The Rebirth of Cool: Maserati MC12Maserati, the great Modenese car company, is celebrating 100 years of excellence. On December 1st, 1914 Alfieri, Ettore and Ernesto Maserati opened a garage and workshop in Via de' Pepoli 1, Bologna, and a legend was born. Soon thereafter, the three brothers were called up to serve their country when Italy joined The Great War, putting their ambitions on hold. After the war, Europe gradually recovered from the conflict and people's attentions eventually turned to matters other than the struggle to survive. The popularity of motoring led to a rapid growth in motor sport and this is the direction that Maserati took. In 1926 Maserati acquired the assets of the failed Diatto outfit and launched their Tipo 26, the first Maserati automobile.That year Alfieri took victory in the 1500cc class at the Targa Florio, a result that Ernesto repeated in the Coppa della Collina at Pistoia. Racing was certainly in the Maserati DNA from the very beginning. For the next 14 years, Maserati was at the vanguard of motor sport, competing in Grand Prix and sportscar racing with legends such as Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi driving for them, winning many races. In America there were further triumphs, Wilbur Shaw winning the 1939 and 1940 Indianapolis 500 in a Maserati 8CTF. In 1937 the brothers sold out to the industrialist Adolfo Orsi who relocated Maserati to the heart of the city of Modena, specifically to the Viale Ciro Menotti where it is still to be found today. World War Two put a halt to motor sport again, but Maserati was straight back to the tracks when competition resumed in 1946. That year also marked the production of the first Maserati road car, the A6 1500. By any measure the 1950's were the golden era for Maserati, with the great Juan Manuel Fangio winning the World Championship for the factory in 1957 and scoring two Grand Prix wins for the Trident while waiting for his title-winning Mercedes-Benz to arrive and carry him to victory in 1954. The Maserati 250F is widely regarded as one of the greatest Grand Prix cars of all time. The business side of the Orsi empire and Maserati did not emulate this success, and the whole affair was riven with conflict, with the unions, with his family. The final nail in the coffin came when the Argentine government repudiated a deal for machine tools that had been ordered by the deposed former President, Juan Perón. The business just survived, the racing department did not. Maserati was sold to Citroën in 1967, but the two different management cultures did not gel. In any case, the energy crisis in 1973 caused Citroën to flounder and the Michelin family, who owned the French giant, sold the company to Peugeot. The new French owners wanted no part of Maserati and eventually sold the concern to Alejandro De Tomaso who had his own ideas on how Maserati should proceed. The company limped on until it was acquired by Giovanni Agnelli in 1997, through his family's ownership of Fiat, Maserati had finally found the right place to prosper. Agnelli brought in the man who had turned round Ferrari in the early part of the 1990's, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, to work a similar miracle in Modena. I visited the factory earlier this year and you can read the story HERE. The final part of the brand's rehabilitation was getting back to the spiritual heritage of Maserati, motor sport. The chosen arena was GT racing and specifically the FIA GT Championship and the GT1 class. To homologate a car for GT1 at least 25 road-going examples had to be built and offered for sale. In order to comply with this requirement, Maserati utilised the basic components of the Ferrari Enzo, so a mid-engined coupé with a 6 litre V12 to push things along, housed in a carbon fiber/nomex chassis with an aluminium sub frame, front and rear. 50 of these Maserati MC12 Stradales were built in 2004 and 2005. The next step was to get a car to the tracks; and in January 2004, the racing version, codenamed MCC, made its début at Fiorano, Ferrari's test track near Maranello. The test programme continued throughout the year with superstars such as Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost joining regular pilot, Andrea Bertolini, behind the wheel. In August the 25 MC 12 Stradale road cars plus 3 racers were formally presented for homologation by the FIA and the ACO. And that is where the fun and games began... the above picture pays homage to the similar display that Porsche put on in 1969 with their 917 fleet. Not everyone wanted the MC12 to race, some feared that the mid-engined supercar would sweep all before it, others had clear memories of the spending war that destroyed GT racing in 1997 and 1998 when Mercedes-Benz crushed the opposition. Also the rules themselves were in something of a state of flux. The process of getting a car homologated and then competitive is not straightforward; as all cars need some degree of rule bending, known officially as waivers by the FIA/ACO and Balance Of Performance by SRO. The trick is getting everyone to a similar level, making it clear that throwing money to gain performance would be legislated against. It is fair to say that the three governing bodies have done a good job on this over the years. Maserati would certainly bring great prestige to the GT arena, joining Ferrari, Lister, Viper and Saleen in the GT1 category, with Lamborghini and Aston Martin due to bring new cars to the grid as well, things were on the up-and-up for GT racing. Maserati did have one big problem, the MC12 was 2.1 metres wide, .1 over the limit specified in the rules. After a heap of haggling, the following was released by the FIA.
FIA Statement On The Maserati MC12
"With the unanimous support of the participating teams, the Maserati MC12 will be authorised to take part in the next three rounds of the FIA GT Championship (Imola, Oschersleben and Dubai) on a non-homologated basis. The car will not be eligible to score Championship points.
In order to ensure that the MC12’s performance is in line with cars currently competing in the Championship, Maserati have agreed to reduce the rear wing width to accord with the windscreen dimensions. The FIA will also be free to impose changes of restrictor dimensions or weight ballast at any point in the three meetings.
Data from the car operating in race conditions will be collected and assessed by the FIA and the results will be presented to the FIA World Motor Sport Council in October when the question of the homologation of the car is decided."
The plan at the time was change the car to comply in time for the 2006 season... The first race was in Maserati's back yard taking place in the park lands of Imola at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Andrea Bertolini was joined by ex-F1 Ferrari star, Mika Salo, the other car also had an ex-Grand Prix winner, Johnny Herbert, aboard with Italian sportscar ace, Fabrizio De Simone. The importance of this race to Maserati was illustrated by the presence of de Montezemolo, now Chairman of Fiat, as well as Ferrari, who came to see for himself how the project was progressing. The result was very positive, second and third, beaten only by a well-run Saleen S7R, the Maserati MC12 was competitive, now began the process of fine tuning. Two weeks later we all assembled at Motorpark Oschersleben, this time Maserati went one better, with Bertolini/Salo scoring the first victory in a major international sportscar race since May 1961, when Stirling Moss, Masten Gergory and 'Lucky' Casner won the Nürburgring 1000Kms in a Tipo 61. Two months later the pair repeated their win in the final round of the FIA GT Championship at Zhuhai...