It’s a daunting task to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari 488 that races in the Ferrari Challenge series. The turbocharged mid-engined racer, producing well over 660hp and 570 ft. lbs. of torque, features sophisticated aerodynamics and traction control systems, as well Pirelli racing slicks in a seeming effort to move the barriers imposed by physics.
It’s an awesome machine.
One such example is driven in the North American Ferrari Challenge series by Mark Fuller. Fuller, from Los Angeles, is now contesting his second Ferrari Challenge season after competing in the 2017 season in a Ferrari 458 Challenge.
With 2017 being his very first season of racing, Fuller’s Scuderia Corsa team partnered him with a person who may be better suited than anyone else in North America to teach how to extract speed from a Ferrari – Alessandro Balzan. Since arriving in the United States during the 2012 season, Balzan – originally from Rovigo, Italy – has amassed three IMSA GT championships behind the wheel of a Ferrari. Recently, Balzan drove a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari to victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” said Fuller. “I was connected with Alessandro early on, and we started working together at my first test. What was incredible with Alessandro as my coach was that there was instantly this comfort and confidence in what I was doing. I knew I had someone that I could rely on that knew exactly what they were doing, and that put me in this comfortable place.”
Comfort is a requirement for any race car driver, especially once in his rookie season. Finding that comfort can be challenge with horsepower, grip and braking capabilities that are as high as they are in a Ferrari Challenge car because the penalty for a minor mistake will be amplified at speed. Factor in the presence of a full field of other drivers in Ferrari Challenge, and once can understand why Fuller described himself as ‘timid’ when he started out.
To accelerate Fuller’s learning curve, Balzan directed him to CXC Simulations.
“Alessandro said to me, ‘you know Mark, I need you to go to CXC Simulations before we go to the tracks with the Challenge car’,” said Fuller. “He said I needed to be exposed to the tracks and understand them. The CXC simulator is just a wonderful tool.
“Michael Lewis has been helping me at CXC, and he’s been fantastic. It’s a different perspective as far as coaching goes, but it’s very similar being in the car which is incredible to me. We get to understand the track and all its detail. So now you’re in the car, you are at the track, and you are getting to learn braking points, turn-in points, apexes, and frankly its easier to push a little bit because there is no consequence. You’ve got this incredible ability to be at the track and learn all those things. It’s invaluable, and easier to coordinate than dragging the car and team out to the track. To me, it’s an incredibly effective way to be exposed to the track and get seat time.”
Balzan echoes Fuller’s comments on the value of utilizing the simulator training available at CXC Simulations to prepare for upcoming races.
“Mark is very committed,” said Balzan. “He is doing this for fun, but honestly he puts a lot of pressure on himself. The biggest tactic for having him go to CXC Simulations was to have him understand the track and understand a lot of the reference points, which is important for him to have. At Circuit of The Americas, for example, it is twenty corners and I see a lot of gentleman drivers really struggling there.
“Another thing is that in Ferrari Challenge is that it is common for the drivers to dive bomb and crash into each other. Mark is very aware of that and doesn’t want to destroy his car or anyone else’s race, but in racing you cannot leave too much room when it comes to overtaking. It is always a little bit on the limit. But in the beginning, it was hard, especially because he was still learning how to race and push the limit, and he was struggling with the race craft. And the extra time in the simulator helped him a lot.”
To kick off the Ferrari Challenge season, Fuller captured a class victory in the second race held at Daytona International Speedway which coincided with the 24 Hours of Daytona.
“Now, I see him setting up passes, countersteering, oversteering at the exit of the corners, and killing the brakes – and that is such a cool thing for me,” said Balzan. “It’s giving me a lot of emotions to see how much fun he is having.”