|Ferrari 312 PB|
When the FIA (Federation International d'Automobile) dramatically changed the regulations for sports car racing at the end of 1967, Ferrari's entire fleet of sports prototypes were left obsolete. In an attempt to get on top in Formula 1 again, Ferrari decided to abandon sports car racing and completely focus on open wheel racing for at least a year. Disappointing Formula 1 results in the 1968 season saw the Scuderia return to prototype racing, trailing a year in terms of development time.
Two types of racers were eligible to compete under the new regulations; 3 litre prototypes or 5 litre sports cars, which needed minimum production of 25 cars to be homologated. Ferrari already had experience in Formula 1 with racing 3-litre engines, so it came as no surprise that when they announced their return to sports car racing, a new 3 litre prototype, the 312 P, was unveiled. After only half a season it was abandoned with the works team focusing on the construction of the 5 litre 512 S, which was to be pitched against the Porsche 917 first seen at Le Mans in 1969.
A year after the 917, the Ferrari 512 S made its debut. It was immediately running quick laps, but being a year behind the 917 in development, it was beaten on reliability. For the second time in two years Ferrari cut a development program short and started work on yet another racer. With most of the 512s sold to privateers, it was time to produce another three litre prototype. It would be based on the brand new 180 degree V12 engine, which made its debut in the 1970 312 B Formula 1 racer. This Mauro Forghieri designed engine would become one of the most successful engines of the 1970s.
Outwardly similar to a boxer engine, the Forghieri was a flat V-engine. The difference between a boxer and a flat V engine is the shape of the crank and the ignition sequence; a boxer engine's opposing pistons move towards each other whereas a V engine's pistons move in unison. The big advantage over the 60 degree V12 engine used in the previous 312 P was the low height of the 180 degree engine. This helped to decrease the car's overall height and to lower the centre of gravity, which helped handling.
Although technically it was not a boxer engine, cars powered by Forghieri's V12 were often given the abbreviation 'B'. This, officially, was not the case with the 312 P of 1971, but it is now commonly known as 312 PB, which also helps to distinguish it from the 312 P of 1969. Like its Formula 1 counterpart, the 312 PB featured an aluminium semi-monocoque. The engine and rear suspension were attached to a steel frame which was bolted on the aluminium tub. The 312 PB was basically a Formula one racer with a full width body.
One of the main reasons behind the 312 PB project was the FIA's decision to abandon the 5 litre sports car class and allow only the 3 litre prototypes to run in the World Sports car Championship as of 1972. The 1971 season could be used as a learning year, which meant that Ferrari wasn't a year behind for once. The 'PB' made a disastrous debut at the 1000 km race at Buenos Aires; Italian driver Ignazio Giunti crashed fatally in the opening stages of the race. The best result in a Championship event was a second in the fourth round of the season at Brands Hatch. Reliability problems and misfortunate dogged the new Ferrari for most of the remainder of the season. The first victory came at the non-Championship Kyalami 9 Hours race towards the end of the season.
Over the winter, the 'PB' was further modified. The performance of the engine was increased from an output of 450 bhp to 460 bhp. Various body styles were also tested, with special attention paid to the rear aerodynamics. Winning the 1972 World Championship was the absolute priority, so Ferrari left nothing to chance. A total of six cars were built to the latest specification, so three could be at a race while the others could be prepared in Maranello for the next event. Additionally the very best drivers were hired, including Jacky Ickx, Brian Redman, Arthuro Merzario, Tim Schenken, Mario Andretti and Ronny Peterson.
Round one of the championship was the Buenos Aires 1000km race, where the 'PB' took its maiden World Championship victory in the hands of Schenken and Peterson. All other championship races of the season were subsequently won, with exception of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. No 'PBs' were entered at Le Mans, as it was considered by the works team as a 1000 km racer and not a 24 hour endurance racer. The Scuderia saw no need to enter it, fearing it would not complete the full distance. Only eight of the ten races counted towards the championship so the absence at Le Mans did not affect their standings. Ferrari won outright with 160 points (the maximum score), Alfa Romeo was a distant second with 85 points.
In 1973 Ferrari constructed a 12cm longer wheelbase version of the 'PB'. It also featured a further revised engine, which was now good for 475 bhp. Unfortunately for Ferrari, the rock-solid reliability record of 1972 was rarely matched in '73. The 'PB' shined only once, at the 1000 km of Monza race in April. One car finished at Le Mans, but a distant second behind the Pescarolo/Hill driven Matra. In the championship the Scuderia was also beaten by Matra, by a mere 9 points. At the end of the season Ferrari decided to focus completely on Formula 1, resulting in three driver's championships with the flat V12 engine. Ferrari has yet to return to sports car racing with a Works effort.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on February 18, 2009
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