Marketable motorsport is a big thing when it comes to selling new performance cars in 2022. Not so long ago a motorsport link was a racing stripe or silly spoiler; nowadays there’s some proper expertise making it from circuit to street. And it’s made for some superb cars in the process, too - think of the new GT3 RS and its near-tonne of downforce, the 10-stage traction control in an M3 CSL and regenerative braking power of a 296 GTB.
Furthermore, if those aren’t enough, manufacturers offer all manner of track only hypercars to really hone your skills and experience the very best that’s on offer when unshackled by the regulations of competition. Anyone out there who wants to discover how spectacular motorsport can make a car that doesn’t require a race licence to drive is currently spoilt for choice. Seems a bit odd that multi-million-pound track cars are in abundance and superminis can’t be made profitable but, hey, it’s a funny old world.
Point is - and the reason we’re fawning over this road-legal F355 Challenge - that it can all feel a bit much sometimes. The inevitable march of progress, perhaps. But even set free on circuit, you’re not going to feel what an 800hp car can really do for long before catching another one up (unless, granted, you’re on one of the super duper track days). And even the very best cars built with circuit in mind never really feel that well suited to the road. It can feel, just sometimes, that the abilities of the greatest cars have almost exceeded our capacity to enjoy them.
Which is where the Ferrari comes in. Because, yes, it is a road legal race car, and that should make it unbearable on the public highway. Or too crazy fast to use. But don’t forget that the Challenge was an upgrade kit back in the day, rather than a ground-up race car. You tend to see a few road-converted Challenges around because, presumably, it wasn’t that far removed from the road car. The 380hp, five-valve V8 was unchanged, for starters. Surely, then, it becomes easier to think of these cars a bit like the later Stradales and Speciales - the very best of the Ferrari road racers. Only with a manual gearbox. And the simply sensational way an F355 still looks.
The Challenge box of bits included everything you’d hope to find in any track day transformation, from cage to slicks and bucket seats to Brembo brakes. And while it’s suggested that only 108 Challenges were produced, the F355 race series achieved wider fame thanks to the game version for both console and arcade. What a way to first experience a manual Ferrari that was…
Anyway, to the Challenge in question. Delivered new to Australia in 1997 - yep, 25 years ago - it came to the UK just a couple of years later, where its right-hand drive would of course have been an advantage. Over here it was owned by a Mr A. Davies, who spent the next decade and a bit driving it 23,000 miles to, from and around tracks in the UK in his job as a race instructor. Which is pretty cool. The selling dealer first encountered it in 2017, having prepped it for sale to its current owner. Apparently the Challenge has been used sparingly in the five years since then but maintained at a Ferrari dealer, with its most recent service in March.
Still looks great, right? The interior in particular is a highlight, a fascinating mismatch of motorsport and old school Ferrari sports car. There can’t be many roll cages out there in cream leather. And those magnesium wheels, with the big Brembos nestled behind, have surely never been bettered.
Could you use it regularly? Why not? The ride height looks positively lofty by the standards of a modern track car, and there’s even some sidewall to those tyres. The harnesses will be a faff, but no road racer would be complete without them. Same with the cage - you’ll surely only whack your head once. People will tell you modern supercars are too easy, anyway. This Challenge looks like a real sweet spot between effort, reward, ability, and performance. All for little more than an M4 CSL. If race cars for the road are now just a little too serious, the Challenge might be the ideal alternative.
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