FLASH: Excitement is running high for the 4th round of the Ferrari Challenge Europe at the La Sarthe circuit Saturday, 15 June, just hours before the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is a special event, different from any other in Ferrari’s 1-make series, which will see all the 488 Challenge supercars on track for a 35-min race that promises to be extraordinarily hard-fought and exciting.
The Races, The Teams
Trofeo Pirelli. As there is still all to play for in the standings, the extra points awarded by the French race offers drivers a chance to turn the season around. Niccolò Schirò, currently leading with 73 points, after a difficult weekend in Spielberg only has a 3-point advantage over Louis Prette and nine over Sam Smeeth. Thomas Neubauer, absent from Austria, and especially Bjorn Grossmann, aim to make up respective gaps of 23 and 25 points from the leader. The nine entrants also include Adam Carroll, the winner in Spielberg, and Belgian John Wartique, 28 anni, who has driven in the GP3 Series and is making his debut in the one-make series.
Trofeo Pirelli AM. In this class, 17 cars will compete for the final victory even if it is difficult to imagine any shake-up in the overall rankings, dominated by Jack Brown on 91 points, courtesy of 2 consecutive victories and consistent performances. The Briton is the only driver to have finished on the podium in every race. Behind him, on 77 points, Emanuele Maria Tabacchi should do better than his duck in Austria, which hit his hopes for the title. The Italian driver started the season with two wins in Bahrain, followed by 2 2nd places in Valencia. Behind these 2 come 4 drivers all on 31 points: Jan Danis, Frederik Espersen, Martin Nelson and Christian Overgaard. From the US, Chris Carel and Eric Marston will stand out in a very competitive grid.
Coppa Shell. With 18 drivers entered, the Coppa Shell is the most popular class on the grid. The Lebanese Tani Hanna tops the standings with 89 points, after 2 wins and 2 podiums, followed 14 points behind by Ernst Kirchmayr, who won Race-2 in Valencia and Spielberg, in what was his home race. Canadian Eric Cheung, one of the fastest on the track, with his 62 points, is banking on this race to put himself back in mix for the title, as are Christian Kinch and Ken Abe, respectively on 59 and 57 points. This class sees four drivers from the Challenge North America, the highest number. Besides the already mentioned Thomas Tippl, there will be Dale Katechis, Geoffrey Palermo and Brent Holden, while “Baby Kei” will join the group from the Asia Pacific series.
Coppa Shell AM. The races and the championship in this class where 3 drivers are separated by just 4 points have been marked by balance and uncertainty. The Belgian Laurent De Meeus leads the standings, with 4 2nd places and points from every race. After skipping the first outing, Henrik Jansen has powered up the rankings with 3 wins and is only 2 points behind De Meeus. The Polish Agata Smolka is in 3rd position on 74 points, having enjoyed an excellent H-1 of the season with 2 victories. Of the 17 competitors in this class, three come from the North American Challenge, Lisa Clark, Mark Fuller and Al Hegyi.
History. This will be the 4th time in its 27 years that the Ferrari Challenge will run on the track made famous by the French enduro run. The 1st was in Y 2011 when about 50 of the 430 and 458 Challenges took to the track, a figure repeated in Y 2013. In Y 2016, the Challenge appeared at Le Mans for the 84th edition of the French classic, with over 40 cars starting the race on 1 of the world’s most famous tracks. That year Marcello Puglisi won in the Trofeo Pirelli, Sam Smeeth in the Trofeo Pirelli AM and Vladimir Hladik in the Coppa Shell.
Program. The program for the 4th round of the Ferrari Challenge Europe is different this year, concentrating the track activities into 2 days, with 2 free practice sessions Thursday, at 10 am, and 11:25 am, both 45 mins long. The 60-min race for pole position started at 3 pm.
Friday no track activities take place, as usual at Le Mans, but for the 1st time, the drivers of the Ferrari Challenge will join their 24 Hours colleagues in the parade through the streets of the city centre. The 35-min race sets off on Saturday at 10:15 am, broadcast live and free on live.ferrari.com. Tune in.
Exclusive: Our David Christian reporting from the track Friday
Friday is a slow day as the track is closed to the teams and the hot pits are open to the fans. There is a parade for the drivers in the old town center tonight and Eric will be in it, so that will be fun.
Eric (Marston, Ferrari of Westlake) did very well in the short practice sessions, but wasn’t getting his pace in qualifying until near the end when the session was red flagged. So his starting position is not that great, but he should be able to do some passing in the race. Since he is relatively young compared to many of the drivers, he has been moved up two classes from the US. The class is very full and very fast, so not much chance for a podium unfortunately.
Driving at Le Mans is daunting, as there are many very fast sections and the sheer reputation of the place is intimidating, but Eric has done really well so far, considering his overall lack of experience. His coach here is Ferdinando, a Ferrari test driver. He is excellent. He and Eric get along well and he is a tremendous help. You can see him with Eric in several of the attached pix. It is hard to communicate the sheer number of spectators. On Thursday, it looked like Sunday for most race weekends. There are tents everywhere, as many come early and literally live at the track. Good luck sleeping when the 24 is on!! Some have been here since Monday. Friday is when the crowds really start to hit. The weather seems to be clearing and warming a bit. Some times it seems the temperature will drop 20 degrees in about five minutes. Hopefully little or no rain. It has been raining off and on, but a bit less each day.
The 3 teams in the 24 that we are closest to are both struggling a bit. Risi’s GTE Pro Ferrari #89 has 3 really fast drivers, but they have not driven the 488 before. The car is brand new and they have had a few teething issues, so are a little behind on setup. But, typically Risi does better in the race than the lead up.
The #62 Weathertech car in GTE Am just doesn’t seem to be on pace. Toni Vilander, an ex-Risi driver is blindingly fast, so not sure what the issue is there. Cooper MacNeil, his codriver as become a friend as he runs Ferrari Challenge as well, so perhaps I can find out more from Cooper this afternoon.
Eric’s race is about 11 Saturday morning and the 24 starts at 3. As usual, no clue how the 24 will go. If it is really exciting, we will probably stay up all night. If moderately good, we will catch a few hours sleep in the rental car or one of the transporters. If it has become a parade, we might just go back to the hotel around 1 or 2 for a few hours sleep there. You want to be a the track when the Sun comes up. Everyone is feeling good to have made it through the night and “Happy Hour” comes then with cool track temps and the rising Sun, it is the fastest time of the race for the drivers.
More Saturday, Best, DC
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The iconic Italian Supercar manufacturer claimed the title according to the latest Brand Finance Global 500 2019 report launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
HeffX-LTN overall technical outlook for RACE is Bullish to Very Bullish, light resistance now at 153.83, and strong support 146.91, all of our Key indicators are Very Bullish in here. Ferrari finished at 152.88, – 1.17 on the day in NY Friday
Enjoy the racing at Le Mans this weekend