Journal: Two Things Drove Ferrari from Sports Car Racing

Two Things Drove Ferrari from Sports Car Racing

Benjamin Shahrabani By Benjamin Shahrabani
July 1, 2014
14 comments

Photography Courtesy of Ferrari North America

In a recent interview, Ferrari chairman Mr. Luca di Montezemolo, frustrated by recent Formula One rule changes, said he would consider pulling La Scuderia Ferrari out of Formula One, and return to sports car racing. The FIA’s new regulations attempt to reduce costs and make F1 more environmentally friendly and have thus introduced a new hybrid V6 engine, which is quieter, more fuel efficient, and less polluting. Montezemolo says these and other restrictions detract from the Grand Prix experience, stating “No one wants to watch a driver save gas or tires. They want to see them push from here to there. It’s sport, yes, but also a show.” With driver Fernando Alonso dropping the flag at this year’s recent 24 Hours of Le Mans, Ferrari may be eyeing a return to sports-car racing, but why did it quit in the first place?

Ferrari won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times. It also contested the Manufacturer’s Championship for Sports Cars and Prototypes, then a crown jewel of the sport alongside Formula One, and between 1953 and 1967, it won 12 of those years. However, in 1974 founder Enzo Ferrari packed it in, and chose to concentrate exclusively on Formula One. So it wasn’t lack of success. Much like the grumblings now coming from Maranello about the state of Formula One, history has a funny way of repeating itself, and there is evidence that a similar confluence of affairs, taken together, caused La Scuderia to focus exclusively on Formula One from 1974 onwards.

First, racing is an enormously expensive venture and Enzo always quipped that he was manufacturing road cars only so he could pay for his real love, racing. The cost of racing on two fronts was so expensive in fact that it caused Ferrari to sell part of his company to Fiat in 1969. The agreement with Fiat left him in full control over Scuderia Ferrari, however, and also gave him access to Fiat’s resources. But it wasn’t Fiat’s control of the purse strings that caused Ferrari to abandon sports car racing, as much as other factors.

Advancements in racing technology was causing costs to escalate further and a huge gap between sports cars and open-wheel cars began to open. Toward the end of the 1960s, street cars that could be raced on the weekend were no longer competitive. No manufacturer could build a road car and expect it to win races such as Le Mans, Daytona, or Sebring again, as they had in the past. So Ferrari’s move to a dedicated race car program makes some sense.

Rule changes, much like the ones causing Maranello grief today, also played a role. Enzo had his battles with the folks at the FIA over several issues, however two stand out. The first was due to Ferrari trying to homologate his 250 GTO and 250 LM cars into the sports car category, probably an overreach on Ferrari’s own part, but the FIA insisted that a minimum of one hundred cars must be produced in order to homologate it. Enzo had neither the resources nor the intention at the time of producing the required number of cars so he withdrew from Formula World Championship series in 1964. However, as a workaround, he entered them as the NART Formula team, and won both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship with Mr. John Surtees driving.

Eventually, the FIA acquiesced to homologation but the cars were now obsolete, and a bad taste was left in Ferrari’s mouth. In 1972 the Prototype and Group 5 Sports Car classes were both replaced by a new Group 5 Sports Car class. Previously, cars running in these classes could run with no upper limit on displacement, and gave birth to some of the most memorable cars and racing–the Ford GT40, Lola T70, Alfa Romeo 33, Porsche 917, Ferrari 330 P4, and 512S. However, with the new rules, these cars were limited to 3 liter engines by the FIA, a move that some believed was a French ploy to benefit their native Matra so that it might be competitive at Le Mans. The ploy worked, but most of the manufacturers, including Ferrari, quit. Arguably the life went out of sports car racing at that time.

So, the more things change, the more things stay the same. With the exception of a few successful sports cars they have built for privateers over the intervening years, Ferrari have not participated officially in sports car or endurance racing for decades. But cars such as the late 1970’s 512 BB/LM, the 333 SP which won the IMSA World Sports Car Championship and IMSA GT Championship in the 1990s, the F430 GT2 and GT3 that won the ALMS and FIA GT championships more recently in their respective classes, and now an effort behind the current 458 Italia (in both GT2 and GT3) prove that Ferrari is still competitive today. “We cannot do sports-car racing and Formula One,” says di Montezemolo. “It’s not possible.” There are more than a few car and motor racing enthusiasts who would like to see that change, and the Cavallino rampante return to sports car racing grids.

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14 Comments on "Two Things Drove Ferrari from Sports Car Racing"

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Ian Paul
Ian Paul
2 years 3 months ago
F1 neither stirs my emotions or has the engineering around aero made me feel that the cars are special. It’s become a rather dull business. Endurance racing however is both exciting and technically interesting. LMP1, LMP2 and GT cars stir a great passion within me. I have to say that in the US mixing Daytona prototypes and LMP2 has been a disaster, but yesterdays all GT TUSC race at VIR was a classic despite your full course caution rules which are a joke. Ferrari need to be in sports cars because we are in some of the best times ever… Read more »
Andrei
Andrei
2 years 3 months ago

F1 is about danger,speed,pushing the limits of the driver .However f1,now,is just a sport where engineers battle each other.The electronics are so much quicker than anybody’s brain that leaves the driver with nothing left to do.I love engineering ,expecially automotive engineering but it’s ruining f1.I used to love f1 but now it’s all ruined…Those v12’s v10’s were replaced with environmently friendly engines:(I think Ferrari’s decision is a good call.

Nick
Nick
2 years 4 months ago
I for one have lost interest in F1. Too many regulations have driven manufacturers to quit or – as Ferrari has in the past – threaten to quit. It used to excite me. Comparing the sport today would be like trying to compare a 70’s Ferrari to a modern Ferrari. It has become too technical for the minds of most car enthusiasts – not to mention political. My fav period was up to the Senna days. I would prefer it if Ferrari would go to Sports Cars again. PS What the hell happened to the noise? They sound like regul;ar… Read more »
Amadeo Destrini
Amadeo Destrini
2 years 4 months ago

I do not blame Sr. M. for his opinion. The Emperor Eccelstone has made F1 his personal plaything over the last decade, changing rules and trying always to put his personal mark on the sport. I believe the sport needs new leadership if it is to stay interesting. I do not watch the races with as much enthusiasm as I once did, as it is less exciting now that it is dominated by one constructor. I would love to see Ferrari go back to sports car racing, and if they abandon F1 to do so, so be it.

Steely
Steely
2 years 4 months ago

Are Ferrari blowing wind again.. not doing well in F1 for a few years, increased competition for road cars, they should return to sport car racing, that’s where its at.

TJ Martin
TJ Martin
2 years 4 months ago
The real fact behind Ferrari’s exit from endurance and sports car racing was solely financial . Fact is Ferrari has never made a solitary dime of ‘ profit ‘ in its entire existence [ and still has yet to do so despite the rhetoric coming from the likes of Montezemolo etc ] and by the time the 70’s rolled around its FIAT SpA’s owners profits were already on a steady and rapid financial decline despite decades of Italian Government .. tax payer funded bailouts and subsidies . Hence .. barely enough lire to finance Ferrari’s F1 escapades and FIAT/Lancia’s rally… Read more »
Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
2 years 4 months ago

So you are saying that Ferrari (and Fiat Spa’s)? accounts are wrong then. I’d say a 15\% ebit margin was pretty profitable to me?

http://www.fiatspa.com/en-US/investor_relations/financial_reports/FiatDocuments/Bilanci/2013/2013_annual_report.pdf
Ferrari is on page 50

Artur D Lara-i Vàsquez
Artur D Lara-i Vàsquez
2 years 4 months ago

stupid f1 rules. cars are ugly, sound crappy, power and speed reduced, and real racing and the spirit of competition has been stripped away.

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
2 years 4 months ago
The 3.0 litre formula was introduced in 1968 because of concerns of the speeds reached by the 7.0 litre Ford Mk IV and Ferrari 330P4. The FIA was concerned about grid sizes so allowed 5.0 litres group 4 sports cars (such as the Mk1 GT40) to make up grid numbers. Porsche and Ferrari exploited this loophole by building 25 each of the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512S in 69 and 70 respectively. The FIA closed this loophole at the end of 71, but Ferrari had already seen this coming and built the highly successful 312Pb. This took the title in… Read more »
JB21
JB21
2 years 4 months ago

Great Scott, damn those F1 cars are really ugly. I think Ferrari should ditch F1 just for the aesthetic reasons.

jolocho
jolocho
2 years 4 months ago

Blame the aerodynamicists. Racing is all business and science now, little room left for passion.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
2 years 4 months ago

[i]Real [/i]ugly.
They may as well enclose the real wheels like the Indy cars are doing. :p
It’s a good thing the racing has actually been fun to watch this season, because the sights and sounds aren’t so hot.

Rado
Rado
2 years 4 months ago

Dafuq? The sound isn’t that bad, it’s just those people who cannot adapt to anything, who always bitch about how it is horrible and the sight (except those “penises” on front of some cars) is really cool, especially white Williamses. F1 is still about pushing the boundaries of technology to the edge and FIA tries to be a leader in it – that’s the thing we should accept. But on the other hand, those technological rules caused the best and balancest season in a long time.

Guest
Guest
2 years 4 months ago

I agree.

The energy recovery systems used in current F1 cars are very similar to current top level prototype WEC racers. Yet when I watched Le Mans this year, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much cooler the cars sounded in comparison. The sound of the systems charging under breaking is so futuristic. If you listen closely, you can hear it during F1 coverage, but it’s faint. I feel that F1 needs to re-position their microphones to really capture the sound of current F1.

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