Though these two are spaced by decades of development and completely different intentions, they’re both capable of putting on a similar performance on track. At Laguna Seca, where acceleration is paramount, many might think the svelte Ferrari 458 Challenge would destroy a Camaro—but that’s not the case.
Karl Chicca’s ’69 Camaro is very far from stock. For years, it ran road courses gleefully with a Donovan 396 small block and ran with a cage and larger brakes. A at Thunderhill’s Turn 14 left the Camaro a wreck, but Chicca took the opportunity to turn it into a real road race monster. After replacing the front fenders, hood, doors, and nose with fiberglass pieces, he turned his attention to the footwork. Up front, Chicca employed a Global West Cat 5 front suspension system, and to help put some of that power to the ground more effectively and offer more articulation at the rear, he went with a Lateral Dynamics 4 bar with watts link, as well as a Strange rear end and axles, which required a mini-tub job in back.
He then replaced the motor with a 412 ci, carbureted LS3, which sends power through a Tex Racing T101A 4-speed transmission and further back to a Ford 9″ rear. Keeping him out of the weeds are Wilwood 6-pot Superlight fronts and 4-pot rears, and an AGR power steering pump offers a little more confidence when driving sideways out of Laguna’s Turn 11. He shod the Kinesis wheels in 275/315 rubber front/rear, and installed an Accusump system to keep the motor from drying out with all the added cornering grip. With a cage, an airdam, and a few other track-friendly tweaks, Chicca had a machine that could run with a $300,000 Italian racing car.
The Ferrari 458 Challenge makes 570 horsepower, corners at 1.6 G, and weighs just 2,800 pounds. It’s also sequentially shifted with paddles behind the wheel, and those shifts take just 75 milliseconds. Yet, the Camaro is able to hang when the road straightens out. With the straight-line speeds so equally matched, it’s easier to see where and how the two drivers carry speed when the road bends.
Though Laguna Seca is referred to as a power circuit, it still rewards people who can carry speed into the corner. As there are a few with semi-blind entries—namely Turn 6—a quick driver turns in before they can see the apex and trust they’re on the right line. At 11:00, the trust in his line allows Chicca to get on the throttle when the suspension compresses at the apex, and as a result, he rockets out of the corner to close the gap as they approach the Corkscrew.
Chicca takes a longer but slightly smoother line through most corners and uses the full width of the track, not only because it’s faster with his car, but because he has to. Since the Camaro’s a bit heavier, he can’t square off the corners quite like the nimble Ferrari can—and that weight carries him off the track at 11:42, but you can’t fault him for trying such a gutsy pass.
Unfortunately, that spoils his one good opportunity at passing the Ferrari, since Miatas block his progress from there on. However, the fly yellow Challenge never leaves him completely—and there’s no way he could’ve left feeling dejected. The car he pursued could’ve left him standing still, but his guts and track knowledge kept the two in close competition.