Wild Horses

The Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge is the car to beat the car-collector syndrome. It’s not a Stradale, but the real-deal, track-only version that raced in the popular one-make championship. Introduced in 1999 after the seventh season of the series, it was the third model to be built for that purpose, the successor of the 348 and the 355. Developed under the guidance of test driver and multiple Challenge winner Costantino Bertuzzi, the 360 has been the first Challenge which could be used only on track and the first to adopt the F1-style semi-auto gearbox. With its 400hp 3.6 litre V8, it represented a major step forward in the development of Ferrari GT racing cars. Also now it can be bought at a fraction of a Stradale value: for what is worth, a true Ferrari racing car is one of those “ultimate possessions” for any petrolhead.

Elected as the most beautiful car in the world in 1999 by the jury of the “World’s Most Beautiful Automobile” Concours, the 360 Modena represented a major departure from the classic lines of V8 Ferrari’s of the previous 30 years. With an entirely new monocoque aluminum frame jointly developed by Ferrari and Alcoa it represented a true revolution in the making. Its plastic forms and harmonious dynamism made it one of the most interesting modern-day Ferraris every built. Sure indeed, and in pure Ferrari fashion, the Challenge and GT variants were true expression of both timeless beauty and extreme purposefulness. The Challenge, with its near-road-car status, was a true object of beauty and definitely one of the most successful single-make racing cars ever designed. 

There’s a guilty pleasure in driving a pure race car on the street. It’s like one of those forbidden pleasures but that it is ultimately a legal thing to do. An original Modena Challenge will do, and it will do the job of any street-legal special… only better. Mind you, it’s not the first time that Escape on Wheels gets behind the wheel of a road-converted racer: our memories with our friend Dr.Joe’s excellent 996 Cup are a high-point for us, but this one is even better. While the first was changed in many aspects (windows, exhaust, safety equipment and so-on), the latter has had only minor changes. Besides using street tires instead of slicks, the modifications included only the installation of the passenger seat, while the rest was left exactly as it was during its racing life. 

Yes, this is not a joke. The Challenge boasted modifications aimed at making it lighter and nimbler, yet the whole drivetrain was not  touched, leaving the car almost identical to its stock-form. Indeed, a pair of purpose-built air filters and a special free-flow exhaust were used, but the soul of the road car is there. 

Modifications over the road car included lexan windows, composite bumpers, bonnets and doors, carbon-fibre dashboard, which helped shave off 150kg than the standard model, resulting in just 1170kg with fluids. A bespoke braking system with floating disc brakes from Brembo and an additional transmission radiator were also fitted to the car. While maintaining the same suspension geometry as the road car, the Challenge used bespoke shock absorbers and springs and wider 235/645 and 295/645 Pirelli p-zeros instead of the Modena’s regular 215/45 and 275/40 tires. Despite being minor differences for the vehicle dynamics, the car has gained a lot in agility due to different camber and ackermann angles, making the front end more responsive than the standard version. 

It doesn’t happen every day that you can ditch the trailer and use your race car to drive from your garage to the racetrack through normal traffic. As rear brake lights and turn signals were part of the standard equipment, it was possible to drive the Challenge on the road with ease. Looking very similar to a normal 360 Modena, and being not particularly loud, it was not a problem to drive on the streets down to the Franciacorta racetrack. Surprisingly, the car is extremely well damped and since the transmission is pretty much in stock trim, it functioned just like any 360. Surely, the absence of interior carpeting and air conditioner system was felt, but if that’s a sauna we like, that is a race car in a hot day in summer. 

Sure, you must use the paddles to change gear as there’s no “automatic” mode whatsoever, and gearchanges are predictably slow under normal circumstances. All information is put on a digital display and there are the usual racing switches that add to the experience.

At normal speed, besides the deep resonance of the engine there is not much sound coming from inside the cabin: there’s no whine from single-cut gears and there’s not even the slight hint of the typical jerkiness of a race-car driving at slow speed. The road behaviour is so good that you might want to take it this on a long journey, just because driving a racing Ferrari on the street is such an unforgettable experience. 

However, the Challenge is so-called because it was designed to work on a racetrack and it’s there that all starts to make sense. Bump and rebound regulations are ideal to maintain traction on bumpy sections and the power is delivered savagely under hard acceleration. The gearchanges are brutal and quick, almost resembling an early electro-pneumatic sequential gearbox and the direction changes are instantaneous. The sound is remarkable and perhaps unique only to the 360: with a snarl coming from the induction trumpets,  there’s a genuine mechanical pleasure in driving it hard on a track. Sure, the fact that it is so adaptable to the road make it even more interesting for those enthusiasts who love the old-school idea of driving a race-car to the track instead of putting it on a trailer. 

“Our” car, chassis 119074 was originally raced in the Central European series of the Ferrari Challenge by the Dutch team and Ferrari importer Kroymans, with gentleman driver Jan Storm behind the wheel. Clad in a distinctive red and yellow livery, it was one of the first Modena Challenges ever built and delivered to a prominent Ferrari team, which raced it with a certain degree of success, winning the Shell Cup at Spa Francorchamps in 2002. 

This is the kind of car only astute buyers will consider. While the Challenge Stradale is now left in climate-controlled garages and few will be used as intended, it’s the old Challenge race-car that has its turn to shine: now, with a possibility to homologate it on the road, it is possible to enjoy a bit of Ferrari’s racing history…even when passing through a railroad crossing!

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