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Love at First Lap

Unveiled last year at the Finali Mondiali 2023, the 296 Challenge has begun, with Texas playing host to a thrilling debut of 6-cylinder driving prowess
Text: Luca Giraldi / Video: Oliver McIntyre

April 28, 2024, 1.50 p.m. Austin, Texas. Twenty-six Ferrari 296 Challenge cars roar into life in unison as the gantry lights go out at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) track. This marks a significant moment as it heralds the racing debut of the new model earmarked by the Maranello-based manufacturer for its single-marque series, continuing a tradition that has been repeated eight previous times since 1993.

Watch the action as the Ferrari 296 Challenge cars make their electrifying debut at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, before racing at Italy's Mugello track a week later…

The 296 Challenge, unveiled during the Finali Mondiali 2023, picks up where the 488 Challenge Evo left off, becoming the ninth protagonist of the Ferrari series, signalling the dawn of a new era: 6-cylinder cars. Since the unveiling of this car, its reception has been extraordinary, as evidenced by the number of participants who have eagerly stepped into its cockpit: more than 50 in the USA, almost 70 in Europe.

The COTA track provided drivers with the opportunity to pilot the 296 Challenge cars in all manner of wet conditions, from light showers to heavy rain. Driver feedback was all positive, regardless of the weather

Drivers in the two national series, Japan and the UK, will have to wait until next year to compete in the 296 Challenge but, in the meantime, they have had the opportunity to gather insights and comments from those who have already competed in the opening rounds of the season at COTA and Mugello. The feedback is crystal clear: with the 296 Challenge it's love at first sight – and more.

The drivers have clearly recognised the leap in performance over the previous model, evidenced by both peak capabilities (with average lap times two seconds faster at Mugello than the 488 Challenge Evo) and in terms of consistency and durability.

From left: 296 Challenge racecars take on the Mugello circuit in Italy, where Hungarian driver Bence Válint (right) finished second in the first race of the 2024 Ferrari Challenge Europe series

All this is made possible by highly sophisticated aerodynamics that allow record downforce values (870 kg at 250 km/h), by a specific power output clearly at the top of its category (234 hp/litre), by the new braking system equipped with CCM-R Plus discs, and by Pirelli tyres that, as per tradition, have been developed exclusively for the model.

The drivability and dynamic attributes of the 296 Challenge have made for thrilling races, defined by intense duels and numerous overtaking manoeuvres, enhancing the excitement of the events even more. The variability of the weather also provided participants with the chance to drive the car in wet conditions, from light rain to heavy downpours, once again eliciting overwhelmingly positive feedback.

The Circuit of the Americas played host to twenty-six Ferrari 296 Challenge cars, all making their racing debuts on this legendary Texan racing track

After this convincing debut, the protagonists of the single-marque series are set to tackle circuits with different technical characteristics, which are, in their own way, challenging and demanding. The 296 Challenge, however, has already shown that it is up for any challenge.