Ferrari made its long anticipated SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge series debut this past weekend at Infineon Raceway.
G-Speed Motorsports rolled out its newly acquired Ferrari F430 GT2 car, in the hands of team principal Berle Smith and driver David Welch.
The mix of manufacturers participating in the series includes Porsche, Cadillac, Volvo, Chevrolet, Ford, Acura, Nissan, Honda and Volkswagen, but never a Ferrari in the series' 21-year history.
Although expensive, it proved a popular pick for Smith to purchase for competition in the World Challenge's GT class, the premier class of three in the series.
“I didn't want to buy a Porsche, because that would be just another Porsche in the field,” Smith said. “To develop a car like a Volvo or a Cadillac requires huge dollars. I looked for the next best thing, something unique, and talked with the SCCA about what we could make work, and the 430 fit in.”
Discussions for the eventual ex-Tafel Racing 430 that raced in the American Le Mans Series occurred over a six-to-nine-month process. Smith had been close to acquiring the ex-Petersen White Lightning 430 before that broke down.
While a fully fledged and factory-supported effort required millions, Smith has rollers, spares and a second car available to prepare for about half a million.
The differences between this and a Viper, which Smith worked on previously and Welch drove two races in 2009 for Woodhouse Performance, started with repair bills.
“The biggest difference is that if you wad up a Viper, you're out $80-120,000,” Smith said. “If you wad up a Ferrari, you're out $300-500,000! The Viper is a big torquey car while the Ferrari has more finesse and is technically advanced.”
Washington-based Welch, a driving coach and former competitor in Indy Lights, the North American Super Touring Series and the 25 Hours at Thunderhill (a 2004 winner), admitted both pride and pressure to being the first to drive a Ferrari in the series.
“Obviously it's an honor,” Welch said. “Right now we're down 90 horsepower to the rest of the field, we'll gain that next year. It makes it a little harder with more pressure on me to overcome that. Basically, our advantage is under braking and being really easy on tires.”
The biggest change comes in the ride height, with the Tafel car formerly competing at two inches in ALMS configuration. That jumps to three in World Challenge; while one inch doesn't sound like a lot, the difference is profound.
“The car wasn't designed for that,” Welch said. “We ran a test at two and three-quarters in a test, because the stock shocks weren't long enough. Now we got it to three, and the car works so much different with that quarter-inch difference in losing downforce underneath the car.”
Despite the suspension geometry changes, Welch still deadpanned it's better than any Viper he'd driven.
The team's first weekend at Infineon netted results of eighth and seventh both overall and in the GT class.
The ultimate goal for 2012 is a two-car effort, Smith said.