The ‘Prancing Horse’ Looks to Build on Its GT Legacy when the Car Debuts at the Rolex 24 in January
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ferrari’s legacy in sports car racing predates its legendary history in Formula 1. And it will begin a new chapter at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in about three months with the worldwide racing debut of the Ferrari 296 GT3.
The sports car history of the “Prancing Horse” started in 1949 when a 166MM was driven to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans by Luigi Chinetti and Peter Mitchell-Thomson. Chinetti developed a close relationship with Enzo Ferrari and played a huge role in Ferrari’s rise to prominence in the North American market, as a distributor/dealer and operator of N.A.R.T. – North American Racing Team.
The Italian marque’s record in American sports car racing is impressive, including two overall victories in the Rolex 24 At Daytona and no fewer than a dozen full-field triumphs in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts. Ferrari has not competed for overall sports car wins to date in the 21st century, but its GT-based entries have earned class victories in almost every major IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event, including six at Sebring since 2007 and 10 in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta since 2003.
Ferrari is introducing its new GT contender for 2023 – the 296 GT3 – to replace the outgoing 488 GT3 EVO 2020, which earned its most recent IMSA victory at Sebring in March when Cetilar Racing triumphed in the GT Daytona (GTD) class with drivers Antonio Fuoco, Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Sernagiotto. Risi Competizione’s 488 GT3 secured a pair of second-place finishes this year in the GTD PRO class, at the Rolex 24 and the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen, which led to Risi earning the IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup championship for the class.
Since 2016, racing-prepared versions of the 488 have claimed more than 500 race wins internationally, making it one of the most successful competition Ferraris of all time. Nick Cassidy scored the milestone win for the car at the Red Bull Ring on Sept. 24 in a Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) event.
As much success as the 488 produced, Ferrari is looking forward with the 296 and the new car’s link to its production line.
“The 296 GT3 represents the future of the Prancing Horse in GT racing, a sector that has always seen the closest relationship with customers and the greatest transfer of technology and innovative solutions to production cars,” read a statement from the manufacturer when the car was introduced this summer.
Like its GT predecessors, the 296 GT3 was developed from Ferrari’s best-selling road car – in this case, the recently revealed 296 GTB, which features a twin-turbo V-6 engine mated to a hybrid energy management system and an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. French racing car specialist ORECA is again working with Ferrari as technical partner for the project.
International GT3 regulations won’t allow the hybrid technology to make it onto the racing car, but the 296 GT3 does share the road car’s wide 120-degree turbo V-6 configuration, a major change from the naturally aspirated V-8 used in the 488 (and the Ferrari 458 and 430 iterations that came before it). Producing 600 horsepower, the new V-6 is more fuel efficient than the outgoing V-8 and has also been engineered to be compatible with new biofuels being mandated by IMSA and other sanctioning organizations.
Aerodynamics for the 296 GTB road car were developed in conjunction with the GT3 racing program. Ferrari claims a 20 percent gain in downforce over the 488 GT3 EVO 2020 within homologation parameters. The car has been designed in a modular fashion to improve serviceability, especially under fire during endurance races.
Ferrari consulted professional and gentlemen drivers alike in its quest to improve cockpit ergonomics. Most of the car’s functions are now operated by steering wheel controls using technology pioneered in Ferrari’s Formula 1 cars.
“This car has been meticulously designed in every detail and from every angle, in compliance with the new GT3 regulations,” read a Ferrari statement. “It inherits the winning legacy of the 488 GT3 while intent on writing new pages in the Prancing Horse’s motorsport history.”
The 296 GT3 began on-track testing in April. Since then, it has racked up thousands of development miles at Ferrari’s own Fiorano circuit in Italy and other international venues.
The 296 GT3 will make its global competition debut at the 2023 Rolex 24 At Daytona, set for Jan. 28-29. Preliminary activities begin with the annual Roar Before the Rolex 24 from Jan. 20-22 at Daytona International Speedway.
(Photos courtesy of Ferrari)