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Spielberg, 23rd - 24th of April, 2019

When people talk about Ferrari and racing certainly most of them are thinking of Ferrari being the only team to compete in Formula 1 since the beginning in 1950. But back in the days the sports and GT cars of Ferrari were on top of the game and even more than in F1 the marque from Maranello dominated the international racing scene outside the open wheel racing. Today the GT cars from the 1960 like the 250 GT SWB or the GTO are icons and on top of the shopping list of the wealthy collectors.

Back in 1970 sports car racing reached the next level when Porsche went for the top crown in Le Mans and a small company Ferrari was at the time they had to decide in which direction they would go in the future and with Enzo Ferrari favouring F1 the sports car program ended with the 512 and the 312 prototypes, the Scuderia officially pulled out of sports car racing.

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In the next years the name Ferrari only appeared on the entry lists under the name of their various importers who commissioned special cars to race, be it the NART Team, Ecurie Francorchamps or Charles Pozzi. Raced with little success the 512 BB was then developed into the 512 BBLM but again the required 25 examples for the homologation were entered privately rather than from the works.

But the request of Ferrari drivers to compete in the cars with the prancing horse never stopped and so in 1993 Ferrari finally started the Ferrari Challenge were privateers and race team could compete in a special series of race prepared 348 TB, the 348 Challenge. Without having to compete against other marques the immense costs of development could be avoided that would have been needed to represent Ferrari in the way the company intended in international racing, but yet the new racers were base for private Le Mans entries, as the two 348 GTC-LM entries of the Repsol Ferrari Spain racing team and the Ferrari Club of Italy. In the afterbirth of Group C the Ferrari had tom compete with the Dauer Porsche, the Courage and Toyota in general and the Porsche 911 RSR. The Ferrari from Spain did well and achieved a 11th place overall, this car was also one of the oldest and most important entrants of this week’s Challenge days at the Red Bull Ring, bought by enthusiast for all Ferrari Challenge and organiser of the track days, Heinz Swoboda.

Swoboda and German luxury car dealer Jan B. Lühn might be the forerunner of the recent boom of the Challenge cars as Lühn directly sold some of the works cars from AF Corse and Swododa not only initiating the track days but being keen enough to enter the Challenge cars into the world of the international concours circuit. The mentioned 348 GTC-LM started a new era in Palm Beach winning the most significant racing car award at the established Cavallino Classic bringing the newer Ferrari into the focus next to the traditional 1960s GT cars.

Since 1993 Ferrari kept the Challenge going and over the years the 348, the 355, the 360 Modena as well as the F430 and F458 were raced until just recently the turbo era was started with the 488 Challenge. So over the years many Challenge cars were built but lacking road registration only few events were open to those who left the Challenge so there was a very small market for them. Track days are the best possibility to enjoy the racers but since the end of the Modena Track Days there were only the official Ferrari racing days left to group up with other likeminded Challenge owners. Fortunately Swoboda came up with the idea of organizing the Challenge and GT Days in Spielberg last year and as the personal efforts paid off with a strong field in the first year the tracks were laid out for an annual event. With an even higher amount of cars coming to Spielberg this year it shows that in just two years the track days found a lot of approval within the Ferrari community and thanks to a well-organized event the cars could be enjoyed to the fullest.

As mentioned a lot of former and current challenge cars could be seen but also some of the even more important GT cars from AF Corse. The racing team from Piacenza is a well-known name in the FIA GT Championship and after competing with the Maserati MC12 in 2004 the team switched to Ferrari and the 458 won them the FIA World Endurance Championship in the GTE class.

Two Maserati MC12 could be seen, one of them a MC12 Corsa brought by Max Girardo and the other one a genuine MC12-GT1 from the Vitaphone Racing team winning the GT category in 2005 and 2006, former driver Michael Bartels was at Spielberg to show the new owner of the Black-Green Maserati how to properly drive the trident.

3 of the 2014 Ferrari 458 GTC entered by AF Corse were driven in Spielberg, campaigned by Michelotto mechanics who kept the cars running. Most successful was the No.51 car (chassis 2878) that came 15th overall at Le Mans winning its class, the two 71 cars were the actual entrant and the car used in practice but crashed. After 2012 this was the second time the Ferrari won the GT-Pro Category.

The most interesting cars might have been the duo of Ferrari 550 GTS. This front engined racer based on the 550 Maranello was developed by Prodrive to compete in GT1 and the car won its class at Le Mans in 2003. Max Girardo and James Cottingham from DK Engineering did a lot of quick laps in the red racer, unfortunately the sister car in Red Bull colours as driven by local hero Dieter Quester remained silent these days due to an oil leak. Not as quick as the MC12 the V12 Ferrari certainly had the best sound in the mountains going up the long straight to the Remus Curve.

Fortunately the weather did not follow the weather forecast as rain was predicted for the day after Easter and not many laps were expected on Tuesday. But as the weather stayed dry the conditions were good for some fast laps and thanks to a loose timetable the drivers were not really bound to groups so everybody was basically free to drive whenever he wanted. So the already mentioned 550 GTS and a Ferrari F430 in the Brazilian colours of Bruno Senna brought from Germany by Kevin Braun of Schaltkulisse were seen pretty often on track taking full advantage of the days.

At the end of the driving day the cars were lined up in the main straight for a great group shot showing the amount of cars seen that day.

In the evening during the gala dinner Max Girardo was back to his old duties as auctioneer raising almost 32000 Euros for the Wings of Life organisation for the research of spinal cord injuries initiated by Red Bull.

After a longer evening some drivers preferred to pass the first hours of driving in the morning of day two and after a few more laps after lunch the cars finally were packed for their way home. Certainly most of them will be back for a third edition of the Challenge and GT Days as there were only good comments heard about the event. Those smaller, more private events are the future as the well-established racing and rally events attract less and less good cars. One reason might be the competitive aspect in actual racing that keeps owners of very original cars away, sometimes it is the more commercial atmosphere, so a track day in a familiar surrounding certainly is the best way to enjoy the cars.

Report & images ... Peter Singhof