Goodyear Maranello Challenge
1998 Season Review
Record grids, increasing numbers of modern cars and a general feel-good factor all helped the 1998 GMFC season to be the best yet. As always, there were high achievers and under-achievers, those who enjoyed a trouble-free season and those whose luck seemed to have abandoned them and there was also the usual mixture of the interesting as well as the absurd.
The twelve rounds of the Series took place at seven different circuits, including the flagship double-header at Spa Francorchamps. To the usual Donington, Silverstone, Oulton Park, Castle Combe and Brands Hatch fixtures, the Croft circuit near Darlington was a welcome addition. Forty-three different drivers took part at some stage during the season, with 26 of them in the "M" class and 17 in "O". Grid sizes continued to grow, with an average of 26 (16 "M" and 10 "O") and the highest number being 34 for the Silverstone International meeting in August.
Of the 43 competitors, 12 were new to the Series - some of them were also newcomers to racing itself and instantly impressed in their Ferraris, like Marco Attard and Neil Woodford. Others were experienced hands with reputations in other forms of racing, like Fred Moss and Colin Davids.
Remarkably, only three drivers (Christopher A., Pogson, Moss) started all 12 races but no-one finished them all. Sweeney, Reeder and Moss were the only ones who completed 11 races. Had Graham Reeder had suitable tyres for the very wet Oulton meeting, he would have been the only driver to both start and (probably) finish all 12 rounds.
In 1998, as in all previous 12 years of the Series, special mention must be made of Anne and John Swift, who organise, administer, sort out, repair and generally mother the entire Series, the competitors and supporters. Our grateful thanks go to them both. Both Ferrari UK and Goodyear Great Britain provided first class support and sponsorship for the Series, which competitors and spectators alike appreciated enormously.
"M" Class ("The Maranello Trophy")
The clear winner was Stuart Bowler in his Specialised Cars-prepared F40. He won six races but in the first half of the season was hard-pressed by Peter Cook, also in an F40, who won three of the first seven races which, up until then, equalled Bowler's number of wins. At Castle Combe in July it all went wrong for Cook as he almost destroyed his car following brake failure. This, as well as concerns about robust driving tactics, caused him to withdraw from the Series. The two Christopher brothers gave brave chase in their heavily modified 308GT4 and 308GTB but Andy was the more successful and took two overall wins to finish the season second in the "M" class, ahead of brother George.
Alan Cosby (F512M) was the only other winner in the category. His car was quick but suffered from continuous gearbox unreliability and only scored points in four of the races.
The fastest laps were set by Bowler (seven), Cook (two), Christopher A.(two) and Ian Hetherington in his F50 took the remaining one.
"O" Class ("The Goodyear Cup")
Despite the apparent superiority of Graham Reeder (F355), who won nine races, this was an intriguing class thanks to the outstanding drives by Gary Culver in his under-powered 328GTB, who won two of the rounds, and Fred Moss in his awkward-handling 348. David Ashburn (F355), late into the Series, swept all before him at Croft.
The fastest laps went to Reeder (four), Moss (three), Culver and Wilkinson (two each) and Ashburn (one). It is interesting to note that only one lap record was broken, which was Reeder at Brands Hatch. Perhaps the mandatory Goodyear tyres are not yet up to the speed of the Pirelli PZeroCs which were popular in the previous season.
The most obvious trend was the continuation of newer models coming into the Series. There were more F355s than ever, both in "M" and "O" class, and the spectators and the motoring comics loved the presence of the supercars - the F40s and F50.
Paul Ciardiello (328GTB) and the Christopher brothers persevered with the further development of their already highly strung "M" class cars. Reliability was not the problem many had expected, although one did wonder how much tighter those particular elastic bands could be wound before snapping.
Particularly disappointing were the fortunes of the two extensively modified flat 12s which appeared. Alan Cosby's F512M, the ex Parabolica car, was beautifully turned out and very quick, but never-ending gearbox maladies meant it finished the season in tenth place in "M", although a sweet victory was scored at the Silverstone International round, when no doubt the wet track eased gearbox loadings. The Testarossa of Rory Fordyce was equally plagued with unreliability and this potentially race-winning car finished down in 11th place, after what was reputedly an enormously expensive season.
