Race Car on the Street
I was recently given the opportunity to drive a Ferrari F430 Challenge race car through the streets of Philadelphia. After 5 minutes, I wished that I hadn't taken the opportunity - after 10 minutes, I wished I hadn't been born.
Before I explain what it was like to drive this vehicle (spoiler alert - it felt like I was seated inside a jackhammer), allow me to provide some details. First, the car: A Ferrari Challenge race car may look like a standard F430 road car, but it's very, very, very, very different. There aren't enough "verys" in the world to describe how different it is - it's like the difference between a parking meter and a diplodocus.
Here's what I mean: The regular F430 has interior carpeting, sound-deadening materials, windows that roll down, a stereo, climate control, door locks and a key to turn it on - you know, things we've had in cars since that huge monkey climbed the Empire State Building. Well, the F430 Challenge has none of that. I'm serious. It doesn't even have a key. To start it, you flip a kill switch.
Mechanically, the F430 Challenge offers a similar setup to the standard F430 with a few race-oriented revisions. It still has the same 500-horsepower V8 in back, but it also contains upgraded brakes, center-lock wheels and a more aggressive suspension. The new suspension brings the F430's overall ground clearance from the low level of the road car to a whole new realm in the race car, likely to elicit such exclamations as, "Oh, no, someone left a note card in the road. I'd better find a different way home."
I mention all this stuff because I want you to understand this isn't some regular F430 that's been modified and lowered, such as a '94 Integra. This is a Ferrari-built race car, designed for racing on racetracks and next to other race cars. It has a roll cage and an exhaust where the license plate should go. Under no circumstances should you operate this vehicle on the street!
So, naturally, I decided to operate it on the street - complying with all laws by using a dealer license plate, of course.
This opportunity came about from my friends at LBI Limited, a local special-interest car purveyor here in Philadelphia with an excellent inventory that currently includes a gorgeous Porsche 993 Targa, an ultra-rare Shelby Series 1 and a Batmobile - a freakin' Batmobile. They told me to pick one of their cars for a video and a column, so I chose the F430 Challenge. I soon discovered that this would be like walking into a fine restaurant that serves excellent, wonderful, delicious, notoriously scrumptious meals and asking for food poisoning.
This became immediately obvious the moment I tried to get inside and discovered you don't "get inside" an F430 Challenge so much as you fling your body at the tiny opening between the base of the roll cage and the roof and hope for the best. I got in the car twice. Both times, I had to remove one of my shoes.
Then you get out on the road, and you're immediately struck not by the amazing engine sound, the precise handling or the beautiful cabin - but by the heat. My god, the heat. Take the hottest thing you've ever experienced, and multiply it by four. You're now about one third as hot as the F430 Challenge car. If, during my drive, I passed by a home in suburban Phoenix with a broken air conditioner, I would've pulled over and charged inside to seek refuge.
The reason for all the heat is simple. In the interest of saving weight for racing, the F430 Challenge has no air conditioning. Also, you can't roll down the windows because they're made of weight-saving plexiglass. You can only slide open a portion of the window - a small portion no larger than a regulation bagel.