Of Gentleman and Boy Racers

Ferrari Challenge racing for the well-heeled; Scion FR-S for the heel/toe'd.

By Matt DeLorenzo June 8, 2011 / Photos by Mike Doran

The concept of a "gentleman racer" seems quaint in a day where at the highest levels of the sport, it's all about talent, not money. Either you have it or you don't. Cash can get you in some doors, but an F1, Indy or Le Mans overall win? Forget about it. 

Still, gentlemen racers have been an important part of motorsports since the earliest times. Emil Jellinek raced his purpose-built Daimler named after his daughter Mercedes in Monte Carlo, became a dealer and the rest was history. Briggs Cunningham, as comfortable skippering a 12-meter yacht as he was behind the wheel, was instrumental in bringing Cadillacs and Corvettes to Le Mans. And while gentlemen racers have contributed to the sport, others are remembered more for lives lost—Wolfgang von Trips in 1961 when Phil Hill won the World Drivers Championship and Piers Courage, heir to the British brewing fortune, in 1970. 

This doesn't mean the idea of serious racing by those who have day jobs (or trust funds) is dead. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of venues or outlets for gentlemen drivers to test their mettle on a track behind the wheel of a purebred racing machine. The enabler these days are the makers of high-performance cars, the Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis and Maseratis of the world.

I recently had the opportunity to take in the first of this year's series of Ferrari Challenge Events at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. The quality of the machinery and the driving is impressive. While one-marque series aren't going to pack the grandstands, there was enough serious door-to-door racing of 458s and F430s and the opportunity to see the Enzo-based FXX and the 599 XX (three of the former, nine of the latter) as well as recent F1 machinery being exercised to make the weekend enjoyable.

Perhaps the biggest change in the gentleman driver scene is the fact that most appear to be owners of successful enterprises that appear as "sponsors" on their cars and the level of dealer involvement providing the trackside support that makes participation in the series a turn-key deal. Ron Vogel, V.P. and director of motorsport for Ferrari- of Fort Lauderdale Ferrari, was kind enough to take several of us on a tour of the dealership's transporters, a setup that would not look out of place in an American Le Mans Series paddock.

While there seems to be no shortage of opportunities for the well-heeled to satisfy their need for speed, the other economic end of the performance spectrum—hot, affordable sporty cars for the boy racer in all of us—is about to get a shot in the arm with the introduction of the Scion FR-S, aka Toyota FT-86. This much talked about rear-drive coupe developed in concert with Subaru (supplier of the flat-4 powertrain and chassis) promises to add two new entries for both Scion and Subaru in a segment that has been dominated by front-drive pocket-rockets. For rear-drive purists, only Mazda with the MX-5 and Hyundai with its Genesis coupe have carried the torch, that is, unless you want to move up the ladder into V-6 versions of the larger Mustang and Camaro. The difference here is a lighter, affordable platform that showcases 4-cylinder power at a time when gasoline prices are spiking.

Implicit in the Scion and Subaru offerings is the promise that there will be low cost and easy do-it-yourself upgrades that will allow racers on a budget to boost performance for some serious track work, which portends good times ahead for boy and gentleman racers alike.