After its debut season in Europe in 1993, the nascent Ferrari Challenge series was quickly adopted in North America, making its debut with a partial season in 1994 and then its first full season in 1995. Today, Ferrari Challenge has blossomed in the North America market, with grids regularly exceeding fifty drivers across the four classes of competition and an additional 20 drivers participating in the Club Challenge program. In addition to the Challenge series, North America is home to the full range of Corso Pilota offerings as well as some of the most legendary and respected endurance races in the world, including the 24 Hours at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring, both run by the historic IMSA organization.
Leading the charge for all of these activities is Ferrari North America’s Head of Motorsports, Louis Colmache. He has generously offered his time to answer a few questions.
Q: The 2020 Challenge season was off to a rousing start before this necessary interruption, what were some of your favorite moments to date?
A: ” The 2020 season was certainly shaping up to be our best-ever season with lots of excitement and good energy throughout the paddock. Already in 2020 we had two fantastic events and so many different activities it is hard to isolate a favorite. For sure, however, I have to mention the unveiling of the 488 Challenge Evo at Daytona during the 24 Hours race. This was the first time that the car was shown in North America and it definitely got our clients excited ahead of its racing debut at Ferrari Racing Days a few weeks later.
The entire motorsports team within Ferrari North America is always striving to innovate and generate excitement and this was a perfect illustration of that philosophy. Of course, a huge thanks to Daniel Serra who was able to take a moment while he was competing in the 24 Hours at Daytona to join us to unveil the car to our clients.
I must also mention the fantastic turn out we had for Ferrari Racing Days, where thousands of fans filled the paddock and saw all of our fantastic cars take to the Road Atlanta circuit. It was a privilege to also be joined by the IMSA leadership team, including President John Doonan. But best of all, the racing action at Road Atlanta was really superb. Close battles throughout the grid, but lots of fair and respectful racing. This is what the Ferrari Challenge is about, and it was an excellent event”.
Q: Ferrari North America drivers are among the few clients in the world to have experienced the Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo in a competitive environment, what feedback have you received from the drivers about their experience?
A: “We received immensely positive feedback from our drivers about the new 488 Challenge Evo car, which was definitely super rewarding as it really was thrown into a very demanding environment at Road Atlanta. Our drivers were very complimentary about the enhanced balance with many saying that it felt like a completely new car. They also very much appreciated the improved driver interface points, especially the improved rear-view camera and GT3 inspired steering wheel”.
Q: Before joining the North America series in 2019, you ran the Asia Pacific series, what were the key differences between the series?
A: “For sure, the Asia Pacific series is a very different program than in North America – primarily because in North America we work very closely with a variety of teams who manage the cars on behalf of our clients whilst in the APAC series we were at the same time the series organizer and the team taking care of logistics and technical service of over 35 cars. The Asia Pacific series also covers a great deal more ground as we had races from Australia to Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and Japan in a single season. What has struck me about North America, however, is the diversity of our paddock, even though the vast majority of the series takes place between the United States and Canada. Among our 70 or so drivers, nearly 10 different nationalities are represented, with many drivers coming from Latin and South America to compete.
Also in North America, there is much more history to the series as it began in 1994. We have a number of drivers, like Mike Louli, like Alfred Caiola, and even some coaches like Didier Theys, who have been with the series for a huge number of years. That really gives the series a sense of legacy, and a good history to both look back on and to also use as inspiration for the future”.
Q: Unlike in Asia Pacific, however, you operate a full compliment of Corso Pilota courses in North America meaning a driver can complete the entire ladder to Ferrari Challenge competition in your market – what has that experience been like?
A: “Corso Pilota really forms the foundation of the Corse Clienti experience in North America. Clients who want to begin to get involved in on-track activities start there, and because we offer every level of the program within North America, they are able to advance very quickly. It is important also to note that during that time, they are able to develop relationships with many of the same coaches and staff that will potentially take care of them in Ferrari Challenge – should they choose to go that far. Our coaches are really what separate us as we are able to offer instruction from drivers who have won at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. The core is led by two championship drivers as well in Didier Theys and Alessandro Balzan and both of them are also directly involved with the Challenge series, meaning there are lots of familiar faces as drivers move up the ladder”.
Q: You have also overseen the implementation of the Club Challenge program in North America – tell us about that program and process in North America
A: “The Club Challenge program is one that has been an immense success world-wide as it really offers the perfect opportunity to experience all of the aspects of the Ferrari Challenge series without the stress of competition. These Challenge cars, even going back to the earlier models, always struck the right balance – delivering impressive performance, while also being easy to manage and maintain. The beauty of the Club Challenge program is that it offers an opportunity for owners of any of these fantastic race cars to take to the track with all of the amenities and infrastructure that are available to our Ferrari Challenge racing clients.
