The ‘Doc’ is back. The Ferrari Challenge Europe welcomes back to Estoril, Stephen Earle, nicknamed ‘the Doctor’ because of his profession as a specialist doctor, who was one of the protagonists of the early editions of the Prancing Horse single-marque series. Indeed, the Kessel Racing driver has a strong, long-lasting bond with Ferrari, a fact that he is keen to emphasise.
“I started racing with Ferrari in 1993 and except for a brief interlude at the beginning of the new millennium I have always remained with the Prancing Horse. After the Challenge, my goal was to race GT cars, because open-wheel racing was too risky for me, thinking of my family and my five children. So, I waited until 2002, when I was able to make my debut in a Ferrari in the GT championships at Le Mans. From that year on I have always been with Ferrari, only changing the championship.”
How did you find the Ferrari Challenge again? What are the major differences compared to the early years?
“Today I find it a very well-structured championship, after all, we are talking about 30 years of growth and the cars are much faster too. At the beginning, in 1993, we drove Ferrari 348 Challenge cars and the races lasted twenty minutes, also so as not to put too much pressure on the cars, which were road-going cars adapted to the track in terms of safety measures. And of course, the pace of a race could put a lot of pressure on the cars. Then from 1995 in Europe, and 1996 in the USA, the first real racing cars arrived and the practice sessions were lengthened to 30 minutes.”
What is the atmosphere here at the Ferrari Challenge?
“There has always been a lot of passion in the Ferrari Challenge. Once you’re a part of it, it’s really hard to explain it to people outside this environment: you have to live it to understand it. Also, once you’re a part of it you can’t do without it because the more you race, the better you get and the more you want to get out on the track – it’s avirtuous circle!”
What do you think of the car, the 488 Challenge Evo?
“Compared to the cars I have driven in the past, I notice a huge difference in power. I’ll give you an example: the GT3 series cars have just over 500 hp, are very light and have more downforce. But the 488 Challenge Evo has 670 hp. Not so much the brakes, not so much the downforce: the real difference compared to other cars is the power.”
What are your goals for this Portuguese weekend?
“The first goal is to have fun; the second is the podium!”
What do you think of the Estoril circuit?
“I love ‘old-school’ circuits like this one or like Brands Hatch, or like many American circuits. What do I mean by ‘old-school’ when I talk about circuits? The track, two metres of grass and then the barriers: on these circuits you decide the speed limit and you know that if you overdo it, you can risk going off! Joking aside, on modern circuits the track is flanked, for example, by another paved area where you cannot pass but then, even if you go off the track, you risk a penalty or losing time. On the ‘old-school’ tracks you run the risk of crashing into the barriers and ending the race prematurely, so these circuits force you to drive with precision, to take care of your driving and to stay focused at all times. And above all, you have to be brave.
On your racing overalls you have a patch with a special story, can you tell us about it?
“It is the American flag with the inscription ‘F-USA’, which means ‘Ferrari USA’. In 1994 we took part in the Finali Mondiali for the first time, at Mugello. Our chief mechanic felt that we should have some sort of distinguishing mark that would set us apart from the European drivers and he came up with the initials ‘FUSA’, or ‘Ferrari USA’. The point, however, is that from that moment on, after the race, instead of pronouncing the word ‘USA’ correctly in English, everyone started referring to us by pronouncing that acronym in Italian: ‘Fusa’! Since that day, this symbol has been on our overalls and I will be wearing it here in Estoril as well.’