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ITALIAN STALLIONS RUN WILD

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Jun 3, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

NORTH AMERICAN FERRARI CHALLENGE By CHRISTOPHER HUDDLESTON

Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County, Northern California, was the welcoming host of the North American Ferrari Challenge Series' second 2006 season race. Held during the weekend of May 12-14, the event brought together a smorgasbord of festivities including Ferrari 430 and 360 Challenge car runs, historic and vintage Ferraris, Maseratis, and pre-war Alfa Romeos, and an all-new Kart Challenge, also open to the general public. Ferrari enters its 14th season in the United States providing opportunities for non-racing-professionals to compete with other Ferrari owners in an exciting and competitive race series at several racing venues, all world-class, throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to Maurizio Parlato, President and CEO for Ferrari North America, Inc., the Challenge Series allows Ferrari owners to experience the same passion and excitement that is felt by Ferrari's successful racing teams.

New to Ferrari's Challenge Series and only available at select racing venues in 2006, the Kart Challenge will utilize 13 horsepower racing Karts allowing Challenge participants or the general public to partake in their own unique competition on a specific Kart Challenge track. Kurt Buchwald, a Ferrari of Washington driver, took pole position and led every lap of both races of this Challenge series during the weekend at Infineon Raceway. Due to his wins at Sonoma, Buchwald takes the lead for the 2006 Ferrari Challenge Championship. Buchwald's pole position qualification in his F430 Challenge sets a new track record for the 2.53-mile course. Following on Buchwald's heels during qualification with a two-second margin was Ferrari of Beverly Hills' John Horejsi. Auto Gallery driver Steve Goldman took second place in this run with a shocking upset for third as Lawrence Stroll from Ferrari of Quebec moved up from his 11th starting position to take his well-won spot. The older Ferrari 360 Challenge cars were competing strongly as well. Mike Louli of Ferrari of Ontario took the lead in this 360 Challenge series early on with Alex Quaid from Ferrari of Orange County coming all the way up from his last-place starting grid position to nab second. Steve Pruitt, another Ferrari of Washington driver, was relegated to third place after an incident dropped him back from the second place position he was successfully defending.

On Sunday's race, Buchwald's win from the previous day guaranteed him pole position on Sunday and he held that very spot, leading every lap, to yet another first place finish. Steve Goldman was able to hold onto second place until late in the race when Lawrence Stroll overtook him and then immediately afterwards suffered electrical problems, dropping him out of the race. Third place was hard fought but ended up in the hands of Joel Quaid. In Sunday's 360 run, Mike Louli once again captured first, followed by Steve Pruitt, moving up from third place on Saturday to second on Sunday, leaving Alex Quaid (son of Joel Quaid, the F430 Challenge driver) with third place, in spite of mechanical problems that slowed his pace. The next Ferrari Challenge series will be at Le Circuit at Mont-Tremblant on June 16 through June 18, 2006.

Test Drive: Ferrari F430 Spider For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my weekend at Infineon Raceway was a brief opportunity to take a test drive of Ferrari's newest V8-engined sports car, the F430 Spider. First of all, let me say that Ferrari has earned every accolade they've received on this car. After a brief test drive in the 612 Scaglietti, which is unusually comfortable, accommodating, and yes, even docile, this F430 Spider feels like a real Ferrari. Every sensory input from driving this car sends tingles up your backside. First of all, one simply cannot believe the overwhelming throttle response of this small-displacement V8 engine. The 4.3 liter, DOHC, 32-valve V8 engine sends 483 horsepower to the rear wheels via Ferrari's racing-inspired 6-speed automated "F1" manual transmission. Backing that up is a not-insubstantial 343 lb-ft of torque at 5,250 rpms. With a curb weight of less than 3,500 lbs in this Spider version, any small touch of your toe extracts powerful responses from the F430's power plant. Of interesting note is a comparison to the vehicle I had the pleasure of driving up to the Bay Area from Southern California, a 2006 Corvette C6 Convertible. Now, with 400 horsepower, and a lighter curb weight than the Ferrari, the Corvette is definitely a certifiable road rocket. According to published reports, they are not that far apart in acceleration with the Ferrari roaring from 0-60 mph in only 3.9 seconds. The Corvette Convertible is not that far off the pace with a 0-60 mph time of a still-arousing 4.3 seconds. However, in comparison, the F430 Spider feels ferocious, like a caged animal. It's a difficult realization to describe in words, as you would have to drive them both to understand. It's something about the whole package in the F430, the engine, the transmission, the throttle pedal, and the actual throttle linkage. It all seems directly wired into your brain.

Ferrari's latest F1 automated manual transmission snaps off shifts so quickly, it will even execute double-gear downshifts as fast as you can manipulate the shifter paddles. Ferrari has managed to bring the overall execution level of this gearbox to a very high standard. However, at mid-to-high revs, shifts are still way too harsh and abrupt. When shifting the F430's manual at over 5,000 rpms, I could see my passenger's head bobbing forward as the transmission slammed into gear. Yes, the F1 transmission is fast, and is supremely reliable in it's execution of shifts, but one still gets the feeling that a traditional "three-pedal" six-speed manual transmission would be way more rewarding (and smoother) to drive to the sports car purist. I for one missed the level of driver interaction to be had with a traditional clutch and shifter. That being said, it's hard to argue that the F430 with the F1 transmission is damn-near foolproof on the track and would most likely still be the transmission of choice for the quickest times around a course. If I suddenly hit the lotto, and was writing the checks, I'd choose an F430 Spider with the traditional 6-speed manual transmission for my "daily-driver" on the road and an F430 Berlinetta (coupe) with the F1 tranny for the track. Ferrari has also managed to engineer a chassis and suspension that feels as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. In fact, after the first few miles piloting the F430, I was afraid of the resultant kidney-busting pain I would have to endure in this car once I traversed some of the rough and rippled two lane roads in and around the Sonoma wine country, as the suspension is that tightly suspended and damped. However, to my unexpected pleasure, the F430 rewards its driver with an amazingly supple ride. Adding to the experience is an incredible lack of top-down cowl shake. It's this kind of attention to engineering excellence that at once makes this Ferrari seem well worth its over-$200,000 asking price.

One of the best sensual parts of this open-top Ferrari is the noise. My, oh my, the noise is really like everyone says. The engine and exhaust notes are simply the most seductive I have ever heard. The shrieking and ripping-silk sound that comes when you bypass the exhaust baffles with the throttle gives this car a whole new edge. Even in, say, sixth gear at low speeds, flexing your right toe gives you a symphony that will permanently plant a huge grin on your face. The F430 is loud, but with this car, you really will never care. The interior, as you would expect, is a hedonist's delight with almost any surface coming in contact with any part of your body covered in the softest and smoothest leather in any automobile I've been in recently. I was also impressed in the fit-and-finish and the quality of the switchgear inside the F430. There is now no question that the Ferrari is a quality item. I've driven some older Ferraris before and I was really worried that the new-generation Ferraris such as this F430 would be watered-down. Today's automotive consumers, even Ferrari enthusiasts, demand far more in terms of quality, fit-and-finish, daily-drivability, and overall reliability. I was overjoyed to find that the F430 Spider provides a unique and tantalizing experience, one that succinctly sets it apart from any other automobile of recent memory. This Ferrari F430 Spider promises an ownership experience that truly is unique, rewarding, and worth the price of admission. For more information on Ferrari products, go to www.ferrariusa.com. For more information on the Ferrari Challenge, go to www.ferrarichallenge.com.

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