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  Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello

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Country of origin:Italy
Produced from:2001 - 2004
Numbers built:10
Designed by:Pininfarina
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:November 02, 2005
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAlthough 'GT Racing' cars have existed since the 1950s, there has never been a universal definition for what qualifies as one. The minimal production number of road cars changed almost every season and at one point even unique cars like the Porsche 917 were homologated as a 'GT'. After a very popular period in the 1960s and early 1970s, GTs were overshadowed by prototypes for almost two decades. When powerful street machines like the Ferrari F40 and McLaren F1 took to the track, a revival was initiated that peaked with the GT1 racers of the late 1990s.

Apart from an annual appearance at Le Mans these cars initially competed in the BPR Championship created by Jurgen Barth, M Peter and Stephane Ratel, which was superceded in 1997 by an official FIA mandated GT Championship. Although major manufacturers like Porsche and Mercedes-Benz competed in the championship, organizer Ratel felt that to reach the popularity GT racing enjoyed in the 1960s there needed to be a Ferrari entry. In 1998 he convinced Ferrari motorsport principal Jean Todt to explore the possibility of constructing a competition version of the F50 supercar. Three cars were constructed, but for various reasons the project was scrapped shortly after.

Not surprisingly, the rules were changed two seasons into the championship and the highly exotic GT1 cars were no longer eligible. Two classes were setup; 'N-GT' for mildly modified cars and 'GT', which allowed for more modifications. To level the playing field all cars were fitted with restrictors. Most importantly independent racing shops could now homologate a racing car without the original manufacturer as was previously required. This paved the way for a Ferrari racing car developed and constructed completely independent from Ferrari works.

Ratel easily rallied a number of interested privateers together and proceeded to commission Italtecnica in Italy to develop a GT racing car based on the Ferrari 550 Maranello. Existing and reportedly crashed road cars were used as a base for these racers, which debuted late in 1999. They were intended to compete in the new millennium, which earned the competition car the name 'Millenio'. Two cars were completed in time for the new season and proved to be quite fast right out of the box. Unfortunately they were unreliable and as such the third customer registered to get a car, Frederic Dor, cancelled his order.

Still very interested in campaigning a 550 Maranello in the FIA GT championship, Dor contacted Prodrive in Great Britain. Founded and run by 3-time Rally Champion David Richards, this racing shop had already proven their worth in touring car racing and rallying with a wide variety of cars. After a Prodrive feasibility study showed that there was plenty of potential, Dor's newly incorporated Care Racing Development commissioned Prodrive to build him two 550 racers. The carefully planned and executed program was completed early in 2001 when the first Prodrive 550 GTS Maranellos took to the track.

The GT class rules state that the basic structure of the engine, body and chassis remain similar to the production counterpart, but this left plenty of room for Prodrive to rework the 550. First up was the engine, which had proven fragile in the Italtecnica cars. The strengthened V12 was slightly increased in size and fitted lower and further back in the chassis for a better weight balance. Extensive use of carbon fibre throughout the car dramatically reduced the weight to the 1100 kg limit set by the FIA. A huge rear wing finished off the carefully designed and very attractive aerodynamics package.

In round six of the eleven-round championship, seasoned drivers Alain Menu and Rickard Rydell debuted the new racer at the Hungaroring. Teething problems saw the car retire early in the race, but the pace was promising. Just two rounds later at the A1 Ring in Austria, the Care/Prodrive 550 Maranello scored its first win in the hands of Peter Cox and Rydell. A third place finish at the Nürburgring and a victory at Jarama followed to complete this promising debut season. In 2002 more cars were constructed for additional privateers and more victories were scored in the FIA GT championship. Prodrive entered one car in the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans and qualified for the GT pole ahead of the favoured Corvettes and Vipers. Rydell, Menu and Tomas Enge led their class rivals until a flaming oil leak forced their retirement in the 13th hour.

All the lessons learned in the two previous seasons were applied in 2003, which saw a complete domination of the GT championship by the Prodrive 550 Maranellos entered by the BMS Scuderia Italia team. Veloqx Prodrive returned to Le Mans and beat the fastest Corvette by ten laps to score Ferrari's first GT class trophy in almost thirty years. Perhaps the biggest compliment came from Ferrari when they announced a competition version of the 575M Maranello. Although the works built racer took a victory at its debut in the last round of the 2003 season, it has since rarely been able to match the 550 GTS Maranello's pace.

More success came in 2004 with BMS Scuderia Italia continuing their stronghold on the FIA GT Championship. At Le Mans the Maranello again impressed with blistering lap times, but couldn't ultimately overtake the two Corvettes. Because both the Corvette and Maranello proved capable of prototype-matching pace, they were penalized with additional ballast for the 2005 running of the legendary endurance race. This didn't seem to affect the Corvette team since they had a completely new car, but the privateer Maranellos were left severely hampered and subsequently unable to challenge the new Corvette C6.R and the Aston Martin DBR9.

Prodrive concluded their involvement with the 550 Maranello project in 2004 after being commissioned by Aston Martin to construct a racing version of the DB9. In the GT championship, privateer Maranellos were frequently outpaced by the Maserati MC12 but in the Le Mans Endurance Series (LMES) they continued to show their worth with class victories in most rounds.

Thanks to Frederic Dor and Prodrive a new chapter has been added to Ferrari's racing history. The successes scored by the 550 GTS Maranello reminded of the marque's finest hours when cars such as the 250 GTO and 365 GTB/4 Daytona Competitizione's dominated GT racing. With Ferrari's own 575 GTC not a great success, it is uncertain when another gold-lined chapter will be added again.

Featured are a number of 550 GTS Maranellos in action in the 2004 and 2005 Le Mans preliminaries and in various rounds of the 2004 and 2005 LMES championship at Spa and Monza.

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  Article Image gallery (104) Specifications User Comments (4)