Words by Amolak Singh
I’ll get straight to the point, I like my cars raw with minimum driver aids and fancy additions. The Challenge Stradale is the pinnacle of an unrefined Ferrari race car for the road. In essence, it is a road legal version of the 360 Challenge cars, with an exhaust note that is ground shatteringly loud. Approaching five years of ownership, it still feels special and exciting on every drive. It’s a dry weekend car, which I aim to keep in top condition, with around 2,000 miles consumed each year. Rosso Scuderia was the launch colour for the Challenge Stradale, however Rosso Corsa was the colour for me. My CS is a 2003 car with just over 20,000 miles on the clock. It has a number of factory options, including an anti-roll bar and fire extinguisher, with an aftermarket tri-colour stripe.
Previously I owned a Ferrari 512TR, but my heart was set on a Challenge Stradale, ever since I heard one on full throttle at a Ferrari gathering. My Challenge Stradale was sourced for my by a local independent Ferrari garage to match my specifications. To help future owners, I decided to launch a website in 2010 – www.challengestradale.co.uk and now I also run a forum dedicated to the CS which is called Club Stradale.
The Challenge Stradale still gives me goose pimples after five years, just holding the key in my hand makes me feel like a very special person indeed. I can glance at the aggressive body styling for ages and regularly take pictures to mark my ownership timeline. The interior is so well designed, with the wraparound Alcantara carbon bucket seats and start button; it makes you feel that you are in a true race car. Having unplugged the exhaust valves, after turning the key, waiting for the “ok” on the dash, I disable the alarm with the key fob, reach for the bright red start button, and WOW, it fires with an almighty roar that can be heard at a distance. Not to mention it wakes up everyone in the neighborhood! Until the engine is warmed up, I take care not to rev the car above 4000rpm. On the road the car feels planted, solid, however the ride is rather harsh, especially in “Race” mode, where the suspension stiffens.
The engine is always begging to be pushed hard, and feels so special compared to the majority of the cars on the road.
Whilst mine is still loud under 4,000rpm due to the exhaust valves being unplugged, above this in Race mode, it is a furious animal. The sound it so loud that to close pedestrians it can prove too overwhelming and scary. I am pretty sure that this car would never pass noise regulations in today’s sanitized world!
With 110kg removed and an extra fifty percent downforce compared to the standard 360 Modena, at high speeds the car remains low and stable, it consumes bends and turns with minimal fuss. The carbon ceramic discs make slowing down and cornering a piece of cake and the sweet V8 will rev freely right up to 8500rpm in any gear. With 425bhp and a 0-60 of 4 seconds, which you can almost achieve in first gear alone, do you really need anything faster for the roads?
In traffic and short distances the CS can seem uncomfortable with the pot holes, poorly patched roads and general road humps. In first gear, coasting can sometimes feel rough, but that goes with the race car package. The CS has no automatic option on the transmission, so all up gear changes needs to be manually selected via the fantastic F1 paddle shift system.
Having no inner arch wheel guards, you hear every stone hit the underside of the wheel arch. Whether the car is moving or stationary, it always looks ready for action. It is a pleasure to drive at various speeds and the high levels of grip both from the tyres and brakes certainly help to provide a confident drive.
I just love the sexy lines and low stance, they give the Stradale a fantastic posture, which is finished off with the exquisite Alcantara race interior and four point racing harnesses.
As you strap yourself into the driver’s seat, the rev counter sits proudly central, in a bright yellow hue, just waiting to come alive at your instruction.
Owning a Challenge Stradale is like having a race car unleashed on the road, whilst everything else is just ordinary in comparison. Just looking at the car from the rear, with the Challenge Stradale lettering running down the grill, you just know that any Ferrari with just a name and no numbers in its title; was always going to be something very special. Each journey is like an event, still intoxicating just like the first encounter. It’s such a rare sight and you instinctively know every trip is going to be a pleasure. Perhaps one day I might even use the launch control!
The best drives I’ve had in my CS have been around the South West of England, I prefer twisty roads, especially country lanes. You can never get bored of downshifts on the F1 transmission as the car flatters by automatically blipping the throttle for you, ready for you to press the pedal to the floor as the deafening sound kicks in. Driving a Ferrari always brings huge amounts of attention, and the Challenge Stradale is no exception. It gets regularly photographed, along with pleasant comments and thumbs up on each drive out. It makes you feel like a celebrity, which sometimes can be too much, regardless it is definitely a breathtakingly car to hear, view and just bask in its presence.
I remember driving near Virginia Waters one day, the road was clear and I was coasting at 40mph at around 3,500rpm, I decided to put my foot down and all hell broke loose as the exhaust acoustics kicked in at 4,000rpm whilst I passed a girl and her mother. The amount of sudden noise, proved too much for the girl as she jumped up into her mothers arms, I suddenly realised that perhaps more care needs to be taken when letting the CS go!
Annual or 12,000 mile maintenance for the CS runs at around £1,000 with any bits and pieces needed. The three year major which includes the belts can easily run to £2,000. It’s not a cheap piece of kit, the titanium wheel bolts cost £1,000 a set, a wing mirror costs £3,000 and a set of brake discs and pads will cost you an eye watering £10,000! Generally, I prefer to keep my cars standard; however I have upgraded the brake pistons to Hills variety, as the OEM Ferrari ones tend to corrode easily. Apart from unplugging the exhaust valves, the car is standard. Recently I opted for the Michelin Cup 2 tyres, which are standard to the 458 Speciale, to date I’m very pleased with their performance. Garages that I have enlisted to carry out work on the CS include Maranello’s and Autofficina. I use Zymol products for the exterior bodywork and the internal carbon fibre presentation, which provide amazing results as the wax layers build up over time.
The Challenge Stradale is a rare Ferrari, rarer than the F40. With only 119 delivered to the UK, and many now abroad or written off, the price is only going one way. If money was no object, I would have a Ferrari Enzo in the garage too, however many call the CS the baby Enzo. The CS is also reported to be much more driveable on the road. Currently, I don’t see anything that has the same passion, charisma and vocal abilities in the Ferrari line up that tickles my fancy – so the CS will remain.