).

Porsche Quali was also dry under clear blue skies. It was extremely competitive, I pushed as hard as ever, improving my time from 2011 by a full second. That got me into P6, for which I felt very happy. Up ahead it was the 3 fast kids (Johnston, Miller and Snow), the local guest Pro drive, Marcelli and the 2 older guys (Pena and myself). It was a 34 car field so was pretty happy about being way up front to minimize eventual mishaps on the start on a track surrounded by walls and armco.

Time to chill out and enjoy some F1 Qualifying from the Ferrari VIP booth; nice lunch and then get ready for Ferrari Challenge race 1.

Race started well and was up to P4 by the end of lap 1, and P2 in class. I was concentrating on the advice from Roberto the engineer about not killing the tires early as you would be dead meat at the end so I hung out with the lead pack of four cars and waited patiently for the final half of the race to attack.

Unfortunately all of a sudden, the gearbox started skipping 3rd gear, both on downshifts and upshifts, and I was never able to engage 3rd again. Also, the engine paused with no power for almost 2 seconds on the 2-4 upshifts. Frustrating as I was not able to defend out of the slow corners and fell back in the field. The gearbox is sealed by Ferrari so only choice was to replace it overnight for Race 2 on Sunday.

Sunday was the big day as both Ferrari and Porsche races preceded F1 main event. Weather was great, the track was packed with fans from early in the morning with the stands already half full as we drove into grid for the Porsche Cup race.

My start was just OK but a few from the back (same usual suspect as in other IMSA races) had a clear jump on the flag (the GodTV sponsored car made a ...miraculous start. -Ed.) ) and where able to make a pass on the front straight.

Lost a few places but gained one back in the first few corners. Then Bryce Miller spun at the hairpin and I was back in P6 following Madison Snow closely.

Turn 5 is the fastest real corner in the track and had been my specialty all week as I was being able to drive it a bit faster than most and get a good run into the T6-T7 complex for a good inside pass under braking. On lap 3, in my eagerness to get closer to P5 I overshoot getting too close to the wall apex and rubbed the tire against the wall. Big friction meant the lower control arm got ripped off and a front wheel at a 90 degree angle ended my race. BIG BUMMER....

However, the biggest problem I now faced was that the Ferrari Race 2 was just after the Porsche Cup. I needed to be in pitlane boarding the Ferrari within 20 minutes and I was 2.5 miles away!!

Had to run almost 2 km between the track fence and the fan zone to get access to an exit where I could reach some senior track marshals that spoke English and that could help me out! Several radio calls where made and it was arranged for the AMG safety car to pick me up after the Porsche race was over.

Rode in the AMG 63 for half a lap and got just in time into the paddock to get into the 458 Challenge and make it to the last row of the grid (P24). Was able to relax and clear my mind from the hectic last 30 minutes. However my stamina and aggression level were at 110%!

I worked some good heat into the tires on the warmup lap and once I heard "GREEN GREEN" on the radio I started passing cars like a madman. Probably 6-7 places by turn one and 3 more through the first few turns.

Was up to P11 by the end of lap 1. Kept pushing hard and passing wherever I could, and that meant badly bending one rim through some inside kerb jumping maneuver! Clearly F1 cars are a LOT more compliant riding those kerbs (high mushy profile tires help!).

Through the middle of the race (laps 8-12) I lost the tires for a while and wasn't able to gain much on the front pack. Then all of a sudden they came back and was bale to make a few more passes and ended up P3 in Trofeo Pirelli (that's the Experienced drivers class,  Coppa Shell is meant only for gentleman racers).

I was ecstatic about being on the podium with fan-filled grandstands on an F1 race week end. Had a chance to spray and sip the same Mumm champagne as the F1 guys. I was so happy a troublesome racing weekend ended up in such a high note. 

Memorable moment for sure... and really left me wanting to go back to do a few more Ferrari Challenge races, what a car!!


  1. Nice write up. Did Bernie loosen the restrictions on onboard footage on the circuit? I remember reading your comments from last year saying Bernie and FOM threatened to ban anyone who had an onboard camera on the car.

    1. What onboard footage, I don't see any onboard footage.... you must be hallucinating because of CG's brilliant wordsmithing

    2. Whoops, you're right. Looks like I need to visit the eye doctor......

  2. Tristan.... sshhhh... keep it quiet....

  3. Wow. Fantastic account of a dream experience for certain.

  4. Very nice!!! congrats!

    In the race all the rest where running with ABS and TC? They all seem very "clean" without power slides nor a block at the kink.

    1. All cars have abs and cant be disconnected.
      Iwould say someof the slowest drivers run TC, but all the fast ones dont, and TC off is the fastest setup.

      The car is very neutral and very plantedfrom the rear. You really have to provoke it to make itslide

    2. The rear suspension on the 458 must be extremely efficient because the car has smaller tires than the GT3 and 120 hp more! Front tires are really small which probable explains why you had to be so careful with them

  5. Congrats! Great job. Loved that jump at the start.

  6. Congrats! Great job. Loved that jump at the start.

  7. What a ride! I was talking to the tires, saying pretty things...


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