When’s The Last Time You Saw A Ferrari F40 In Full Competition Mode?
Photography by Nat Twiss
The Silverstone Classic had a new trick up its sleeve this year in the form of the Masters Endurance Legends class new to the lineup this year. This is something like a greatest hits compilation of nineties and noughties Le Mans motoring, covering everything from the dominant Audi R8 LMP1, down to the flame-spitting Ferrari F40 LM and the GT variants, which were built by Michelotto to soon after the road car’s release to the public. Those two cars hint a strange mix to be sure, but I think it’s a smart move to include a few cars from the before the turn of the millennium if we are to give the classic title to cars that raced but a decade ago.
Imagine Silverstone’s Wellington Straight as the Mulsanne at Le Mans, the Becketts complex as the Porsche Curves, and you can almost trick yourself into believing that you’ve rewound time to a period when the fastest contenders didn’t just post good lap times: they actually sounded the part.
There’s no better example than the the Gulf-liveried, V12-powered Aston Martin LMP1 DBR-1, leaving the pit lane and bursting any eardrums that dared to be in unplugged proximity. This was really the final hurrah of the petrol-powered prototype, but for all the anger and noise cars like this one were duly overshadowed by the dominant Audis. Dipping down into the classes that actually resemble something you see on the road (though I’m not sure how often we’re all spotting F40s on the street…), we can see the evolution of the cars and the rulebook laid out in tangible examples; cars like the F40 compared to the 550 GTS that followed. Sure they might be in different classes, and while I can’t quote you permitted wing angles from the regulatory handbook of fifteen years ago, it is easy to see how the approaches changed from optimizing the existing shapes and adding just a few canards or foils to the downforce packages, to the augmented look of the later GT cars sprouting hug carbon wings and dragging elongated diffusers in their wake.
Unlike the Super Touring cars I featured earlier in the week, I never got to see these cars in their heyday. Unfortunately I was never in Le Mans for the 24-Hour weekend. Instead, lusting after them through the TV screen, in magazines, on calendars and posters, and driving their digital facsimiles in video games. Many hours were logged on my Playstation as I lived out my racing driver dreams in Gran Turismo.
Despite my television-based training, ultimately nothing really prepares you for these cars in person besides the memory of having witnessed it in the past. And even then, we forget the reactions of our bodies and brains to being exposed again.
Though I have the distinct and often taken for granted privilege of spending my time with cars on a regular and frequent basis, there are very few events or machines that still send flutters through my heart like this pack. They can still maintain almost the same pace as a modern machine, but rather than hum along or never putting a wheel over the curbing they do their work with the ferocity of a caged animal set loose on its captor. Some people might argue that cars from beyond the 21st century have no place at an event that literally has “Classic” in the name, but I think rather than define by strict cut-off points based on year or something else rather arbitrary, we should define the group by the admittedly much harder to measure factor of nostalgia; show someone a 919 going round a track and no one will call it anything but brand new even after its retirement. The Audi R8 on the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that car defined a generation and entered the canon years ago.
However exotic the prototypes may be, and regardless of how much of a treat it was to see an F40 in full livery leaning through turns, my favorite machine of the group was by far the Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello, piloted by the late, great Colin McRae at Le Mans. The wonderful folks at Top Gear followed him through the race in 2004, and even the rally maestro himself described the car as “extreme.” After watching them attack Silverstone fourteen years later, I have to agree.