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2009 Ferrari Challenge at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant – Click above for high-res image gallery

We've always found the idea of going on safari or a diving expedition rather intriguing. But while we can appreciate those willing to spend their precious vacation time and hard-earned cash to see nature's most beautiful creatures in their natural habitats, most of us here at Autoblog aren't exactly the nature-adventure types. We're car guys. The Ferrari Challenge... now that's more like it.

Like a lion in the Sahara or a bear in the forest, Ferraris belong on the race track. But the unfortunate reality is most end up sitting in tiled garages adjoining big mansions in prestigious locations. We get to see more than most, but more often than not they're perched on an auto show stand under floodlights and flash bulbs. So when Ferrari invited us to join them at the legendary Circuit Mont Tremblant for a round of wheel-to-wheel racing, we could hardly resist. Follow the jump for more.

Photos copyright ©2009 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

Enzo Ferrari built quite a legacy for himself. But for better or worse, listening attentively to customer feedback wasn't part of it. (Just ask Ferruccio Lamborghini). But when the company's most valued customers began asking for an opportunity to go racing, ears in Maranello started to perk up. So in 1993, Ferrari established the Challenge series, initially pitting track-prepared 348s against each other in races officially sanctioned by the factory. The 348 gave way to the 355, which in turn gave way to the 360 and then the F430 of today. Along the way, the Ferrari Challenge series split into three individual championships, running separately in North America, Italy and Europe. At the end of each season, the best drivers from each come together in Italy for the World Finals. The Tremblant circuit, however, is the only Canadian venue on the calendar. And with good reason.

Some may recognize the Mont Tremblant name for the famous ski resort – a two-hour drive north-west of Montreal – but across the lake from the slopes, hidden in between the pines and maple trees is a jewel of motor racing history. The 15-turn track that snakes along over two and a half miles of Laurentian mountainside is so challenging that Michael Schumacher once called it the "Little Nürburgring." Initially constructed in 1964, the track hosted Can-Am and Indy races through the late '60s, and before its current home on Notre Dame island was built, the Canadian Grand Prix was held for two years at the Tremblant circuit in an alternating arrangement with neighboring Ontario's Mosport Park.

Following decades of neglect, the Tremblant circuit has been renovated and put back to use since the turn of the millennium. Champ Cars returned to Tremblant two years ago before the race was dropped as part of the merger with the Indy Racing League, and the American Le Mans Series nearly held a race there in 2001 before canceling. Today, it's primarily used for amateur and junior racing events. In addition to the Jim Russell Racing Cchool that calls it home, Ferrari chose the venue to serve as the campus for its only driving school on this side of the Atlantic. And every year, Maranello rolls into the lakeside mountain village for the annual Ferrari Festival.

Although previous years included demonstrations of the FXX client development program and retired Formula One race cars, this year's event was strictly business as the F430 Challenge and its classic racing counterpart, the Shell Historic Challenge, took to the track.

While the F430 Challenge is contested between identically-equipped race-spec supercars, the Historic Challenge attracts a variety of classic machinery. To keep things fair, Ferrari's Corse Clienti department splits the Prancing Horses brought back from the pasture into two categories: those with drum brakes and those with discs. This past weekend, we caught a pair of 250 GTOs duking it out with a race-prepped 308 GTB and a 512 BB/LM. It's not every day that you get to see a classic automobile worth more than $10 million hammering it around a twisting, undulating grand prix circuit, let alone two of them. But when that day comes, you can bet it's going to be a memorable one -- like seeing your first Lion in the Sahara.

Photos copyright ©2009 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

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