Recently, the Ferrari Challenge Asia-Pacific returned to Malaysia, filling the Sepang International Circuit with the distinct roars of Ferrari race cars over the weekend.
Naza World formally introduced driver Zen Low as the first and only Malaysian to participate in the racing series, competing in the Trofeo Pirelli category under the team, Naza Aylezo.
Sepang was home to the Ferrari Challenge APAC 2017 Round 5 and this season is the inaugural year where the one-make racing series employs the brand new Ferrari 488 Challenge - the first turbocharged modern Ferrari and the most powerful car in the history of the series.
During Zen’s introduction, Naza World group executive chairman Datuk SM Faisal SM Nasimuddin said: “It has been a thrill to follow Zen Low’s progress in the Ferrari Challenge APAC, and we are excited to have the opportunity to watch him live in action right here in Sepang. His experience and passion has shown him to be a strong and worthy competitor. Not only has he done us proud with his performance so far, he has also earned tremendous support of fellow Malaysians!”
Speaking on preparation, Zen said, “My preparation includes training on the simulator, as well as physical fitness. The former is primarily for the mental side as I memorise, sharpen and fine-tune my driving for each of the different race tracks. While for physical fitness, I do external motorcycle rides apart from driving in the race car.”
In the first round in Abu Dhabi, Zen Low had got off to an impressive start, earning second place in Race 1 and third in Race 2.
He managed another two podium finishes in Shanghai and Zhejiang for Round 2 and Round 3 respectively.
For the fifth round in Sepang, Zen secured a podium finish in the first of the two races, enabling him to rank third overall in his racing category.
Zen is racing for the entire 2017 season and competing in the Trofeo Pirelli category wearing the race number 69.
As an astute businessman with a passion for racing, Zen has an established career as one of the most well-known and successful race drivers in Asia.
Over the years, he has taken part in various series of motorsports locally and regionally, including the Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race in 2009 and 2010, the Gulf 12 Hours of 2012, Asian LeMans Series (2013 and 2016), Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo (2013, 2014 and 2016), GT Asia 2015, Sepang 12 Hours (2015 and 2016) and Bathurst 12 Hours 2017.
The Ferrari 488 Challenge race cars that made its debut for the Ferrari 488 Challenge APAC 2017 are derived from a Ferrari 488 GTB, pumping out 670 hp from its V8 3.9-litre turbocharged engine.
The challenge was established as a one-make series in 1993, bringing together complete track novices and drivers with prior competition experience.
The series spans three regions: North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. This year, the Ferrari Challenge uses a multi-class FIA-approved format; drivers are grouped under Trofeo Pirelli, Trofeo Pirelli AM, Trofeo Pirelli 458, Coppa Shell, Ladies’ Cup and Gentlemen’s Cup.
For the next round, the Ferrari Challenge APAC will make its way to Singapore on Sept 15 to 17 and will finally finish off in Mugello on Oct 26 to 29 for the Finali Mondiali.
Up close with the GTC4Lusso T
After the introduction of Zen Low as the driver for NAZA Aylezo racing team, Cars Bikes & Trucks and a few other privileged media representatives were brought to get up close with the Ferrari GTC4Lusso T.
The test drive session took place around the Sepang International Circuit satellite road, while the qualifying for the Ferrari 488 Challenge Round 5 was on the track.
The Ferrari GTC4Lusso T is the force-fed iteration of the previous GTC4Lusso, hence the letter T that stands for “turbo”.
There is almost no differentiation between the two cars from the appearance; both the GTC4Lusso T and GTC4Lusso feature a set of 20-inch wheels, wide gaping front air intakes with horizontal fins and four-lamp tail light configurations.
However, things are a different under the sheet metal.
While the previous GTC4Lusso gets a 6.3-litre naturally-aspirated V12 engine from the Ferarri F12 and Ferarri FF sending power through an all-wheel drive, the GTC4Lusso T on the other hand employs a 3.9-litre turbocharged V8 with rear-wheel drive setup.
Speaking of numbers, the 90-degree V8 engine in the GTC4Lusso T produces 600hp and 760Nm of torque, over 60Nm more than the V12 GTC4Lusso despite having four cylinders less.
The power is sent to the rear wheels via a Getrag 7-speed F1 DCT unit which enables the GTC4Lusso T to sprint to 100 kph in 3.5 seconds, up to a top speed of 320kph.
Styling wise, the shooting brake silhouette of the car seems to fit the purpose of a four-seater grand tourer.
Measuring in at 4,922mm long and 1,383mm tall, the low slung coupled to a long bonnet, rear-heavy look gives the car a fast and dynamic proportion.
To cope with the demand of a grand tourer, the sporty GTC4Lusso is equipped with 10.25-inch full HD capacitive touchscreen and an optional 8.8-inch full HD touchscreen display for the front passenger, placed on the dash console.
But I would rather not bother the infotainment stuff as I want to make use of the precious slot to explore what the car can do on the road.
Me and the instructor head out from the Sepang International Circuit compound in Comfort Mode slowly as I was adapting myself to the left-hand drive unit.
The GTC4Lusso T felt surprisingly compliant on the road imperfections. I mean I know the car is not going to be as “edgy” as the mid-engined 488 GTB, but it can take our road quality pretty fluidly, considering the mountainous output the engine can produce.
Merging to the Jalan Pekeliling stretch in front of the Sepang International Circuit main entrance, I began to pivot my foot down, squeezing the throttle.
The GTC4Lusso T sent me 500m forward in no time, like a United States Navy F-14 on a catapult launcher of USS Nimitz.
At the same time, the flat torque and close gear ratio made me upshift more than I thought I would. The car seems to have closer gear ratio on lower gears and wider ratio on higher ones.
The combination of the gear ratio and twin-scroll turbocharged engine with Variable Boost Management translate to an engaging everyday drive, but effortless long distance travel cross country.
Twisting the Manettino dial on the steering wheel to Sport Mode increases the car’s firmness and sharpness to another level, giving you greater feel and sensation.
The engine sounds a bit muffled overall, but showcased a willingness to run at high rev speed.
From the brief drive, I conclude that a Ferrari can be a properly refined grand tourer that rides like a sports sedan.
A proper track session will allow me to explore the chassis and handling character of the GTC4Lusso T, and with long enough time, one can further inspect what makes the car a comfortable four-seater.