Ferrari F430 Challenge
Of the three, the Ferrari is the one that’s not road legal. A former UK Challenge Series car, it can now only be used as a rich man’s toy for track-days.
Because of the way the series rules were framed, its engine is effectively the same as the road car’s, its 4.3-liter quad-cam V8 producing 483 hp at 8500 rpm, with 343 lb-ft of torque at 5250 rpm.
Like all race derivatives of road cars, the F430 Challenge has had its weight reduced to 2,700 pounds by a cockpit strip, so there are no carpets or soundproofing. The interior is furnished with a full roll cage, snug racing seats, five-point harnesses and a detachable steering wheel. The analog instruments are replaced by a digital display.
With no manettino, or start button, on the race steering wheel, the car is set in Race mode only, with traction control and stability systems permanently disengaged, and only ABS and ASR left active. The E-differential is replaced with a mechanical limited-slip differential, and the coilover suspension has much stiffer race springs and dampers.
Getting in and out of the Challenge car is your first baptism of fire. Clearing the cage’s sidebars involves putting both feet on the seat, holding on to the top bar and climbing in. Once in, you find that the already-compact cabin is made even more so by the cage. Your race helmet is almost permanently in contact with it. I decided to retain the resultant marks on my helmet as badges of honor.
With less weight to pull, the V8 revs up a fraction faster than in the road car, and the lack of soundproofing gives you the full dose of soundtrack right behind your head. Revving to redline involves the whole gamut of sounds from the baritone low end to the primal scream of the flat-plane crank V8 in full battle cry. The six-speed paddle-operated gearbox shifts ratios in 180ms, which is pretty much instantaneously. It also blips the throttle perfectly on downshifts.
However, the over-square V8 motor does its best work over 4000 rpm, and I had to use Second gear to obtain convincing acceleration out of the two slowest corners at Ascari, where the other cars were happy in Third.
A very low car in standard form, made lower by its race suspension setup, the F430 Challenge initially feels more like a racing car than the more upright GT3 RS.
Like the Porsche, the F430 Challenge is very sensitive to the state of its tires. When they are on their way out, the stiff front end understeers noticeably in tighter bends, the mechanical limited-slip differential that replaces the E-diff of the road car, contributing to this.
However, when the tires are doing their job and the suspension is properly dialed, the Ferrari’s handling is a thing of beauty. Unlike the F360 Challenge, which was very snappy at the limit, the F430 Challenge lets go progressively, and trail braking to rotate the tail into a bend holds no peril.
The F430’s underbody aero is a treat, more so with the lower Challenge car, which better utilizes the ground effect to keep it anchored in fast bends. In fact, in medium and fast bends, the understeer in the slower turns due to the worn slicks was counterbalanced to some extent by the aero.
The F430 Challenge driving experience is best described as intense. The pure racer of the group, it bombards your senses with furious sounds and sensations from the moment you pull out of the pit lane. Doing a 10-lap race in this car would be both incredible and emotionally draining.
Dialogue Between Driver And Car Bores Straight Into Your Synapses.
Derived from a design that hails from the 1960s, the Caterham Superlight R500 has a level of purity and tactility that is so evenly embedded in its DNA, it’s hard to see how it could be further improved. Its balance of strengths is spot-on in all respects, and as a pure, fun car, it is unsurpassed, even in this exalted company. The only downside to the least expensive car in this comparison is that fact that it is impractical as daily transport.
As a race car, the F430 Challenge is impressive, but as a track-day car, it will cost more to run than the equivalent Porsche Carrera Cup or Supercup car. In practice, owners have found the high-revving V8 to be very reliable if looked after properly; it’s other bits of the car that are high maintenance. If used on high-grip tracks, the Ferrari seems to knock out its tires and wheel bearings very quickly.
The engineers at Weissach have found the Holy Grail with the GT3 RS. In this context, that means the perfect balance between engine and chassis coupled to the build quality and practical nature of a Porsche, coupled to a not-unreasonable price tag and good residual values.
The RS is the car that truly delivers the best of both worlds, and even retains enough comfort to be used as a daily driver. This is a car I would happily drive off into the sunset with, and like all true greats, I’m sure it will still feel good when I revisit it a few years down the line.