The standard of preparation and appearance of the cars remained as varied as ever. Whilst some teams, like that of Tony Winship (308GTB) turned up with immaculate transporters and identically liveried mechanics, others, not necessarily at the tail-end of the field, did not always do justice to the brand image of Ferrari.
Of the 43 drivers who took part, it is difficult to mention everyone and each had a story to tell, whether they were battling for the lead or turning out for the occasional event just to be there. Here are a few picked out from amongst the many worthy of mention:
STUART BOWLER (F40, "M" CLASS)
Equipped with the best kit for the job, Stuart had a really good year. The car, prepared by Specialised Cars, ran like a watch and Stuart drove well. There was a spell when his battles with the similarly equipped Peter Cook were becoming a little physical and this was perhaps contributory to Peter calling it a day after his monumental off at Castle Combe. With Cook's withdrawal, Stuart did not have enough competition in the latter part of the season, but nevertheless a great year. Same again in '99?
|Stuart Bowler had a triumphant season, winning the Maranello Trophy.
GRAHAM REEDER (F355, "O" CLASS)
One of the first to get his 355 out and testing, Graham perhaps got a bit of a jump on other "O" class drivers at the start of the season. This was to serve him well later on. The toughest competition was, in fact, to come from the 328 and 348 of Gary Culver and Fred Moss respectively. It was certainly no pushover for Graham. Yes, he was very mindful of the championship and also finishing the season without a bump in later races, but his really strong drive at the last race of the year at Castle Combe, when he did not need to push, shows there is real steel in there. Next year sees Graham possibly taking a sabbatical, with brother Mike driving their newly-acquired ex-James Munroe F355/Ch.
|Graham Reeder's F355 dominated "O" class.
GARY CULVER (328GTB, "O" CLASS)
Most peoples' vote as driver of the year, Gary proved that a 328 could still be competitive in the class, and most importantly that a good lap time could be wrung out of the new Goodyear rubber. In fact, we owe Gary a lot for making "O" class the success it was this year. Without him it may have looked as if you required a 355 to play. With Gary going to an "O" class 355 next year, expect some new lap records in 1999.
|Gary Culver deservedly took "Driver of the Year" in "O" class 328.
FRED MOSS (348GTB, "O" CLASS)
He may have been new to Maranello Challenge but Fred is no strange to racing Italian metal. With De Tomaso Pantera and Mangusta racing behind him, it was surely only a matter of time before he, with assistance from the experienced Mike and Phil at QV London, got to grips with the 348. It took a while, but by season's end Fred was right on the pace. An exciting driver to watch, and possibly a little too exciting at times, Fred nonetheless has basic speed and it is hoped he stays with the 348 next year just to keep things interesting. If he goes 355 there will be fireworks.
JOHN POGSON (F355/CH "M" CLASS)
John must have started the year with his confidence sky high. Championship winning seasons in, first, an "O" Class 328 and then the F40 gave him every reason to feel good about his ability to win races. The ex-Benetton 355 Challenge car, however, was to give him headache after headache (one unfortunately literally). The car was reliable enough but was difficult to master. This came with not only the pressure of running the team but also with a new sponsor and high expectations all round. It also was too easy to look at European 355 lap times as a comparison for more depression. Perhaps too many set-ups were tried, perhaps too many peoples' advice asked. Perhaps if John had just driven the car with a basic set-up and got used to that, warts and all, things may have been better. What is sure is that he drove his heart out this year with some very brave performances, particularly in the wet. Next year back to an F40.
|John Pogson's season was tough and unfulfilling.
ALAN COSBY (F512M) AND PETER LOWE (308GT4), BOTH "M" CLASS
If ever there was a pair of drivers who deserved a medal for perseverance it is these two and their preparer, Shiltech. With Peter it was engine problems which, when you consider Geoff Shilton's deserved reputation as one of the UK's top Ferrari engine builders, was quite unfathomable to most of us. The good thing is that by season's end they had finally licked the various problems and Peter was going very quickly indeed. In a recent GT race at Donington, Peter was in the low 1.19s, which will raise a few eyebrows if repeated next season in GMFC. What a year for Alan Cosby! It started pre-season with the car being stolen and at times his year seemed little improved from then on. It may be fine on a road car, but couple an F512M transmission with slicks and increased power and you have a season spent on the sidelines looking at snapped shafts. The car, now with greatly improved handling, is a potential outright winner and looks enormous fun to drive. Should he persevere or would he have more fun per £ in a 355/Ch or F40?
|Quick but oh so fragile: Cosby's F512M.
