Preparation and support of the cars was to be done by local Ferrari dealers, but drivers soon discovered that all dealers were not equal
The 1998 Ferrari F355 Challenge described here has been in the same ownership in Spain since new. It was last campaigned during the 1998-99 season, when it competed in the Spanish GT Championship, raced by the Darro Motor Racing Team and the noted driver Gines Vivancos, the overall winner of the 2003 Spanish GT Championship. The car then was retired from competitive racing. Still maintained by the Darro Motor Racing Team, it was kept in perfect working order and used by the team for demonstrations and test days.
Presented in full race preparation and livery, the F355 features a 6-speed manual transmission, correct for the F355 Challenge. The interior appears complete and correct and includes a red racing seat, full roll cage, Momo leather-wrapped racing steering wheel, and the correct F355 Challenge dashboard. Like all F355 Challenges, it has seen competition, but the vehicle has been well-kept and professionally maintained.
Well suited for continued amateur racing outings, this wonderfully presented F355 Challenge represents a rare breed of exclusive factory-prepared Ferrari racing cars, offered here at a very reasonable price.
|Vehicle:||1988 Ferrari F355 Challenge|
|Original List Price:||$129,300|
|Tune Up Cost:||$4,000|
|Alternatives:||1988 Corvette C4 Challenge Racer, 1997 Porsche 993 Carrera Cup, 1999 Lamborghini Diablo SVR (Supertrophy series)|
This 1998 Ferrari F355 Challenge sold for $54,696, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Automobiles of London auction on October 29, 2008.
In late 1992, Ferrari hosted an event at its Mugello race track in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the 250 GTO. At the event, F1 pilot Jean Alesi did a couple of hot laps in a curiously modified 348. Later that day it was announced that the car was a 348 Challenge and that it would be the basis of an exclusive new racing series organized by Ferrari for its clients.
The 348 Challenge featured stock Ferrari 348s equally prepared with a full complement of safety equipment and just enough mechanical modification to allow them to stand up to the rigors of real competition. A national series was to be held in Ferrari’s major markets, with the winners of those series meeting at Mugello for an international championship race.
Longest-running manufacturer’s race series
Thirty-five official 348 Challenge race cars showed up at Spa the next spring for the first race, and 15 years later the series is still going strong. Fueled by Ferrari’s dedication to the series and its ability to attract drivers and sponsors, the Ferrari Challenge, as it is now called, is probably the longest-running manufacturer-sponsored race series of all time.
In 1995, the F355 Challenge model was introduced. The F355 wasn’t just a warmed-up 348; it was a major redesign of its not-too-shabby predecessor. The experience of 1,800 hours of wind tunnel testing helped to make major aerodynamic advancements on both the top and bottom of the car. The latter was accomplished with a combination of panels that controlled the airflow
underneath. This adaptation of racing technology almost seemed overkill on a street car, but it dramatically demonstrated Ferrari’s commitment to making the best sports cars in the world.
Weighing in at less than 3,000 pounds and powered by a 380-hp, 8,500-rpm 3.5-liter V8, the F355 left the 3,300-pound 300-hp 348 in its dust. The 4.9-second 0-60 mph and 13.3-second quarter-mile times are far from world class today, but these were outstanding numbers for the era. Two seconds faster around Ferrari’s Fiorano test track than a 512TR, the F355 was a natural racer.
The car was so potent that in addition to the obligatory safety equipment, Ferrari decided the Challenge version needed hard-bushed suspension arms, upgraded brakes with extra ventilation and high-performance brake lines, a competition clutch, and even a large rear wing. Nonetheless, the package was so extensive that Ferrari sold the Challenge version of the F355 for race only, noting the cars could not be titled for street use.
The original theme of the Challenge series was a kind of high-end grass roots racing: amateur drivers testing each other in theoretically identical Ferraris. Preparation and support of the cars was to be done by the driver’s local franchised Ferrari dealers. The series quickly morphed into something different, as drivers discovered that all dealers were not equal. Doing a major service on a street car and getting the most performance out of a race car are two very different things. The dealers with racing experience clearly fielded faster cars.
$20,000 or $25,000 weekends were commonplace
By the time the F355 Challenge came out, Challenge drivers were shopping dealers for one who could provide them the best Challenge experience. For some drivers, that experience was having the fastest car; for others it might be driver tutoring; and for yet others it meant the best hospitality. Drivers often left their cars with a dealer half a continent away, not seeing the car until the next race. This luxury didn’t come cheap: $20,000 or $25,000 race weekends were commonplace, and that’s plus the cost of a car and any substantial accident damage.
Racing by definition is hard on a car, and in a series as competitive as the Ferrari Challenge, car condition is readily sacrificed to move up a position. Touching fenders is common and serious wrecks are not unusual. There aren’t many virgin Challenge cars, but there are a few dogs. A replaced fender is nothing to worry about, but a twisted unibody can be terminal. A Challenge car with a clean history is more desirable than a beat-up car with podium finishes.
Our subject car appears to have been raced for two seasons, about nine years ago. It was represented as being “race prepared,” though it’s not clear if that is the current condition or the former condition. There’s no mention of a spares package or any previous damage. Curiously, it appears to have been campaigned by a private team in a Spanish GT series rather than the Challenge series. The sale price was around $10,000 under the low pre-sale estimate. That may be an indicator of condition or, more likely, a reflection of the thin market for retired Challenge cars.
It has been many years since F355s were eligible for racing in the Challenge series. They are too old for most other forms of organized racing and not old enough for most vintage racing series. They are not streetable and not a first choice as a collector car. Until recently, buyers’ enjoyment of a F355 Challenge was limited to participation in track days and driving schools.
As more racetrack country clubs are opening, a Ferrari F355 Challenge might be a great option for turning a few fast laps after work. Seriously fast, reasonably safe, and affordable to operate, an F355 Challenge has a limited appeal, but it returns a lot of fun for the money.