Joe Barron and James Horn attended the spectacular Ferrari Racing Days event at Silverstone recently. Here is their account of the ultimate Ferrari experience.
Words by Joe Barron. Pictures by James Horn.
Ferrari Racing Days is a series which travels the world’s most famous circuits every year. It includes the Prancing Horse’s most extreme machines, from the XX track day cars, to the F458 Challenge racing series and the ultimate racing machines, the Formula One Corse Clienti.
We arrived at Silverstone early on Sunday morning and before we even got to the track, the excitement began to build. As we neared the circuit we began to spot more and more travelling Ferrari fans. We saw multiple F458 Italias, a Challenge Stradale and several brand new FFs en-route. We then arrived to quite possibly the most perfect noise a racing fan can imagine: V10 Formula One engines tearing down the Hangar Straight. After collecting our media passes we headed straight for the new Grand Prix Circuit paddock and its famous pit complex, The Wing.
We began by getting a feel for where everything was located in the pitlane – most importantly, where each group of cars were stationed. At the top, by the pit exit, were the Challenge cars which comprised of Ferrari F458 Italias of matching specification, lightened and fitted with roll-cages. They were run by teams competing in the Trofeo Pirelli, a prestigious one make championship. Next along were the cars of the Ferrari Open races in which any vehicle from previous Challenge seasons can compete. This was an incredible sight – there were F430 race cars alongside 360s, 355s and even an ultra rare F40 Competitzione.
Down the other end of the pit-lane the XX Programme was being taken care of by a dedicated team of Ferrari employees. The cars here are the 599XX and FXX, which are extreme track day cars that could never be homologated for sports car racing. These cars are driven by private owners, but are not road legal. Ferrari keeps and maintains them at their HQ in Maranello and sends them out to these dedicated Racing Days events with their own team of mechanics. The owners travel to the track to find their toys ready to go.
After spotting Ferrari F1 test driver and one-time Le-Mans 24 winner, Marc Gene, in the VIP area, we ventured into the garages during the first Challenge race, spotting some mechanics watching the Sky Italia TV feed of the race, cheering on their man. Then it was time to venture towards the podium end of the pitlane to find the hidden delights waiting there.
Formula One Corse Clienti
The Corse Clienti is a unique phenomenon which only Ferrari has achieved. In this programme the Scuderia make their history available to paying drivers. Provided you have the vast amount of money required to enter this incredible opportunity, anyone can drive a decade’s worth of Scuderia Ferrari Formula One cars. The cars range from 1999 to 2009 and are supported by a crack team of F1 mechanics and drivers even get training from Marc Gene.
It’s a chance for an exclusive few to experience the power of F1 for real and drive these cars around some of the world’s greatest circuits. For the fans, it’s a chance to see a huge number of classic Grand Prix cars lapping a circuit together. We had the chance to be inside the garage while mechanics prepared each car for the drivers.
The cars at Silverstone were once driven my Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Kimi Raikkonen. Some had their original steering wheel removed and replaced with a generic Momo wheel, perhaps because the originals had been lost, or to take some of the finite electronic control away from the gentleman drivers. Also, despite all of the cars being from the Bridgestone, grooved tyre era of F1, most had been fitted with slick Pirelli P-Zero rubber, like the current cars in the F1 World Championship. It was fascinating to see so much of this history up close and be able to listen to discussions between mechanics and drivers.
Pirelli Formula One simulator
After being ushered out of the F1 garages (a nice Italian PR man told us it was “getting too busy” for the mechanics to work) we ventured into The Wing to try Pirelli’s public F1 simulator. The sim was a modified version of Rfactor, complete with a real F1 chassis that you had to climb into to play. The Pirelli PR man then attached a quick-release carbon fibre steering wheel into the cockpit and we were ready to go. The force feedback was extremely aggressive – far stronger than anything I’ve experienced before. The steering also felt heavier than anything I’ve played in a game. To begin with, I was just happy to stay on track around the fictional Pirelli test course, so I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that my 1:02 laptime beat the previous best by a whole eight seconds!
From there we visited a Ferrari road car showroom where we tried the cockpits of several spectacular super cars. We started with the FF, California, F458 Italia Spider and then the brand new F12 Berlinetta. Each one was very comfortable and it was very easy to imagine yourself driving one on the road… if money was no object! The material finish was incredible – everything covered in leather, alcantara and carbon fibre. Care had been taken to make every switch and button feel just right. Personally, I didn’t care for the driving position in the F12 but I loved all of the other cars.
Next it was an XX Programme track day session. The 599XX and FXX were put through their paces using their mad power, advanced aero and on the 599XX, DRS too. We watched from a grandstand between Abbey, Farm Curve and Village corners. Both XX cars were extremely stiff with no body roll at all. The engine sounds were close to F1 cars in volume and tone, with a lot of exhaust crackle from the FXX. Despite the cold temperature and a few scary slides, the drivers seemed to be having an incredible time.
Back in the paddock, we listened to two 599XX drivers discussing the handling, looking like real racing drivers in their official Ferrari overalls. They complained about the lack of grip in the cold and described their surprise in fuel weight making a huge difference to the handling of the cars. That tells you a lot about how mad these XX cars are – they are definitely pure racing cars, not modified road vehicles.
Ferrari Owners’ Club
Next, we ventured out of the paddock and into the Ferrari Owners’ Club car park which was filled to the brim with legendary machines including F40s, an Enzo, Dinos, 288 GTOs…everything! I don’t think I will ever see so many Ferrari’s in one place again in my lifetime. Many of these cars were used the day before in a record breaking event. Felipe Massa led a train of nearly 1000 Ferrari road cars around Silverstone, which was the most Ferrari cars that have ever been run on a circuit simultaneously. As a result, the event will go into the Guinness World Records.
Ferrari F458 Challenge Trofeo Pirelli
The next Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli race followed and this time we watched in the stands instead of in the pits. The thirty minute race was largely incident free except for one accident which briefly brought out the F458 Italia Safety Car. After the race, one of the garage floors was covered in broken bodywork which had been rescued from a gravel trap. The racing was very close and I will definitely try to keep up with this series more in the future.
F1 demo with Marc Gene
Then it was time for some real noise. Marc Gene took to the GP Circuit in the F2008 Formula One car, performing fast laps, a demo pitstop and some donuts on the start line. It was a treat to see an F1 car driven in anger without paying the usual Grand Prix ticket prices!
The Corse Clienti ventured out on track next. I was really surprised by the quality of the driving from these gentleman F1 drivers. The driver of the F2002 was particularly confident despite a couple of spins on cold tyres and the V10 era cars really stood out. They were significantly louder than the more recent F1 cars on display and the exhaust note really did sound like classic F1.
Ferrari Racing Days was an amazing day out for Ferrari fans and racing fans in general. It was a very rare chance to experience the Scuderia’s road cars, GT cars, track day cars and Formula One cars all in one place. If the Racing Days series comes to a circuit near you, then get yourself down there. It’s a motorsport experience like no other.
About the writer: Joe Barron is the Community Evangelist at iPhone game developer, Kwalee. He is an avid racing gamer and has written sim & wheel reviews for GameSpot.com, CItizenGame.co.uk and HookedGamers.com. He’s also a massive Ferrari fan!
About the photographer: James Horn also works at Kwalee, as Lead Artist on their iOS games. He previously worked on the Colin McRae Rally series at Codemasters and at FreeStyleGames on the DJ Hero franchise.