Taking A 355 Challenge Car To Chuckwalla Is The Best Way To Celebrate A Restoration
Photography by Robb Williamson
A few months ago I met an incredibly earnest and talented guy by the name of Robb Williamson. He’s made a name for himself in the photographic community for traveling the world documenting architecture, but behind the scenes for the last many years he’s been pouring his heart into his love for Ferrari. I interviewed him about his 355 Challenge car that he and his brother bought 18 months ago and just the other weekend he finally got it on the track at Chuckwalla. Naturally I had to follow up with a few photos he shot from the day.
Ted Gushue: What was this thing like on the track?
Robb Williamson: Well, the car is just amazing. We spent about 18 months on the restoration of the car. Getting it ready mechanically and aesthetically so that it was back in tip top condition. When we bought the car it still had a number of things that we had to fix but everything got straightened out. We spent a long time getting a list together to go to the track. We got together a trailer, a lot of support materials, etc.
Made the plans to go to the track with my brother and our mechanic, our crew chief. He was going to serve as sort of a driver’s coach for us and drive the car as well to make sure everything was sorted out. I had not really been to the track before, and neither had my brother at speed. I had experience on the track with a Ducati Superbike a number of times in the past, but that’s quite different to car racing.
I definitely was aware of the limits of a track situation and trying to find the correct line and being on track with other vehicles. That part wasn’t really foreign but just how the car would handle at speed was an absolutely, bucket list, new experience for us.
TG: Were you nervous at all? You have a lot invested in this car.
RW: I was a little bit nervous just because I didn’t know what to expect. On a motorcycle you have a lot more visibility looking around and feeling the presence of different things. In a car, especially a sports car, it’s low, and wide. Although the 355 has great visibility for most cars of its type. There are some cars like the Lamborghini that have absolutely zero rear visibility. Even out the side 3/4. Our car is not like that at all. Our car has good visibility so that made it a lot more comfortable and helped us relax after the first couple of sessions.
We brought both the race car and a street 355 which was also set up in a ’95 engine configuration. We wanted to see how the cars would compare. Street car to race car. Although they’re the same DNA, and I would say 80% of the same package, the race car was absolutely in its element. Pretty much a sledge hammer where it had to be. The 355 was a lot more forgiving as far as body roll, breaking, and interior cabin though. Just kind of not keeping you quite as planted.
We took both cars to kind of get a good experience and because we had three drivers we wanted to have everybody out on the track in some capacity all the time. I did not start out in the challenge car. We left that unveiling lap to the mechanic, our crew chief that worked really hard to get our car back to condition. We had a total of six sessions each day at Chuckwalla in Southern California outside of Indio.
I can’t say enough about the capabilities of the 355 race car. I think we probably had it up to about 125 mph on the straightaways at Chuckwalla. It does not have a really long straightaways. That was pretty good in itself. Hitting the curves though, faster, and faster, and faster is really where I think the art of these cars comes in. The lateral grip is amazing on slick tires with the suspension that the cars have set up. The challenge car had so little body roll that you can really get into the groove. You’re bolted into the bolster seat, you know? To the point where you really feel everything the car is doing. It has a quicker turning steering rack. It’s just built to be used on the track in that type of capacity.
TG: It must be such a meaningful day to track the car that you’ve been restoring for months.
RW: We definitely don’t want the claim to be very experienced at this, but it’s something that we definitely see ourselves doing a lot more. Especially now that we have the right tools and definitely wanted to even do it the right way so that we didn’t have any issues with the car, or drivers.