A all-new Ferrari 296 racer that taps technology from Formula One will face-off against the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS at Mount Panorama in the Bathurst 12-Hour race.
Ferrari has unveiled the road car-based 296 GT3 racer it will pitch into battle against the latest Porsche 911 GT3 R – and a host of other contenders – in global GT3 racing from 2023.
The new 296 GT3 is likely to headline the entry next year’s Bathurst 12-Hour race, the opening event on the Intercontinental GT Challenge series, in the first week of February.
Its first public appearance came straight after Porsche unveiled its latest 911-based car for GT3 racing, the 911 GT3 R, as sports car companies get set for a new round of post-COVID motorsport around the world.
The 296 GT3 is based on the 296 GTB road car, and the biggest change — apart from its giant wings and racing bodywork — is the absence of the electric motor and hybrid system that contributes an extra 123kW and 315Nm.
That leaves the racer with a mid-engined twin-turbo V6 engine that makes 440kW and 710Nm, fed through a six-speed sequential manual gearbox — down from an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic in the road car — to the rear wheels.
Ferrari has not revealed any performance figures but, with its weight stripped to just 1250kg, it will be significantly quicker on a track than the road car, which sells from $551,800 plus on-road costs in Australia.
Even so, the 296 GT3 could take another hit as the rules for Global GT racing include a ‘Balance of Performance’ adjustment intended to even the competition between a wide variety of cars including the Mercedes-AMG GT, Bentley Continental GT and Lamborghini Huracan.
Development of the 296 GT3 has been boosted by a cost cap in Formula One racing, which has forced Ferrari to switch some spending and re-allocate some of its engineering staff to prevent them defecting to other companies – even if the company is not making any admissions.
“This is a new approach in terms of design, car management at all stages of a race weekend, electronics, and even the engine architecture, a 120-degree turbocharged six-cylinder,” said Ferrari.
The most obvious result of the Formula One connection is the car’s steering wheel, which is as loaded with buttons and knobs as the ones in the Grand Prix cars raced by Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Technical tweaks to the 296 racer start with a mid-mounted V6 engine that sits lower in the chassis and has been moved further forward, towards the cabin, to improve the car’s rigidity and overall balance.
The gearbox is also set transversally (left to right) across the car — not in line with the engine (front to back) — to centralise more weight inside the longer wheelbase of the race car.
A paddle shift system is fitted, with the clutch controlled from the steering wheel – not a pedal. Ferrari says many components have been made smaller — using exotic materials including titanium — to cut weight.
The most visible change to the 296 from Ferrari’s previous GT3 racer, based on the 488, is the bodywork and aero package.
It is clearly injected with Formula One thinking, from the many extra ‘winglets’ on the front splitter through large vents over the front wheels to the giant rear wing.
Ferrari says the new car has 20 per cent more downforce than the old 488 GT3, but work has also focussed on making the car easier to drive for ‘gentleman’ owners and not just professional racers.
It has also worked to make the car less susceptible to damage and quicker and easier to repair at a track during a race weekend.
To boost reliability and speed, work in the engine — everything from the intake plenum to the oil passages — is focussed on improving fuel economy and increasing the number of kilometres between rebuilds.
The alternator is mounted to the gearbox, not the engine, for easier access by mechanics.
The 296 is built for speed but there are also concessions to comfort, as many classic GT3 races are run for 12 hours — including Bathurst — and for up to 24 hours at the Nurburgring in Germany and Spa in Belgium.
So Ferrari has worked to improve the air conditioning system and improved the cockpit ergonomics over the outgoing 488, with everything from better visibility to an improved Sabelt seat and a large central panel for essential switches.