333 – An Appreciation
by Michael Cotton
Cotton wrote this article over a year ago: we felt it more
to find a place for it in the 2003 edition
of dailysportscar. Sadly, Michael’s conclusions regarding
a Maserati prototype haven’t come true.
So, farewell to the Ferrari 333 SP, the most evocative sports
car in regular service during the 1990s. It has been a consistent
winner in America, notably at Daytona, Sebring and in the Petit
Le Mans, and won four back-to-back championships in Europe in 1998,
1999, 2000 and 2001.
did not win at Le Mans, where fuel efficient German engines have
reigned supreme for the past eight years, but it has
made a major contribution to the popularity of sports car racing
on both sides of the Atlantic.
This year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona
was almost certainly its last competitive appearance, where Giuseppe
was crippled by two gearbox pinion shaft failures (caused by incorrect
heat treatment), and finally scuppered by David Brabham’s
unfortunate accident on cold tyres.
Never again will we hear the soprano sound of the Ferrari 4-litre
V12 howling round the Daytona banking, performing a symphony with
the bass Ford 6-litre V8s, the rap-rapping Porsche flat-sixes and
the piercing Mazda rotaries. Make no mistake, the Ferrari was a
lead performer in this concert, and we shall miss it terribly.
The Ferrari 333 SP would
not have been conceived without the sheer persistence of Gianpiero
Moretti, whose belief in the project was
finally rewarded by his personal victory at Daytona in 1998, followed
by another at Sebring. More in hope than expectation, Moretti entered
his Momo Ferrari for the 24-Hours of Le Mans, but the ‘triple
crown’ was beyond him.
Moretti, founder of the Momo wheels company (the name is a combination
of Moretti and Monza, his home circuit near Milan), was clearly
impressed by the World Sports Car regulations which came into effect
in 1994. It would cost Ferrari little, he insisted to his good
friend Piero Lardi Ferrari. Dallara would design and build the
car, Ferrari would make available a supply of obsolete Formula
1 engines which could be enlarged to 4-litre capacity and most
importantly, Ferrari would sanction the use of its name and Prancing
Horse badge on these cars, albeit built down the road at Varano
Melegari, near Parma.
Lardi had to overcome the objections of Luca di Montezemolo,
and he received a somewhat grudging go-ahead in 1993.
Gian Paolo Dallara, whose portfolio included the Lamborghini Miura,
the Group C Lancias of the early eighties and some Formula 1 designs,
produced a honeycomb aluminium chassis reinforced by carbon panels,
clothed in carbon bodywork which was, of course, painted scarlet.
60-valve engine revved easily to 11,000 rpm and produced 600
horsepower, sounding like nothing else on the American circuits.
Drive went through a five-speed sequential, transverse gearbox,
another piece of very high-tech equipment in a package which
made everything else look obsolete!
The 333 SP missed its scheduled debut at Sebring due to concerns
about its endurance, but four appeared on the grid at Road Atlanta
for the third round of the IMSA World Sports Car Championship,
the first sports cars to wear the proud badge after an absence
of 21 years.
The Ferraris fairly
dominated the 2-hour, 234 mile race at Road Atlanta. Mauro Baldi
claimed pole position in the Euromotorsports
entry (owned by Antonio ‘no relation’ Ferrari) and
led for the first 21 laps, but was troubled later by a rear brake
caliper problem which caused his retirement.
Jay Cochran won that
debut race for Ferrari in another Euromotorsports entry, with
a solo drive, followed in second place by Moretti and
Eliseo Salazar. Third, on that April day in 1994, was Andy Wallace
in a Chevrolet powered Spice, who knew exactly why the Ferraris
were superior: “We were even in the corners, then we’d
get to the back straight and they would just pull away into the
distance,” said the Englishman. The Ferrari’s sheer
power, excellent fuel economy and superior aerodynamics made the
crucial difference, he believed.
There was a lot of grumbling about the Ferraris, but IMSA officials
clearly sided with the Italian make which brought so much prestige
to the fledgling championship. The engines were supposed to be
from production cars, according to the regulations. Well, the V12
had already been installed in the new F130 road car. And there
was supposed to be a $650,000 price cap; the Ferraris were delivered
at $950,000, but this included two spare engines, factory supervised
engine maintenance and a large inventory of spares including a
spare body, steering rack, dashboard with instruments, black box
Then again, the Ferraris
were clearly too fast for the competition. If necessary, said
IMSA’s technical director Amos Johnson,
the V12 engines could be restricted to 10,500 rpm, but he did not
want to take action straight away.
