Road Atlanta The third event of the 1996 season of the 1996 Ferrari Challenge series was a "debut" event: Ferrari North America debuted their new transporter/hospitality truck, and several teams debuted new cars. For the first time there were as many F355s and 348s, 12 of each, and competition in each class is getting intense.
Some things were unchanged, though. Steve Earle was again on pole for the first race, with Paul Frame sharing the front row. They were followed by Peter Sachs and Tom Popadopoulos, both back in the series after missing the Texas event; all were in F355s. Carlos Hank Jr. had the 348 class pole, ahead of Emile Assentato and points leader Jim Kenton.
A number of new drivers joined the series at Road Atlanta: Ugo Colombo, Lawrence Stroll, Benny Caiola, and Clifford Park in F355s, and Michael Louli and Bill Schuchter in 348s. The Ferrari of Ontario team made its first 1996 appearance, with Pak, Louli and Paul Kiitchener, an active 1994 competitor returning to the series.
Steve Earle led every lap of the first race, pressured by Paul Frame and Tom Papadopoulos; Neuman and Sachs encountered various problems, and neither was a factor in the results. Papadopoulos got past Frame and was able to hold on for second place. Carlos Hank Jr. not only won his class, but finished an outstanding third overall, just ahead of Frame and Jim McCormick. Assentato and de Quesada joined him on the podium.
Results of the first race were used to set the grid for the second. This race was probably the most exciting of the 1996 season, with multiple lead changes and more than a bit of controversy. Tom Papadopoulos took the lead from Earle at the start, but after a pause to rebuild the chicane on the backstretch Earle got past him coming down the hill before the start/finish line. Earle was unable to pull clear of the white F355 on his tail, but an encounter with lapped traffic and waving yellow flags decided the results. Earle was assessed a stop and go penalty for passing under a yellow flag, dropping him to fifth in the F355 class. Papadopoulos took the win, only four seconds ahead of Paul Frame. Jim McCormick took third, just ahead of Carlos Hank, Sr.
Emile Assentato won the 348 class ahead of points leader JimKenton; Carlos de Quesada was again on the podium in third place. Kenton maintains his 348 class lead, but de Quesada had closed to within five poitns, a difference of only one position at a single race. Steve Earle holds a strong 65 point lead in the F355 standings, but Jim McCormick is ahead of Paul Frame in second, again by only a five point margin.
Canadian Grand Prix Previous Challenge Updates have described various races as "the most exciting" and have praise the tracks as "most interesting." In both areas, the Ferrari Challenge race supporting the Grand Prix du Canada on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve set new standards for the series.
First, as you would expect from an event managed by the FIA, the corner workers, safety equipment and such were to the highest standards. Cameras and video recorders covered every inch of the track, making the stewards job much easier.
Second, this race saw the largest field of the 1996 Challenge series. The 28 cars which appeared were divided between 11 F355s and 17 348s; only defending Champion George Robinson’s 348, suffering from an electrical problem, failed to make the grid for the race.
And third, the Ferrari Challenge was one of the highlights of the weekend. Not all the 101,000 spectators were in the stands when the race started but those who were spent much of the race on their feet, cheering the Ferraris on. There was racing – with passing all through the field, and battles in both classes up to the checkered flag.
Steve Earle once again took pole position, but a tight battle through the first few turns left him spinning at the side of the track as the field went by (he later set fastest race lap as worked his way back up toward the front). Paul Frame and Tom Papadopoulos fought each other for the lead for six laps, but contact (replayed for the crowd on the large "diamond-vision" screens around the track) led to a penalty for both cars, and allowed Peter Sachs to take the lead, which he held to the finish.
Sachs, Frame, and Earle took the Asprey trophies for the F355 class; Emil Assentato, James Place, and Carlos Hank Jr. did the same for the 348s. Trophies were presented by Jean Todt, Director of the Ferrari Formula One team, on the same podium where the winners of the Grand Prix would stand a few hours later.
The perfect end to the weekend would have been to watch the Ferrari Formula One team sweep to victory. That didn’t happen, but it didn’t really detract from an outstanding Ferrari Challenge event in Canada.