Ferrari 488 Challenge: Violent action at Sepang F1 circuit

By THOMAS HUONG | 21 May 2019

It was a night of high-speed thrills and adrenaline-pumping action under the bright floodlights of the Sepang International Circuit (SIC), in the first night race of the 2019 Ferrari Challenge Asia-Pacific.

Held over three days in late April, the one-make championship returned to SIC after the 2019 season had kicked off in Melbourne in March.

For the uninitiated, the Ferrari 488 Challenge is a gentleman’s race series (more and more lady racers are also taking part nowadays) for the ultra wealthy who want to test their mettle in motorsports.

All participants race in the 488 Challenge car which also uses the 3.9-litre V8 turbocharged engine with 670ps derived from the 488 GTB, but which has been optimised for performance racing in areas like the powertrain and aerodynamics.

"The Challenge car is a very good approximation of the 488 GT3 race car," said Ferrari Corse Clienti head (Asia Pacific) Filippo Zanier.

And if you are interested, Ferrari takes care of everything for you.

"We do everything. We provide a hassle-free experience for the gentleman driver. We take care of the cars; we use our own mechanics. Our kitchen team travels with us and we provide a high culinary standard from race to race. We understand that our clients are busy people, with lots of demands on their time," said Zanier.

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He said a 488 Challenge car would cost around 285,000 euros (RM1.32 million).

"Or you can rent one - this option is for those who want to try a few rounds and see if this is the thing for him or her," said Zanier.

During the night race, members of the media had a thrilling taste of what racing in a 488 Challenge car is like.

Wearing helmets, the motoring press including this Carsifu writer were strapped in tightly into sports seats before being taken on a two-lap wild ride by professional drivers in a whirlwind of speed, through the twists and turns of the looping track.

There was no air-conditioning, and despite the cool night weather, the cabin of the 488 Challenge car began to feel stifling hot after just one lap.

Combine that with the full race suits of the race drivers, and we had a good inkling of why the drivers staggered into an air-conditioned Sepang Paddock Club looking quite knackered and sweaty after a race.

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Some of the motoring press also suffered stomach discomfort and at least one fellow threw up after the two hot laps.

This is quite understandable when you experience taking off at full throttle and hitting speeds of over 200kph on the straight before violently de-celerating at the corners, followed by a series of extremely fast sprints and hard braking action.

The race action at full throttle is simply unbelievably violent, and is definitely not for those with weak stomachs.

This Carsifu writer found the two hot laps in the 488 Challenge car to be an absolutely enjoyable and thrilling experience.

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Meanwhile, in the 488 Challenge, there are four main race categories (Trofeo Pirelli, Trofeo Pirelli Am, Coppa Shell, and Coppa Shell Am) and drivers are entered based on their racing skills.

The Malaysian round saw 21 drivers getting behind the wheels of the 488 Challenge during the adrenalin-filled race weekend on the challenging 5.543km circuit with 15 twisting turns to see who could come up top.

In the Trofeo Pirelli AM category, Philippe Prette (Blackbird Concessionaires) ended securely at the top of the standings board while in the Coppa Shell category, Makoto Fujiwara kept his lead in the class.

In the Coppa Shell AM category, Andrew Moon (Forza Motors Korea) was the winner and now leads the standings in his class.

Tsao San Chuang (Modena Motori Taiwan) was the winner of the Gentlemen Cup while Kanthicha Chimsiri (Cavallino Motors Bangkok) took the Ladies’ Cup.

The race was also held in conjunction with the joint 10th anniversary celebrations of official Ferrari distributors in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand which saw an activity-packed weekend of track and road drives, a gala dinner and the unveiling of the new Ferrari F8 Tributo at St Regis Kuala Lumpur.

Naza Italia, Ital Auto Pte Ltd and Cavallino Motors Co Ltd are the official importers and distributors of the Ferrari brand in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand respectively.

The next rounds of the 2019 Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific will be at Shanghai in China (May 24 – 26); Motegi (July 5 - 7) and Fuji (August 30 - September 1) in Japan; Singapore (September 20 - 22) with the final round at Mugello, Italy (October 24 - 27).

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