Moretti, then aged 54, earned his first win in 14 years when he
and Salazar triumphed at Lime Rock, going on together to win at
Watkins Glen and at the Indianapolis road course. The programme
was already justified, but this was just the start.
Moretti expanded his
team in 1995, running two Ferraris under the Momo / Danka / Konica
banner. Wayne Taylor, the 1994 champion
in a Jim Downing Mazda Kudzu, joined the team to drive with Moretti,
the second car shared by Salazar and Didier Theys. The team was
managed, for the second year, by Kevin Doran, whose earlier career
had helped the late Al Holbert’s team to 20 outright IMSA
They had fierce competition,
though, from Andy Evans’ Scandia
Ferrari team in which the owner was backed by Baldi, Fermin Velez
and Eric van de Poele. The Ferraris failed to go the distance at
Daytona, where the rather unlikely winner was Erwin Kremer’s
K8 Porsche, but quickly notched up their first major success when
the Scandia Ferrari won at Sebring crewed by Evans, Velez and van
The rugged simplicity
of the Riley & Scott Mk3, a space-frame
design from Indianapolis powered by 6-litre Fords, proved more
than a match for the nimble Ferraris on the bumpy road circuits.
James Weaver won no fewer than five of the 11 rounds in Rob Dyson’s
Rain-X Riley & Scott (three were solo drives, but he was joined
on the podium by Butch Leitzinger at Watkins Glen and by Andy Wallace
Fermin Velez, the diminutive
Catalan from Barcelona, won at Halifax and Phoenix to seize the
IMSA championship by just two points,
from Weaver, with Baldi and Taylor close up in third and fourth
positions. Ferrari, though, easily won the Manufacturers’ championship,
41 points clear of Ford.
Wayne Taylor drove his third make in as many years when he formed
his own Doyle Racing Danka team in 1996, installing a GM backed
Oldsmobile Aurora V8 engine into a Riley & Scott Mk3, and this
proved to be a very shrewd move indeed. He won the Rolex 24 on
the team’s debut outing, backed by Scott Sharp and Jim Pace,
and this big success laid the foundation for Taylor’s IMSA
’Mad Max’ Papis made his debut with the Momo team
that year, and immediately established an immense reputation with
a catch-up chase in the dying stages of the Rolex 24, even setting
a new lap record despite the loss of second gear. Papis gained
a lap in the last two hours and was just half a lap behind Taylor’s
Riley & Scott at the flag.
Papis was on
the podium with Momo team owner Moretti and Didier Theys, and
later on they shared victories at Lime Rock and
Watkins Glen, plus second positions at Watkins Glen and Mosport.
Scandia Racing, with Eliseo Salazar as its principal driver, had
a much less successful season, team owner Andy Evans heavily preoccupied
after taking control of the IMSA organisation...and renaming it
the Professional Sports Car Racing organisation, to the dismay
of all the old die-hards!
At the season’s end Papis was the vice-champion (as the
Germans like to describe such positions!) with 245 points, 15 behind
Taylor, with Oldsmobile and Ferrari locked on 227 points apiece
in the Manufacturers’ Championship. The title went to Oldsmobile,
with a greater number of race victories. Max Papis, though, was
clearly the fastest man on the track all season with four pole
positions and four fastest laps.
Responsibility for building
and maintaining the Ferrari 333 SPs was transferred, by Ferrari,
from Dallara to Michelotto at the
end of 1996, a decision which did not go well with all the customer
teams. Responsibility for developing and maintaining the 4-litre
V12 engines was given to Mauro Forghieri’s Oral Engineering
of Michelotto’s first moves was to develop a six-speed version
of the transverse gearbox, but it was notoriously weak and Doran
quickly reverted to the original five-speed transmission.
Rob Dyson’s team started the 1997 season well with a rather
lucky win at Daytona, the Riley & Scott’s Ford V8 engine
smoking heavily for the last hour but hanging on to beat Andy Evans’ Scandia
Ferrari, crewed by Evans, Velez and father and son Charles and
Rob Morgan. It could have been a win for Scandia, had Charles not
got into a schemozzle with a pair of Porsches and broken a rear
upright on Saturday night.
