You know you’re in for a memorable day when a helicopter ride to a race track won’t be the most thrilling part of it. However, spending more time off the track than on it in the seemingly oversensitive Ferrari simulator doesn’t exactly instil much confidence (neither did the date: Friday the 13th), but I’m told by an experienced motoring journalist that the real thing is far more forgiving. And he’s right.
Verve and other media have been kindly invited to Hampton Downs to celebrate the partnership between the Italian supercar manufacturer and Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot (also, incidentally, founded by an Italian, Carlo Crocco) as part of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli Series that allows Ferrari drivers from around the world to race each other on international tracks, cheered on by the public. Louis Colmache, head of Corse Clienti, says they’re “thrilled to bring the inaugural New Zealand Challenge series races” to the “iconic Hampton Downs circuit”. The global event, approved by motor sport governing body FIA, began in Europe in 1993, and has since spread to North America and Asia-Pacific, taking place at legendary circuits, including Grand Prix tracks, such as Albert Park in Melbourne, Singapore Marina and the Fuji Speedway.
Herbert Appleroth, CEO of Ferrari Australasia, says that the important market of New Zealand “has some of the most passionate Ferrari owners and drivers in the world”. Over from Sydney for the weekend event, he seems almost as excited about us afforded the opportunity to throw some supercars around the track as we were to accept it. Challenge driver Grant Baker, chairman of Moa Brewery, tells us that owning a Ferrari isn’t just about purchasing the ultimate boy’s toy, but “buying into a brand and philosophy”. Ferrari owners, he adds, become part of the “Ferrari family”.
We get to drool over some display cars that include special editions like the F12tdf, the 599GTO, LaFerrari Aperta, and the Ferrari Portofino—the first time it has graced these shores. We wander through the bowels of Hampton Downs to check out the pit lane and the din of the garages where technicians are hunched over tools and laptops fine tuning their Ferrari 488 Challenge cars—the fiercest Challenge model to date thanks to its 670 cv 3.9-litre V8 engine.
Over lunch we’re introduced to three of Hublot’s X Ferrari collection, in gold, ceramic and titanium. Hublot brand manager, Joel Ruiz, also over from Sydney, talks of the “innovative, avant-garde shared philosophies” of the two brands. “A lot of our customers,” says Herbert, “buy a lot of these watches.” Designed in conjunction, Ferrari is responsible for the skeleton, reveals Joel, while Hublot builds the watch’s engine. And what an astonishing feat of intricate engineering it is, housing 637 separate components—more than any other watch—its 50-day power reserve also a world record in horology. All the while we’re serenaded by the “symphony of engines” from the track.
Under the guidance of professional drivers, we’re allowed a spin in two cars: a Ferrari 488 and a Ferrari 812. Less powerful, but certainly more playful, for me, the 488 is, only slightly, more fun. The sheer force of the acceleration of the 812 is staggering—taking even the seasoned motoring writers by surprise. It is like being strapped into a rollercoaster. Then shot out of a rocket. Thankfully we’re given two laps, meaning we can collect our stomachs the second time round. Herbert talked a lot about goals and dreams over lunch. Judging by the array of smiles at the end of this event, a few more have been realised at Hampton Downs.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces