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Michael Sheehan's Ferraris-online.com Article

Ferrari: The Factory GT Racers

Remarkably, factory-built competition Daytonas were raced successfully from 1972 through 1979

As appeared in:

Sports Car Market—July 2004 issue

Sheehan Speaks

by Michael Sheehan

Schumie and the Formula One guys might get all the attention, but in fact Ferrari has been involved in GT racing for decades. From Group 4 Daytonas to the new 575 GTCs, Maranello has helped develop “modificatos” that have competed with varying degrees of success in production-car based classes.

Ferrari 575 GTC.
Ferrari 575 GTC.

The latest effort is Barron Connor Racing co-owned by collector, racer and long-time SCM supporter Chip Connor. The team is campaigning a Ferrari 575 GTC against Corvettes, Saleen S7s and Vipers in the FIA GTS series, and at its debut at Sebring in March, achieved a second in class.

Hence, this seemed like an appropriate time to present a quick overview of Ferrari factory involvement in GT racing, from the ’70s to the present.

1971–1973: FACTORY-BACKED DAYTONAS

In all, fifteen lightweight 365 GTB/4Cs were built, with full factory support for competition. Five Series I Daytona comp cars were built for the 1971 season, employing alloy bodies, fiberglass hoods, and Plexiglas windows to shed some 800 pounds, bringing the car’s curb weight down to 2,700. The output of the 4.4-liter V12 was bumped by 30 hp to 380. By the time the Daytona was granted homologation into Group 4 in January 1972, a second batch of five more “serious” GTB/4Cs were underway. The Series II cars had more radical engines making 402 hp, but the rules now required steel bodywork, bringing the weight up to 3,300 pounds. The last five Series III cars were built and delivered individually during the 1973 season, with 450-hp engines and improved brakes.

In general, they had great success on the track, taking the top five class positions at the 1972 running of Le Mans, and placing fifth through ninth overall. At Daytona in 1973, 365 GTB/4C S/N 14141 finished first in class and S/N 14889 finished second. At Le Mans that year, S/N 16363 finished first in class, and S/N 15667 took third. Remarkably, the cars continued to be raced competitively up to 1979, with 365 GTB/4C S/N 16407 finishing second overall at the 1979 24 Hours of Daytona.

Priced at $50,000 when new, against $20,000–$25,000 for a production model, today competition Daytonas sell for $1.25m to $1.5m.

1978–1985: THE MICHELOTTO 308

Most historians show 23 Michelotto-prepped 308s built. It was a quasi-factory backed effort, with Ferrari’s competition department homologating the 308 GTB in January 1976 with multiple competition-spec components, including a specially prepared engine and a short-shift gearbox with changeable ratios. The factory had also flared the front and rear fenders for larger wheels, all in keeping with the FIA’s then-current Group 4 regulations.

Starting with a standard chassis, often previously used, Michelotto fitted a roll cage and a thin fiberglass body, bringing weight down to just 2,300 pounds, nearly 700 pounds lighter than a production 308 GTB. With a Kugelfischer fuel-injection system and high-compression pistons, maximum power was 315 hp, giving these 308s blistering acceleration.

The Michelotto 308s were successful in various European events, including S/N 26713 scoring a victory at the Tour de France in 1981 and S/N 19051 finishing first in the 1981 Targa Florio.

Cost new was $50,000 to $60,000, while a car with significant race history will bring as much as $250,000 today.

1979–1982: THE SILHOUETTE BOXERS

Ferrari built 25 “silhouette” 512 BB/LMs using Pininfarina designed and wind tunnel-tested bodywork that allowed a top speed of nearly 200 mph. But the cars were simply outmatched by the Porsche 935Ks, which led to disappointing results at Le Mans in 1979. The cars continued to be improved, but so did the Porsches—the highest finish for a BB/LM at Le Mans was S/N 31589 in 1981, with a first in class and fifth overall. The swan song came in 1983, when the IMSA Class was eliminated at the Sarthe classic.

Priced new at $80,000, today they bring about $400,000, while a car with a Le Mans history can easily top $500,000.

1989–1996: A HALF-HEARTED F40

At the order of Ferrari’s French importer, Michelotto built a racing version of the F40, the LM, in 1989. Though factory-sanctioned, these cars were at best a half-hearted attempt to placate a few privateers, and just 19 were built. Engine modifications allowed turbo boost to be increased from 1.1 to 2.1 bar, bumping output to 720 hp. A GTC version built for the FIA GT series carried larger air restrictors, and made 760 hp.

F40 LM S/N 79890 was raced on the 1989 IMSA campaign and was joined by a sister car, S/N 79891, for 1990. Competing in six of the 10 races that season, the F40s chalked up four podium finishes.

In 1993 a limited run of seven F40 GTs was built for the Italian GT Championship, which had been opened to supercars like the F40 and the Jaguar XK 220. The GTs were less radical than the LMs, and Marco Brand won the 1993 Italian Championship with a privately supported car, S/N 80742.

About a dozen F40s privately campaigned the BPR series in Europe and the Japan Touring Car Championship beginning in 1994, often winning pole and achieving fastest lap at races from Suzuka to Le Mans, with victories at Fuji and Vallelunga in 1994 and at Anderstorp in 1995 and again in 1996. But with little development, the LMs were not reliable enough to win a major endurance race like Le Mans or Daytona.

The cars were relegated to racing obscurity when Porsche introduced the GT1 at Le Mans in 1996. The F40 could have been more successful if it had the type of support provided by Porsche or other manufacturers that were more seriously committed to racing.

Priced new at $650,000 to $700,000, an F40 LM will sell for $400,000 to $450,000 today.

2001–2004: THE FACTORY 360 CHALLENGE

As opposed to outsourcing them, the factory began in-house building of GT race cars with the 360 Challenge, used in Ferrari’s worldwide series for privateers. These cars were soon followed by the 360 N-GT, which was Michelotto-built to campaign in the FIA GT series and the American Grand-Am series against the then-dominant Porsche GT3R. A winner out of the box, the French JMB team won the 2001 FIA GT Championship in an N-GT, driven by Christian Pescatori.

In 2002, Ferrari of Washington’s 360, S/N 2008, dominated the 2002 American Grand-Am Championship with five victories and a total of eight podium finishes. The same year, Veloqx Motorsport won the British GT series running three different factory-built 360 GTs. Ferrari of Washington repeated its Grand-Am Championship in 2003, while the JMB team took second place in the 2003 FIA N-GT Championship race, encouraging Ferrari to build an updated 360 GTC for 2004.

When introduced in 2001 the Michelotto-built 360 N-GT was priced at $275,000 (if you supplied your 360 Challenge car as a basis for the build), and the factory 360 GT cost $410,000. The 360 GTC, the current factory offering, is priced at about $480,000, depending on exchange rate.

2001–2004: PRIVATEERS PUSH FOR A FACTORY 550

A 550 GT racing program was initiated in 2000 by Stephane Ratel, founder of the BPR series, with four cars built by Italtecnica. However, they suffered many engine problems and were unsuccessful. The following year, Frenchman Frederic Dor enlisted Prodrive to build two new 550s, one car for the American ALMS series and one for the European FIA-GT Championship.

Prodrive’s 550 GT racer starts by using the original central steel monocoque, but with all new suspension arms, Koni shocks, massive AP racing brakes, and wider wheels. The V12 engine is based on the original aluminum block and cylinder heads, but increased from 5,474 cc to 5,850 cc. Output is over 600 hp, fed through an X-Trac sequential six-speed, rear-mounted gearbox. The road car’s 3,725-pound weight is pared down to just 2,425 pounds, through extensive use of carbon composite in the body.

The Prodrive cars were successful from the start and won at the A1 Ring in Austria and at Jarama in Spain. Dor immediately ordered four more cars for the 2002 season, winning at Laguna Seca in the ALMS series and at Jarama, Anderstorp, Oschersleben, and Estoril in the FIA GT series.

In 2003 the Prodrive 550s run by BMS Scuderia Italia dominated the FIA-GT Championship, winning seven of eight races, including a class victory at Le Mans for the Veloqx Prodrive 550, S/N 108462. Veloqx also won four ALMS races, finishing a mere point behind the Corvettes in the constructors’ championship.

In response to the success of the Prodrive 550, Ferrari’s Corse Clienti department, in cooperation with Fiat’s N-Technology group, debuted the Ferrari 575 GTC at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2003. The 575 GTC is built around an all-new, aluminum-block, 65-degree V12 of 5,997 cc, fitted with advanced cam timing, Marelli MR5 engine management and a 12.9:1 compression ratio. Even with the FIA’s mandatory 31.8-mm air restrictors, output is 605 hp.

A JMB-entered 575 GTC won the penultimate round on the 2003 FIA GT series calendar at Estoril in Portugal, and has had continuing success in the 2004 season.

Initially priced at about $600,000, used Prodrive-built cars are now selling for around $720,000. The new, ex-factory price for the 575 GTC is $833,000. And of course that just gets you the car, and doesn’t count spares, maintenance, crews, transportation, testing and all the myriad things that go into fielding a competitive car.

But in the end, it is this continuing commitment to competition that sets Ferrari apart from all other supercars. Alone among manufacturers, year in and year out, it continues to show up to be counted when the green flag drops. And for tifosi around the world, there’s nothing more satisfying than watching Ferraris being run hard, with engines screaming and tires being pushed to the limits of adherence.

In large part, when a customer buys any Ferrari, they are getting a machine that has been bred through track use, and they can expect it to perform at the absolute highest level with no drama or surprises.

MICHAEL SHEEHAN has been a Ferrari dealer for 30 years as well as a race car driver and exotic car broker.