It could have been a win for Moretti, for that matter, but an
oil leak onto the exhaust system set light to the wiring and put
the Momo Ferrari behind the wall for 83 minutes. Moretti, sharing
with Theys, Derek Bell and Antonio Herrmann, finished seventh.
Victory at Daytona launched
Dyson Racing’s successful bid
for the Exxon World Sports Car Championship in 1997, Butch Leitzinger
winning the 24-hour race and four more. Velez and Stefan Johansson
joined Evans and Yannick Dalmas in the Scandia Ferrari at Sebring,
beating the Dyson Riley & Scott by a scant 47 seconds at the
end of the 12-hour event.
Andrea Montermini joined
Moretti’s team at Sebring, for
the remainder of the season, establishing himself as a worthy successor
to Papis with no fewer than five pole positions. He and Herrmann
raced to victories at Lime Rock, Pike’s Peak and Sebring
(a late season re-visit).
Rob Morgan was the first Ferrari driver in the championship, though,
fourth behind Leitzinger, Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Weaver, having
won at Mosport with Ron Fellows. Ferrari was narrowly beaten by
Ford in the Manufacturers Championship, just six points adrift
after 11 races.
The 1998 season
was the last for Ferrari in the big league in the States, but
was also the most successful. Competition was
increasing all the time, from Panoz with the GTR and from Porsche,
whose Champion Racing team was campaigning the GT1 model, while
Dyson’s Riley & Scott team always remained the one to
had disbanded his Scandia team but was replaced by Wayne Taylor’s Doyle-Risi-Danka team, in which the South
African was joined by Theys and Velez.
Moretti was finally
rewarded by his dream victory at Daytona, success shared by Baldi,
Theys and Arie Luyendyk. Just for once
they had a trouble-free run to beat four Porsches, two GT1s and
two GT2s. Allan McNish was Momo’s greatest threat in the
Rohr Motorsport Porsche GT1, but the scarlet Ferrari had eight
laps to spare at the end.
“I love Daytona, but she doesn’t like me” said
the emotional Moretti at the end. “So I say OK. I say it’s
like a woman. I try again and again, and this time I succeed!” Now
57 years of age, Moretti renewed his effort at Sebring and again,
the woman succumbed to his advances. He proclaimed victory in the “36
hours of Florida” by winning the 12-Hours with Baldi and
Theys, a single lap ahead of Brabham and Wallace in the Visteon
Panoz GTR and Boutsen, Wollek and Pilgrim in the Champion Racing
Porsche GT1. Some race!
Moretti called it a
day after Le Mans, Theys joining the Swiss Fredy Leinhard in
a Lista backed Ferrari still run by Kevin Doran.
Wayne Taylor’s Doyle-Risi Ferrari won a new event at Las
Vegas, but saved the best until last by winning the inaugural Petit
Le Mans at Road Atlanta, in October.
McNish and Dalmas had
looked the likely winners in their Porsche GT1, two laps clear
of the field until the Frenchman performed
a spectacular back-flip over the infamous ‘hump’ on
the return stretch. Although outpaced, Taylor had driven a measured
race in the Ferrari, ably backed by Eric van de Poele and Emmanuel
Butch Leitzinger was again the American sports car champion while
Ferrari again claimed the Manufacturers Championship, for the last
Daytona had now established
its own “Can-Am” championship
(how these names change!) while the Professional Sports Car organisation
organised the rival American Le Mans Series, Don Panoz rapidly
shifting gears from team owner to series promoter to circuit owner.
The Ferraris were as good as obsolete in the new ALMS, but always
looked good enough for one more victory at Daytona.
happen. Rob Dyson’s team again won
the Rolex 24 in 1999, chased by no fewer than three Ferrari 333
SPs. Wayne Taylor’s Doyle-Risi entry was second, shared by
McNish, Didier de Radigues and Max Angelelli, Jim Matthews’ Ferrari
was third (Matthews joined by Johansson, Papis and Jimmy Vasser),
and Lilian Bryner was fourth in the Auto Sports Ferrari with her
partner, Enzo Calderari, Angelo Zadra and Carl Rosenblad.
The Ferrari 333 SPs enjoyed a more benign existence in Europe
from the 1998 season onwards, the Paris based team of Jean-Michel
Bouresche winning the main awards in the International Sports Racing
Series / Sports Racing World Cup series in three successive years.
