Gabriele Rafanelli, Italy's leading private team owner, will run two Ferrari 550 Maranellos in the FIA Grand Touring Championship. Rafanelli disclosed his plan on Friday morning following the completion of an "excellent test" at Misano, where Marc Duez and Luca Riccitelli both drove a new 12-cylinder, front-engined Ferrari. The car was built by Italtechnica "with input from my people" according to Rafanelli, and it was almost entirely trouble-free apart from a minor glitch with the power steering pump.
Two days of testing, hampered by fog in the morning, ended with Duez breaking the 1:30 barrier with a 1:29.9, which Rafanelli had taken as a benchmark. The Belgian driver had broken the Misano GT2 record, he said, and performed as well as he hoped. Duez did most of the driving, while Riccitelli fitted in five laps on the second afternoon. Says Rafanelli: "The Ferrari needs to be bloody fast to beat the Vipers, and now I am sure it can do the job."
The Ferrari 550 Maranello acquired a dubious reputation last season as the First Racing team (Jean-Denis Deletraz and Fabian Giroix) struggled with dire reliability problems in the engine and transmission departments. They have now parted company with Italtechnica, and GT Racing Developments, the investors behind the Ferrari 550 programme, have appointed Gerard Larrousse to assist First with their mission to get two reliable cars on the grid.
Team Rafanelli SRL was also testing an Ascari A410 Judd sports car at Misano, its second appearance at the Adriatic track. Mimmo Schiattarella, Werner Lupberger and Norman Simon took turns at the wheel, and on Michelin tyres the Ascari went faster than it did in November with a best time of 1:21.8. Rafanelli says that "it has to go faster, if we are to beat the Audis next year" and testing continues this week at Jerez.
Rafanelli will decide over Christmas whether to continue next year with Lola in the American Le Mans Series, where he is backed by Olive Garden and already has Schiattarella and Didier de Radigues under contract, or switch to the promising Ascari designed by John McNeil and financed by Klaas Zwart, the Dutch oil exploration magnate. Rafanelli is also working on deals to run cars in the European Le Mans Series and the FIA Sportscar Championship. When asked how he was going to manage this variety of effort he replied: "You ask too many questions!"