A tale of two fillies

Mark Hughes donned his helmet and tackled a pair of Ferraris 10 years and worlds apart

Now a well-established and popular part of the club racing scene, the Pirelli Maranello Ferrari Challenge caters for all production models with the prancing horse badge in either roadgoing or modified form. It is a series which has latterly enjoyed the patronage — albeit indirect — of Britain’s own World Champion through Nigel Mansell Sportscars. The Mansell-owned Dorset Ferrari dealership is entering three modified-class cars in this year’s series, and we recently raced two of them, two models which could hardly be more different. Spanning nine years chronologically — but a lot more conceptually — the 330GTC is of classic front-engined V12 format, the Dino 308GT4 a mid-engined V8.

The Dino feels just like a kart on a body-building programme — this Dino, anyway. Prepared by Nigel Mansell Sportscars, the 308GT4 competes in the ‘modified’ class of the Maranello Challenge. Resident mechanical genius there is Nigel Hudson, who has been responsible for converting what was an ageing but immaculate and desirable road car into something far more purposeful.

Where once there had been leather and suede, now there were harnesses and roll cage. Instead of carpet there was just painted metal with drainage holes. In a Ferrari! For someone to whom appearance and image is all, who doesn’t understand the purity of purpose of a race-prepared car, such things may seem sacrilegious.

It still starts with a key though, a key which brings to life the most un-V8-like V8 ever heard. It sounds for all the world like a tweaked twin-cam four, something akin to an Escort BDA or BMW M3. Even a standard engine sounds this way, but it’s accentuated in this Hudson-modified example. Nigel has kept away from any extravagant cylinder-head work, given a budget which has been fairly tightly set, but there are modified cams, pistons and bigger carbs. Like most of the Dinos and GTBs in the modified class, it runs a 208-spec differential ratio. The 208 was a turbocharged two-litre Italian market special to get under the taxation break and featured an appropriately lower final drive. Combined with the modified 3-litre’s grunt, standing start takeoff is truly impressive.

On its lowered ride height, stiff springs and dampers and competition cambers, there’s very little give over bumps, and the steering requires noticeable muscle-power even as speed builds up — just like a kart. Also kart-like is the way it turns into a corner as one, suddenly, and without the perceptible change in emphasis from front end to rear that you get in most tin-tops. There is virtually no transient ‘slop’, just the mildest, briefest hint of entry understeer before you nail the loud pedal. The alacrity with which it changes direction brings to mind images of Rosberg, the way he would always get his car to ‘dart’ its nose into a corner. He would, I’m sure, enjoy this car. He’d probably enjoy it more if it had a little more power, however. With the chassis in this trim really working the Dunlop slicks (8 in front/9 in rear), there is definitely more grip than power. So once the car’s into the corner it’s more a case of sitting there letting the tyres do the work; there’s very little balancing grip against the throttle to be done. Even with the sweet V8 singing all the way up to 8000rpm, you’re usually left wanting more.

Several of the Dino/GTBs in the series do in fact have more, this particular car having been prepared to provide an ideal means of giving a novice — in this case Martin Ditcham — a good base from which to learn. All cars race at a minimum weight of 1125 kg, which in this case involved fitting kevlar doors and rear section, removing the steel strengthening brackets from the nose and fitting a lighter radiator. This was going to be good round Silverstone National, playing host to the opening round of the ’93 series. It was going to be grippy and secure round the very fast Copse and darty and manoeuverable through the slow Complex. I was excited at the prospect; I hadn’t raced for two years, and I wanted to get going as they let us out to qualify. While the others played themselves in, the little Dino immediately felt confidence-inspiring and I began running relatively hard as soon as the tyres seemed to be giving some front-end bite. Apparently we were quickest for those First two or three laps. . .

Then the engine began popping and banging and we went no faster. The timing had slipped — through what later transpired to be a problem with the cam-belt pulley — and as the session went on, much of the modified field went quicker. We ended up eighth quickest. At the last year’s British Grand Prix, Riccardo Patrese put one over on teammate and poleman Nigel Mansell by outdragging him up to the first corner. Much was made about the outside of the front row being a better start place on account of the track being cleaner there. For this year pole position is on the outside at Silverstone. . .