It is also a way for drivers who perhaps have a 488 Challenge race car to gain additional familiarity with the series, the tracks, the teams and their own abilities before moving into a competitive environment. Drivers can compare their times and their sessions against the Challenge drivers in the same conditions to see exactly where they stand and how they can improve. It’s a fantastic, no-pressure learning tool that we’re very proud to be able to offer”.
Q: We have also seen a number of drivers continue on from Ferrari Challenge to compete in the Ferrari 488 GT3 car in various series in North America. I’m sure this is a point of pride for you as well
A: “For sure it is always gratifying to see our drivers continue to develop their skills in our GT3 and GTE machinery. Its been a joy to watch Cooper MacNeil continue to develop as a driver within Ferrari Challenge and take those skills to the Weathertech Sportscar Championship in our GT3 car. Likewise, Martin Fuentes has earned multiple championships in the SRO Americas series, also in a Ferrari 488 GT3 car. Some other drivers have decided to have a bit of the best of both worlds – such as Chris Cagnazzi, Brian Kaminskey, Mark Issa and Alfred Caiola. It is quite rewarding to both see them pursue their championship aspirations in these other series, but then also return to a Challenge series that is certainly far more welcoming for families and friends than any other series in North America.
Perhaps most impressive is to see the development of a driver from Corso Pilota, through the Ferrari Challenge and all the way to Le Mans as Cooper Macneil and Wei Lu have done – both achieving podium-finishes in GTE-Am category.
Ferrari also remains a family affair, as father and son duo, Rich and Trevor Baek have shown in Challenge series and in GT3 championships. Watching families or couples embrace the offerings of the Ferrari Challenge series, and the greater opportunities to race with the historic brand, is truly the most rewarding experience in our series”.
Q: Ferrari Challenge in North America is more than just the series, it is an ecosystem of sponsors and partners who come together to make it all happen. Can you share what the partners mean to you in making Ferrari Challenge the spectacular experience that it is in North America?
A: “For sure, the Challenge series could not be the strongest GT single-make series in North America without the commitment and support of a variety of partners. Of course, we share some of the partners with the other regions of Ferrari Challenge, such as Hublot, Bell Helmets, Adler, Shell and of course Pirelli. The contribution of these partners cannot be undervalued. For example, the new tires that Pirelli has developed for the 488 Challenge Evo car have also received significant praise from our drivers for delivering more consistent lap times over the course of the race – a real improvement for our clients.
In North America as well, we very much appreciate the support of Misahara Jewelers and the Concours Club as well. Their presence adds to the ambiance of a Ferrari Challenge series in North America that is powered not only by the 80-strong staff of Ferrari North America and its agencies working on site at each event, but also by the most respected sanctioning body in road-course racing, IMSA. Their support as on-track officials and race directors is a critical piece to the success of this series since its inception”.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Ferrari Challenge in North America?
A: “I count myself lucky to have been welcomed to my new assignment in North America with open arms, not only from the competitors, but also from the teams and partners of the series. This is a very tight knit family, and it has been a pleasure to be a part of it all. The best part of my job is that I am surrounded by people who all share the same passion and commitment to racing as I do. I am lucky to be able to share many moments with our clients and with our partners where we are able to discuss and laugh about some bit of news or some past shared experience. This camaraderie is what makes the Ferrari racing community (Competizioni GT, Corse Clienti, Challenge series) so special, and it is definitely my favorite part”.
Q: Obviously you have a considerable passion for racing, how did that passion form and develop over time?
A: “Well, I’ve always been passionate about racing even starting as a child I was competing with go karts. But even then, I was a fan of the racing in the US, particularly of Indycar and even IMSA racing. In that period, it was the end of the GTP era, and also the era of the Ferrari 333SP, really the best time for sportscar racing in my opinion. The cars were loud, they had huge power and big downforce as well. They were really the coolest things, so I would stay up to watch the races. That’s when I began to see all of these great tracks in North America, like Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen or Road Atlanta. It has been a real privilege and journey to finally be able to experience these tracks in person as well and get to know some of the people who have been writing remarkable pages of the history of North American motorsport”.
Q: Any final comments you would like to share?
A: “Only to wish everyone well and good health as we continue through this difficult period. We are united by our shared passion for racing and I know we are all eager to get back to the track. But for right now we must be smart. We are listening to all of the experts, and the moment it is safe to return to the track, that is exactly where we will be”.