The Ferrari Challenge UK, the latest addition to the Prancing Horse’s one-make championships, made its debut in 2019, achieving immediate critical and public success. This national series, strongly desired in what is known as the cradle of motorsport, allows participants to try their hand on some of the most iconic and spectacular British tracks. We talk about it with Marco Gasparet, Race Operation Manager of Ferrari Challenge Europe and, since 2019, coordinator of the new championship. Marco has been a well-known face in the Ferrari Challenge paddock since 2012, a real point of reference for teams and drivers.
Q: The Challenge UK offers the first national Ferrari Challenge series for many years. What prompted you to launch this project?
A: “Indeed, the Ferrari Challenge UK is the first national championship since the merger of the Ferrari Challenge Italia and Europe. The British market is one of Ferrari’s most important, with thirteen dealers and a group of passionate racing customers. This country also stands out for the many circuits scattered along its length and breadth. So it seemed an ideal situation in which to offer a national championship on top of our competitive activities”.
Q: Britain is the cradle of motorsport, and the public turnout for every race testifies to the people’s great passion and knowledge. Did you expect this kind of success?
A: “We’re not surprised, we’re proud of our success. The choice of Britain was no accident, and certainly, the historical passion of the British for motorsport formed part of the assessment. The public has responded very well to our events. Obviously, the biggest turnout was for the rounds at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, two historic circuits that are always very successful, but the fans showed up everywhere. This year we’re also emphasising on the new round at Donington, subject to the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the UK Motorsport Federation”.
Q: On this subject, the pandemic has brought the whole of motorsport, British and otherwise, to a halt. How are you preparing for the resumption?
A: “At the moment Motorsport UK has confirmed that all events are halted until 30 June. We are working closely with the British organisers and our local branch to safely prepare the start of the championship for the weekend of 3-5 July. Obviously, it is a difficult situation for the whole world, not just for motorsport, and the travel restrictions are an aggravating factor. However, the fact that the Challenge UK is a national championship in which only British drivers can participate gives us hope that we can start on the scheduled dates. The health of everyone involved is the most important aspect for us, which is why we are drawing up a monitoring plan to ensure that the events take place safely”.
Q: This is a very different type of championship from other international series. Can you summarise the main differences?
A: “The technical regulations are essentially the same as for the Ferrari Challenge Europe, except for certain aspects related to the cars used in the two championships, the 488 Challenge Evo in Europe and the 488 Challenge in Britain. As in the Asia Pacific series, technical assistance is managed by a single team, while in Europe and North America it is delegated to the various dealers. Drivers taking part in the Ferrari Challenge UK hold a national Grade A licence, while for the European Championship the minimum is International Grade C. Also, unlike all other series, the rounds follow a two-day format. On Saturday, after the normal scrutineering and briefing procedures, there are 80 minutes of free practice, 30 minutes of qualifying and 30 minutes for Race-1. On Sunday, the programme is less tight and includes 30 minutes’ qualifying and 30 minutes for Race-2. In terms of the non-competitive aspect, having just inaugurated the series, we have a new hospitality area available to our customers and sponsors”.
Q: The series programme is usually compressed into two days, a feature that has met with the approval of the participants. What is the reason for this choice?
A: “Above all, to meet the needs of our drivers, who are more inclined to restrict their racing commitments to the weekend. This has also greatly simplified the management of logistics between the various rounds while requiring a tight schedule during the race weekends”.
Q: The international series can draw on a large pool of drivers who have been participating for many years. It seems that the UK is following this trend.
A: “Since the first season of the Ferrari Challenge UK we have had more than 20 cars on the track and have had excellent feedback from the participants. We always try to introduce innovations to improve the championship, as we do in the other Ferrari Challenge series and as is obviously in Ferrari’s DNA. Again this year about twenty cars will line up at the start, with a more developed calendar than the 2019 season. In agreement with MSVR, we have introduced a round at the historic Donington track and an alternative race weekend at Brands Hatch, held over three days to give the drivers the chance to try their hand not only on the Indy track but also on the historic GP track”.
Q: What are the medium- to long-term aims of the series?
A: “The main aim is to bring our customers, motorsport enthusiasts of course, ever closer to the world of racing and the Ferrari family. The British championship is also an excellent springboard for our other international series [Europe, North America and Asia Pacific, Editor’s note] and, for that matter, also for GT championships around the world, where Ferrari participates with the 488 GT3 and 488 GTE cars coordinated by the Competizioni GT organisation”.
Q: You are not just involved in the Ferrari Challenge UK. Your role within Ferrari Challenge Europe allows you to follow the races from the race direction. How would you compare the two different series in terms of driver behaviour on the track?
A: “As Race Operation Manager in the Ferrari Challenge Europe I follow the sessions from race control, which I also do in the Ferrari Challenge UK. At the sporting level, the regulations are almost identical except for certain facets arising from the differences between UK national and international regulations. Both the Ferrari Challenge UK and Europe are highly spectacular but with a high level of respect between drivers, both Pro and Gentleman. Certainly, the ‘old style’ layout of the British tracks, with very few asphalt escape routes, and the ever-changing weather conditions, forces the British series drivers to pay even more attention to the race conditions, significantly limiting contacts or accidents”.