Michael Fassbender is celebrating his first season racing a Ferrari 488 Challenge in the Ferrari Challenge series. It’s an impressive achievement for the Irish actor, who only began his training with Corso Pilota at Fiorano back in autumn 2016. “It’s always been my dream to be a racing driver,” he told us, “ so it’s as good as it gets to be out on the Fiorano track.”
At first, he admits, he was making the classic mistakes: going into a corner too fast and losing exit speed, or simply turning in too early. You need to learn how to tie it all together, while continually working on your problem areas. He was hungry to learn, and worked hard to prepare for the 2017 season. We spoke with Fassbender at the Laguna Seca event, where he had his very first Ferrari Challenge race.
He was nervous before it, he told us, but clearly learnt fast: in his second race, at Mosport in Ontario, he was standing on the podium. “It did feel like all those hours of instruction time and the hours out on track were all starting to come together.” A few races later, and the Irish actor was starting to work on his weaknesses.
At the Circuit of the Americas race in Austin, Texas, he realised he was struggling to launch the car out of a slow corner – “getting the wheels straight and getting as much off the back straight as possible.” This cost him in qualifying, but by the end of the race, he had it perfected.
The analysis continued over the winter, and Fassbender arrived at the 2018 Daytona International Speedway event in January confident he was getting faster. So it proved: he won his first race! It made up for the 2017 Homestead-Miami race, where he was running at the front, but lost concentration, and crashed. “That definitely cost me a second-place finish, maybe even a win.” Nowadays, Fassbender’s first-race nerves are long gone.
“It might sound contradictory, but it's actually really relaxing, even though you are travelling so fast. When I get into the rhythm and my shoulder are relaxed and I’m not tensing up, that’s when I do best. If you’re trying to push it too hard, the lap times just fall away.” Racing has even improved how he drives on the road. He looks further ahead, right to the horizon, “working your way back from there”.
It’s much safer and much more relaxing. Fassbender is proud to be part of the Ferrari racing contingent. “Getting invited to the factory at Maranello, visiting Casa Enzo Ferrari, it was all really special. And I love the camaraderie I’ve discovered with other Challenge drivers. It’s an interest group of successful people, smart individuals from all walks of life. To be honest, I hadn’t expected that the level of competition was going to be as high as it is.”
So what’s next on the wishlist for the actor-turned-racer? “I’d hope to do some endurance racing in the future. That’s the goal, if my progression is good enough. “I’d even say that, all things being equal, I’d probably choose racing over acting right now. I’m enjoying it that much. I started acting when I was just 17. That’s 23 years. It’d be really nice to have 23 years of racing…”