Ferrari F50 GT: What Could Have Been
The World Sportscar Championship, started in 1953, was a global series run for sports car racing. Along with the Formula One World Championship, the World Sportscar Championship was one of the two major world championships for motorsports. This championship lasted a good 39 years before it died off due to the lack of manufacturer interest. Because of the foolish switch from the fire-breathing, turbocharged Group C prototypes everyone loved to a more expensive, Formula One powered prototype formula, teams and manufacturers withdrew rapidly because of increasing costs and decreasing results. So with the exit of many teams, the whole series fell apart and for two years, there was no international sportscar racing series until the birth of the BPR Global GT Series in 1994
The BPR Global GT Series had an eight race calendar for its first year and most of the grid consisted of privateer teams running with various modified race cars. 1995 was the year in which the series really took off, with manufacturers entering left right and center. McLaren entered with their almighty F1 GTR along with multiple Ferrari F40 GTE’s. Although Ferrari never raced any factory F40’s, their success with private teams over the first two years of the series made them think of a possible future with their new supercar, the Ferrari F50.
The F50 is often considered the ugly duckling of the five iconic hypercars Ferrari has produced, starting with the 288 GTO. However, its combination of a lightweight and exceptionally stiff chassis and body, F1-style pushrod suspension, along with a Formula One-derived engine, (although it was far more closely related to the engine in the 333-SP prototype) seemed to be a perfect match for sportscar racing.
Working together with Dallara, Ferrari reduced the weight of the car by nearly half a ton, making it only a touch over two thousand pounds. Along with the weight reduction, the F50 GT received numerous other performance upgrades: A six speed sequential with carbon fibre disks provided the car with lightning-fast shifts. The 4.7 liter V12, derived from the Ferrari 641 Formula One Car, was given a two hundred horsepower boost, making 750 horsepowers of naturally-aspirated goodness at a screaming 10,500 rpm. To put this power to the ground, the F50 GT was fitted with massive slicks to grip the tarmac and an immense rear wing and diffuser to shove it into the ground.
The only thing that was more impressive than the F50 GT’s savage sound was its insane speed. In testing, the F50 GT lapped the Fiorano Test Circuit faster than Ferrari’s purpose built prototype race car, the 333 SP. To put into perspective how blisteringly quick this car was multi-million dollar, 1000 plus horsepower, hybrid Ferrari FXX K, which was purpose built to attack the track, set a laptime over 3 seconds slower than the F50 GT, which is over 20 years older. So, with its very promising speed, Ferrari was finally about to return to sportscar racing with a factory effort after more than 20 years. The Ferrari F50 GT seemed to be the car that would take down the dominant McLaren F1 GTR’s.
In typical Ferrari fashion, however, the project went horribly wrong. The BPR Global GT Series in which it was to be entered, became the FIA GT Championship. With new manufacturers interested like Mercedes, Panoz, and Porsche, the FIA decided to take over the championship and make it big. The big manufacturers unveiled insane homologated monsters that were born as racecars instead of road cars. The “GT1” cars turned into two hundred mile-per hour prototypes that just vaguely resembled their street counterparts. The Porsche 911 GT1, for instance, was a mid-engined, turbocharged monster with the engine drawn from the 962c prototype of the late 80’s. So, within a year, the Ferrari F50 GT had become outdated and was a multi-million dollar attempt at sportscar racing that never even competed.
Just like the road-going F50, the F50 GT is considered a failure that couldn’t live up to its predecessors. Due to its blisteringly fast pace around Ferrari’s personal test track, it seems like a wasted opportunity that just came too soon. If Ferrari had made it a year earlier, the F50 GT could have been a great success that would have continued the company’s legacy as one of the greatest car makers ever. But, due to the birth of crazy racecars by Mercedes, Porsche, and later, Toyota, Ferrari decided not to put their soon outdated car in, making it one of the great what-if’s in automotive history. But on the bright side, it looks beautiful and makes a glorious noise, so we might as well enjoy the few videos we have of it now, right?