Marketable motorsport is a big deal when it comes to selling new performance cars in 2022. Not so long ago, a connection to motorsport was a racing stripe or a silly spoiler; nowadays, there is appropriate expertise to go from the circuit to the street. And it’s also designed for great cars in the process – think the new GT3 RS and its near-ton of downforce, the 10-level traction control in an M3 CSL and the regenerative braking power of a 296 GB.
Plus, if that’s not enough, manufacturers offer all sorts of track-only hypercars to really hone your skills and experience the best that’s on offer without being hampered by competition regulations. Anyone who wants to experience just how spectacular motorsport can create a car that doesn’t require a racing license to drive is spoiled for choice. It seems a bit odd that multi-million pound track cars are in abundance and superminis can’t be profitable, but hey, it’s a funny old world.
The point is – and the reason we love this F355 Challenge homologated for the road – that all of this can seem a little too much sometimes. The inevitable march of progress, perhaps. But even free on the track, you’re not going to feel what an 800bhp car can really do for long before you catch up to another (unless, okay, you’re on one of the days of super duper track). And even the best cars built with the track in mind never really feel right on the road. It can seem, at times, that the capabilities of larger cars have almost exceeded our ability to enjoy them.
This is where the Ferrari comes in. Because, yes, it’s a street-legal race car, and that should make it unbearable on public roads. Or too quick to use. But remember, the Challenge was an upgrade kit at the time, rather than a basic race car. You tend to see a few converted on-road challenges because presumably it wasn’t that far off the road car. The 380-hp five-valve V8 was unchanged, to begin with. It then becomes easier to think of these cars much like the later Stradales and Speciales – Ferrari’s best road racing cars. Only with a manual gearbox. And the way an F355 always looks just stunning.
The Challenge bit box included everything you hoped 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 racing series gained wider fame through the console and arcade version of the game. What a way to experience a manual Ferrari for the first time that was…
Anyway, to the challenge in question. Delivered new to Australia in 1997 – yes, 25 years ago – it arrived in the UK a few years later, where its right-hand drive would of course have been an advantage. Here it belonged to MA 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 racing instructor. Which is pretty cool. The selling dealership first encountered it in 2017, after preparing it for sale to its current owner. Apparently the Challenge was used sparingly for the next five years, but was serviced at a Ferrari dealership, with its last service in March.
It always looks awesome, right? The interior in particular is a highlight, a fascinating mismatch between motorsport and the old-school Ferrari sports car. There can’t be many cream leather roll cages. And those magnesium wheels, with the big Brembos tucked behind them, have surely never been upgraded.
Could you use it regularly? Why not? The ride height feels positively high by modern track car standards, and there’s even sidewall on these tires. Harnesses will be a faff, but no road racer would be complete without them. Same with the cage – you’ll probably only hit your head once. People will tell you that modern supercars are too easy, anyway. This challenge feels like a real compromise between effort, reward, ability and performance. All for a little more than an M4 CSL. If racing cars for the road are now a little too serious, the Challenge could be the ideal alternative.