Emmanuel Collard and
Vincenzo Sospiri dominated the ‘98
season, winning six ISRS races in their JB Giesse Ferrari, which
was managed by former Grand Prix driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
They ran into some heavy opposition in ‘99 when Jean-Paul
Driot’s DAMS team entered the black, Motorola backed Lola
B98 / 10 and demonstrated that the Judd GV4 V10 engine was superior
to Ferrari’s ageing V12.
Getting into its stride mid-season, at Donington, the DAMS Lola
Judd scored the first of four successive victories, each one handled
by Jean-Marc Gounon and Eric Bernard. Collard and Sospiri retained
their titles, just three points clear of BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari
driver Christian Pescatori.
M. Bouresche went for the hat-trick, and duly notched up his third
successive Teams Championship in 2000. He had split with Jabouille,
but the JMB Giesse Ferrari team worked better than ever with Benjamin
Durand managing a single entry in the re-named Sports Racing World
Pescatori and David
Terrien won no fewer than five of the eight events, plus second
place to Scuderia Italia’s Ferrari at
Monza and third at Spa, to dominate the season. Driot’s DAMS
team made their task a little easier by switching to the Cadillac
marque, an inauspicious move!
Bouresche withdrew at the end of the 2000 season, Durand explaining
that with his Lola (the previous year) Driot had shown how vulnerable
the Ferrari had become. BMS Scuderia Italia became the standard
bearer in 2001 and made Marco Zadra the champion, ahead of John
Nielsen and Hiroki Katoh in their Dome Judd.
Scuderia Italia claimed two victories in the FIA Sportscar Championship
-- its third new title! -- at Barcelona and Spa, plus runner-up
positions at Brno, Magny-Cours, Donington and Mondello Park, while
Giovanni Lavaggi and Christian Vann scored a popular win at Monza
in the GLV Brums Ferrari Judd.
This week Scuderia Italia announces that it has withdrawn from
the FIA Sportscar Championship, believing that the Ferrari 333
SP is finally uncompetitive. Ferrari would not approve the installation
of the Judd V10, explains BMS director Augusto Mensi, failing to
add that the cost of the conversion is unacceptable to team owner
We may have seen the
last of the Ferrari V12 powered 333 SP, so this is an epitaph.
It’s the end of an era, certainly, but
another will open soon with the announcement of the MASERATI sports
car, which will soon be prepared for the new sports car construction
regulations which come into force in 2004.
The drums are already beating for the Maserati, and will get louder
as the year goes by. At least 90 per cent of the 2004 regulations
will be established by June, enabling designers to lay down the
parameters of their new designs, with the remaining 10 per cent
to be finalised by October.
be a place for these new cars in next year’s
rules, and it would not be surprising to see the Maserati make
its debut some time in 2003, after an absence of 42 years. These
will be ‘universal’ rules, don’t forget, so the
new cars will be equally at home at Le Mans, in the Le Mans Series,
and in the FIA Sportscar Championship. Scuderia Italia might take
a year out, and come back with the Maserati in 2003. Giuseppe Risi,
the leading Ferrari and Maserati distributor
in the States, is also thought to be preparing for a Maserati programme.
One last thought: this time Luca di Montezemolo has given the
Maserati challenger his full support, and has appointed Claudio
Berro to take charge of all Ferrari and Maserati competitions activities.
If we consider what the Ferrari 333 SP has done in the past eight
years with scant acceptance by di Montezemolo, how much better
should the Maserati perform?
The Editor cheekily
adds one more paragraph to the 333 ‘tail’.
Le Mans 1996. Eric van de Poele was fastest in Pre-Qualifying,
six 333s started the race, none of them finished – but van
de Poele set a magical series of lap records just after dawn (and
a gearbox replacement – shades of Daytona 2002). In a nine
lap spell, the Belgian – in the Racing for Belgium entry – broke
Hans Stuck’s just-set lap record, then broke his own lap
record four more times. You can’t imagine the other four
laps – or the rest of a double stint - being anything other
than blindingly quick, but the other laps were logically interferred
with by traffic. This could have been one of the great Le Mans
catch up stories, but Eric Bachelart soon stuffed it on cold tyres.
That wasn’t the end of the 333 Le Mans story, but it was
the 333 at its competitive best.
PS. The Ferrari Judd made two appearances in 2003, at Lausitzring
and Monza, but that appearance at the home of Italian motor sport
really was the final chapter in the international racing career
of the Ferrari 333SP.