DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new Ferrari F458 Italia designed for competition in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series was turning heads before it even turned a wheel at Daytona International Speedway.
“The car looks like it’s winning, standing still,” GRAND-AM President Tom Bledsoe said. “It’s a sharp-looking car.”
“When you think about moving forward and the future of the sport, it's nice to celebrate our 50th anniversary with a competitor who has been part of our past and will be part of our future,” DIS President Joie Chitwood III said.
Ferrari factory engineers spent part of the morning getting the car up and running before getting to work getting the suspension setup right for the unique 3.56-mile circuit that combines a high-banked oval with an infield road course. It was also the first time at Daytona for Ferrari factory pilot Jaime Melo, the lead driver at the two-day test that will end on Wednesday. Raphael Matos, GT winner of the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona, also turned some laps.
“The car is absolutely spectacular,” said Mark Raffauf, GRAND-AM managing director of competition. “To have a Ferrari made specifically for the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the GRAND-AM Rolex Series is really important and sets the groundwork for a lot of other relationships.”
Ferrari of Fort Lauderdale owns the car and prepped it for the test, and hopes to add a second car to its lineup for the Rolex 24.
“This was a two-year project, and to finally be out here on the track at Daytona is really great,” said team principal Ronnie Vogel. “So far, so good – the test is going great. Now, we’re going to continue to dial it in.”
The new car looks to add a new chapter to Ferrari’s extensive list of achievements when the green flag waves for the 50th anniversary Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 28-29. Ferraris have competed in 47 of the 49 Daytona classics to date, winning overall five times among 15 class victories.
“The big significance for this car is that it was conceived and produced by Ferrari and built specifically for the Rolex Series,” Raffauf said. “This car comes here straight from Maranello, Italy, right from Ferrari, and it’s also significant that this is really a GRAND-AM car.”
Raffauf added that four to six of the new Ferraris is a realistic number for the Rolex 24, and that several teams were looking at running Ferraris in the entire Rolex Series championship.
Eddie Cheever – America’s most experienced Formula One driver and 1998 winner of the Indianapolis 500 – was central to cementing the relationship between Ferrari and GRAND-AM. He’s also considering running one of the new cars for his son, an 18-year-old currently racing Formula 3 in Italy.
“Like everybody at Daytona, I’m very anxious to see Ferrari return to the Speedway and hurtling itself around the banked corners,” Cheever said.
“When I started following racing in the 1970s, it was all about Ferrari against Porsche and Ford. I think we’re returning to that era again, and this might be a beginning to some of those great battles we’ve seen in the past with the great manufacturers.
“I know of at least five groups that are seriously entertaining racing a 458 – and I might even be one of those.”
Wednesday’s test session, which runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is open free to the public with free access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of the DIS Ticket Office.
Tickets for the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.