Inside Ferrari's program to turn mere mortals into Formula One racers

With the right combination of budget and skill, you too can own a Ferrari F1 car, though you can't necessarily take it home.

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It's a rare breed of driver who earns the right to sit behind the wheel of a Formula One machine, race cars that are quicker and more advanced than any other wheeled conveyance on planet Earth. The way the modern professional racing world works, if your parents didn't have you in Nomex as a toddler, you probably never had a chance at F1.

As someone who wasn't suitably suited as a tyke and thus missed my shot at motorsport glory, I'm glad to report that there is another way for those who still have a dream. Ferrari has a program that can take you by the hand all the way from driving novice to Formula One pilot. It's unlike anything else in the industry, the kind of program that can make your dreams come true. If you have the budget, that is.

Paying to play

It's been said that to make a small fortune in racing you need to start with a big one. And while there are still plenty of amazingly successful talents out there motivated more by ability than financial reserves, having some extra in the bank never hurts your chances when trying to make it into the ranks of professional race car drivers.

Indeed, the joys of motorsport competition shouldn't be reserved exclusively for those who can dedicate their lives to the craft. "Gentleman driver" is the (anachronistic, gender-insensitive) term for a racer with a day job, someone who built a successful career and who is now out racing against professionals not as a job, but as a hobby.

A spectacularly expensive hobby, but a hobby nevertheless.

Many turn up their noses at the notion of anyone entering the big leagues simply by writing a big check, but it's worth remembering that the first motorsports events were primarily automotive executives demonstrating their wares and rich playboys showing off their toys. Back then, everybody was a gentleman driver.

That tradition lives on at Ferrari. In Maranello, a driver with the talent and the means can start from ground level and work their way up to driving an 800-horsepower, championship-winning Formula One car.

Training

It starts with the Corso Pilota program, Ferrari's series of training schools that can take you all the way from learning what an apex is to getting your racing license and doing it for real.

There are four levels of the school: Sport, Advanced, Evolution and Challenge, each progressively more difficult -- and more expensive. A two-day Sport course will cost you just over $10,000 here in the US, while the two-day Challenge course is a whopping $24,900. But, make it through all four levels and you'll be able to apply for a professional racing license, either IMSA-certified in the US, or FIA-certified in Europe.

After that, it's time to hit the track for real.

Racing

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A 355-era Ferrari Challenge car sits in front of a race-prepped F40 in the Ferrari Museum.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

The Ferrari Challenge has been wowing audiences since 1993, when the company took a gaggle of 348s, gutted them and added cages, then set them loose on some of the greatest racetracks on the planet. Back in the '90s, Challenge ran as a support series for Formula One races for many years, earning some serious exposure for the racers who were then, as they are now, mostly a bunch of dudes with competitive drives as strong as their stock portfolios.

In Challenge, drivers compete against each other in similarly prepped cars, ostensibly meaning it was the most skilled individual who wins each race.

Challenge has featured each generation of Ferrari supersports car and currently still runs the older 458. With the turbocharged 488 already making regular appearances at Cars and Coffee gatherings worldwide, however, that will soon become the mandated weapon of choice.

Or, if you have the means, and the requisite license, Ferrari will sell you an FIA- or IMSA-spec 488, eligible for campaigning in series such as the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship here in the US, or the World Endurance Championship. Do well enough and you could even earn an invite to Le Mans, perhaps the ultimate gig for a gentleman driver.

Not fast enough for you? Don't worry, you're not done climbing the ladder.

Double-X

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The ludicrous Ferrari FXX K.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Ferrari Challenge cars are lighter, leaner and faster than their road-going counterparts, but there's still room for more. And that's where the XX program comes in.

Starting back in 2005, Ferrari made a special-edition version of the Enzo, at the time the fastest car it had ever produced. The 661-horsepower, V-12 brute got the full race-ready makeover treatment, becoming the 809-horsepower FXX. No longer street legal and not eligible for any sanctioned racing series on the planet, the FXX was the ultimate track toy.

But now there are more choices. Ferrari followed that up with the 599XX, a raced-up version of the 612-horsepower 599 GTB Fiorano. Today, though, the current king of Ferraris with fenders is the new FXX K. This is a La Ferrari that's been let off the leash. Already a mind-blowing proposition, the La Ferrari offers 950 horsepower from a hybrid V-12 powerplant. The FXX K boosts that to 1,036 hp, but it's not really about the power.

The already-spartan interior has been gutted and the bodywork extended to extreme proportions. The active wing on the back, which pops up to add downforce or slow the car under braking, is now flanked by a pair of canards. Vents and grilles have opened up everywhere, creating a car that looks like something otherworldly.

The cost here? About $2.7 million, but there's a catch: you can't take the FXX K home. Well, not if you want to start it, anyway. It takes a team of Ferrari engineers to keep the car operating, and so it must live in Maranello, behind closed doors at Ferrari HQ.

Don't worry, whenever you want to drive it you just tell Ferrari which track you want to race on and it'll have it delivered, along with that team of engineers who will take care of absolutely everything. Everything but driving the thing, of course.

Haven't bankrupted your family yet? Well, you can still go faster...

Formula One Clienti

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An amazing array of privately owned Formula One cars.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

If you're a very, very local Ferrari customer with the personal financial resources of a developing nation, you can work all the way up to Formula One Clienti status. It's here that you can actually purchase a Formula One car, a real Formula One car, one that was driven in anger on the world's stage.

There are naturally a number of restrictions, most notably that Ferrari will not sell any car fewer than two years old, for fear of an opposing team gaining access to privileged, secret technologies.

And, like the various XX cars, you can't really take a Formula One car home with you. That is, unless you're looking for a decadently exquisite piece of living-room decor. It takes a small army of engineers with period-appropriate laptops just to get a Formula One car running. This, then, is not something you can fire up at the track with a push from a willing friend.

But, again, Ferrari will send your car to the sanctioned track of your choosing whenever you want, and you will be invited to participate in a series of events Ferrari holds throughout the year at some of the world's greatest tracks. There, you'll of course be given some serious VIP treatment.

How much to buy your way into this very privileged club? Sadly, nobody would tell me exactly, though it was suggested you're looking at a starting price of around $3 million. As is the way with all used race cars, you'll need to spend a fair bit more for something with a race-winning pedigree and an awful lot more for anything with a championship-winning #1 on the nose.

Pay to play

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You, too, could be seated right here.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Whether the notion of buying your way into the seat of a Formula One car inspires you with feelings of anger or envy -- or more likely an uncomfortable combination of the two -- it is at least reassuring to know that should your next Kickstarter submission really take off, should your startup beat the increasingly steep odds, or should that next lottery ticket finally get printed with the right numbers, you might still have the chance to get behind the wheel of the most extreme racing hardware on the planet. Even if you don't have any more room in the garage.