RAY FERGUSON (348/CH, "M" CLASS)
Everyone's favourite racer. Why? - Because Ray never forgets why he is there, basically to enjoy himself and that is what he does. Having run his 308GT4 and also 348 cars in "O" class, Ray took the big step this year and bought the ex Martin Henderson/Martin Barrat 348 Challenge car. These can run in "M" class with a standard engine and transmission but with relaxations on suspension/brakes/weight. This formula does get criticised from time to time but just look at Ray's season - not a single mechanical DNF. The car has raced in Inter-Marque, Auto Italia, plus Maranello Challenge and has covered countless miles at Club track days. Ray has even driven the car on the road. What terrific value for money. Keep building those houses Ray - see you next year.
ANDY CHRISTOPHER (308GTB, "M" CLASS) & GEORGE (308GT4, ALSO "M" CLASS)
Fancy buying Alan Cosby's old 308 and then proceeding to beat him with it! Years of development and possibly a little more money than clan chief John would like have made the Christopher 308s (George's familiar GT4 and Andy's GTB) the quickest 308s in the UK. Make no mistake, this is a class act. The cars may not win a fashion show but they are effective. Couple that with two brothers who can drive and you get fabulous lap times. There are those who possibly wish that the older "M" class 308s would gently fade away, leaving the more modern tipos at the front, but you have to admire their achievements. At season's end, the brothers handed their cars over to the mechanics for a GT race at Donington - a superb gesture that will be remembered in a wet and windy paddock next year when the work load is high. Andy drove quite exceptionally this year and had it not been for Gary Culver would have been a candidate as driver of the year. Plans for next year to be confirmed but thankfully include the GMFC.
|Andy Christopher, here in front of brother George, won two races in his 308GTB.
NEIL WOODFORD (F355/CH, "M" CLASS)
The prettiest Challenge car in the paddock, this blue right-hand drive car sourced from Malasia was a real eye opener in Neil's hands. A couple of outstanding drives with so little experience got his supporters well worked up. Neil is a graduate of our Club track days and has really enjoyed his first year. Part of the "why do novice drivers adapt better to Challenge cars than experienced drivers" puzzle. Neil will do well next year.
|Neil Woodford became a strong runner in the F355/Ch.|
IAN HETHERINGTON (F355/CH &F50, "M" CLASS)
If you bleed racing red, and most of you probably do, you will have appreciated the thrill of seeing Ian's F50 out there and mixing it in selected races. What you may also have realised is that Ian is getting faster all the time. Which is truly faster in Maranello Challenge spec: an F40 or an F50? If Ian's development as a driver continues at this pace I think that we will have a better idea of the answer to this question next year. Confirmed for another season in his F50.
|The ultimate crowd-pleaser: Hetherington's F50 developed into a potential race-winner.|
….. and so to 1999
The GMFC goes strongly into next season and continues to be unique in the world in providing the only Ferrari multi-tipo national race series. Both Goodyear and Ferrari UK continue their sponsorship and excellent grid sizes are expected. The Technical Regulations are awaiting RACMSA approval and contain only a few adjustments, other than the creation of a separate 355 Challenge class to cater for the large numbers of this tipo, and an increase in minimum weights for the F40.
Spectators and enthusiasts will be delighted at the prospect of additional F40s next year (Pogson and Cosby, hopefully) as well as the continued presence of Hetherington's F50. There will be more 355 Challenge cars than ever (Nicky Paul-Barron will make his long-awaited return to the Series in one) and the "O" class should again see exciting battles throughout between the various tipos.
By popular demand the number of rounds is being increased from 12 to 14, with the distinct possibility that there may be races at both Spa and the Nurburgring.
It all looks excellent for next year's Series!
© Photos by Paul / Fotografia Corse.
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