Which put us on the inside of the third row, quite undeservedly. Thanks Riccardo. My team-mate for the day — Simon Toyne in the sister Nigel Mansell Sportscars Dino 308, who had qualified on pole — advised that I should use a lot of revs off the startline, over 6000. I tried about 6,5 on the green flag lap, and it worked a treat. It was then simply a matter of repeating it when the lights changed. Which also worked a treat. One by one cars disappeared backwards in my peripheral vision. Up to Copse, brake late, a GTB is taking up the line in the lead, Toyne tries to follow through but I’m inside him and into second place. Good; flat out up to Maggotts, braking as late as you dare on cold tyres, car twitching over the bumps. Exiting the Complex on the tail of the GTB — Sue Newton’s car — it pulls away, but seems to brake early for Copse. It would probably have been possible to squeeze past there, but it would have been mighty close and she may not have seen me. Just wait, bide your time, you’ll get through,’ so the half-thoughts surface above the bark of the engine. Try and line it up again at the same place next lap and the engine coughs on the pit straight. It does it again through Copse, the timing’s slipped again. I wave Simon through and try to hold on to third place.

Approaching Brooklands I see Simon make a successful move for the lead. I turn in, get on the power, the engine coughs again, I spin, Ferraris everywhere in avoidance. I do another lap, the problem worsens, I bring it in. A pity — but there was still the 330 to look forward to at Thruxton. No-one had ever raced a 330GTC. This one had been 18 months in the building and no-one really knew what to expect. It was up against much more modern mid-engined machinery, but then again Nigel Hudson had managed to release prodigious horsepower from its four-litre V12. As well as blueprinting and balancing, there were wilder cams, competition pistons and six carburettors instead of three. No-one was saying exactly how much power there was, but a conservative estimate would be 400plus. A beefed-up gearbox and a Daytona Le Mans clutch shared the task of transmitting it all to the wheels.

The club gave the car a stipulated racing weight of 1200kg, just 75 more than the GTBs and Dinos, and it ran the same eightinch front/nine-inch rear slicks. Testing of the car at Goodwood had suggested that its standard diff was somewhat out of its depth in trying to deal with this much torque. It would lift and spin its inside rear which would then set the outer wheel spinning too. As the wheel then came back down to earth exiting a corner, the car would twitch — OK as long as there was no opposite lock applied when it touched down, otherwise it would then disappear off backwards into the banking. Which is what happened when its owner had tried leaning on it through St Marys, inflicting significant body and suspension damage. It had been all hands to the pump at Nigel Mansell Sportscars to repair the car in time for Thruxton. Predictably, they had made an impeccable job of it. Not only was the damage fully repaired, but the car now sat lower on its springs in an effort to subdue the weight transfer and hopefully ease the traction problem. Round the sweeps of Thruxton, it was awesome.

That engine totally dominated everything about the car. There was the noise, the unforgettable bellow changing to a scream as the revs rose. There was huge torque, yet the engine would spin to big numbers with just a seamless delivery of urge throughout. The engine even dominated the handling. There was certainly no kart-like oneness about this. The 330 needed to be eased, coaxed, into a corner, particularly slow corners like the Complex and the chicane. You’d spend an age wrestling with the wheel, just trying to get the nose to look at an apex, then as the car seemed finally settled into a trajectory, you’d try and ease the throttle on, hastening the onset of the wheelspin. It didn’t like going in, it didn’t like coming out and it didn’t really like slowing down, certainly not in anything like the way the Dino would. But it sure as hell liked the straights! The speedo was still connected and it was reading in excess of 150 approaching the chicane. It felt wonderful, but it felt old. There seemed to be so much more than a decade between the two models.

It was apparently losing more on the corners than it was gaining on the straights as we qualified eighth again. The Complex was probably the crucial problem, the slow exit leading onto the near flat-out back section of track. Despite its phenomenal acceleration, the 330 was probably halfway down the straight before it was reaching the same velocities as the 308s on account of its slower entry.

This all became somewhat academic as post-practice scrutineering revealed we were significantly underweight. In the postshunt rush to ready the car it had not been on the scales. We were thrown to the back of the grid with a delay. Which all made for a good story!

I tried 3500rpm off the line on the warm-up and it wasn’t quite enough. As the field took off for the start proper, us two naughty boys at the back (Simon Clark had joined me for a similar offence) waited until we were told and I gave it 4000. Jeez! It was like a top-fuel dragster. I was past three cars by the time we exited the Complex! The early laps were like a video game as the roadgoing class traffic was scythed through. Having such a power surplus was a great luxury in traffic. They would try to take defensive lines, and you could simply sit back, watch, then storm past them on the exit of the corners. I lost count of how many cars were passed, but by the end of the 10-lapper we were fifth. It may not have possessed the ultimate lap-time capabilities of the modern cars, but the 330 was certainly a popular addition to the field. Marshals were waving on the slow-down lap, strangers were coming up afterwards telling me what a fantastic noise it made, one of the drivers I had passed said: “That is just awesome. The thundering noise, its wheels at all angles, fantastic.” Yes, it was. M P H