The car for which the Balance of Performance was created

In GT racing, the Maserati MC12 is remembered as a ferociously effective car in the GT1 class, racking up numerous race wins and titles in the now-defunct FIA GT Championship. With a career spanning seven seasons, it was the car to beat in Europe but it never caused much of a stir in North-America. Risi Competizione first campaigned one with help from AF Corse in 2005 with special dispensation from IMSA. It stood out and this was no mean feat given it shared grids with the Saleen S7, the Aston Martin DBR9, the Corvette C6.R, and the Dodge Viper GTS-R but it never delivered on its promise. Two years later, in 2007, storied Swiss-American squad Doran Lista brought the MC12 back to the American Le Mans Series and the car you see here is that exact car driven twice in the ALMS 12 years ago. We know you want it and so do we.

The Maserati MC12 is one of those cars that divides opinions: some consider it to be ridiculous with its race car-inspired physique that reminds you more of a ’90s homologation special model such as Porsche’s 911 GT1 rather than a ’00s supercar while others can’t stop praising both its appearance and its performance. On the race tracks, though, there was no room for such arguments: the MC12 was the dominant force in the FIA GT between 2005 and 2009 with Michael Bartels’ Team Vitaphone becoming the de facto Maserati team during the car’s tenure at the top of the GT1 pile. But can a car that never competed at Le Mans and that was never competitive in America really be considered great? Share with us your opinions in the comment section below, but not before you go through the story of this unique racer.

Maserati’s blissful GT1 racer is as close as we ever got to a homologated Enzo race car

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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In the early noughties, the grudge match between supercar makers was hotting up. Porsche came up with the pure but savage Carrera GT, Pagani kept refining the glorious Zonda, Bugatti, single-handedly revived by VW boss Ferdinand Piech, blew everyone away with the 1,001 horsepower Veyron and Mercedes joined forces with McLaren to create the SLR. Then Ferrari joined the party with what should’ve been the F60 only to be renamed ’Enzo’ in memory of ’Il Commendatore’. The raucous heart of the Enzo was transplanted to something that was, arguably, more extreme than all of the cars already mentioned: the Maserati MC12. Wide, long, low, and lacking a rear window, the Maserati MC12 signaled to everyone who cared to hear and even to those that didn’t that the trident was back playing in the major league and it would also return to the tracks where it once had been a force to be reckoned with.

In the '50s, Ferrari and Maserati were exchanging blows, both in the Formula 1 World Championship and the World Endurance Championship.

In open-wheel racing, the 250F proved to be one of the best cars for a few years with Juan-Manuel Fangio bagging his last world driver’s championship driving a 250F in 1957. In sports car racing, with the 200S, 300S, and 450S models (names refer to each of the cars’ engine capacity), Maserati was one of the top contenders in 1956 and 1957, a 300S winning outright the 1957 edition of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Then, the money ran out and Maserati refocused its attention on building potent road cars. The original Ghibli is a great point in case as are the wedge-shaped Bora and Merak that followed but, then, Maserati’s star started to fade.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Financial trouble took over and, throughout the ’80s and the better of the ’90s, Maserati survived to stay afloat and the cars that were being produced were of dubious quality and couldn’t even dream to challenge similar products from Ferrari or Porsche. But then, in 1999, Ferrari via the financial might of Fiat, bought into its old rival and the trident was revived. The 3200 GT was the first sign that Maserati was back from being bed-ridden in the ICU of carmakers. With blood pumping through the company’s veins once more, Ferrari decided that the best thing that could happen to Maserati is for it to return to the race tracks.

For this purpose and this purpose alone, a new supercar was devised barely a few years into the new millennium. Ferrari also bolted an almighty wing to an Enzo mule and dispatched one Michael Schumacher to the nearby Fiorano circuit to test the thing but it was never seriously intending to race the Enzo. Instead, this was what the MC12 (Maserati Corse 12-cylinder) was born to do. So, what did Ferrari have to do to make the MC12 a winner straight out of the box? Well, quite a lot if we compare it with the Enzo.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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The MC12’s wheelbase is 5.9 inches longer than that of an Enzo and the sumptuously long front and rear overhangs add another 11.5 inches to the overall length of this behemoth that’s also wider than an Enzo 2.4 inches (and 2.5 inches taller because of that roof intake).

The long nose and tail are there to create downforce through both the front splitter and the rear diffuser that extends underneath the car with some big venturi tunnels that carve through the otherwise flat underbelly.

You’ll be happy to hear that Ferrari did save some costs by taking the windshield straight from the Enzo and gluing it to the MC12’s carbon fiber monocoque. That monocoque, too, is similar to the Enzo’s as is the suspension setup (double wishbone suspension with push-rod-operated coil springs), the Brembo brakes and the steering.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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The engine is another element of the puzzle that, speaking broadly, is shared between the two cars. We say broadly because, while the MC12 is powered by a 6.0-liter 65-degree V-12 like the Enzo, the engine itself, code-named M144A, is quite different from the Enzo’s F140B. It features, for instance, gear-driven cams unlike the chain-driven camshafts of the F140B.

Officially, the M144A cranks out 624 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 479 pound-feet of torque.

The Enzo trumps its sibling with 651 horsepower at its disposal and 485 torques. The Enzo also revs higher, redlining at 8,200 rpm. Also, due to the less aggressive aerodynamic package, the Enzo is faster but, then again, can you consider a 205 mph car that goes from naught to 62 mph in just 3.7 seconds (as measured by Motor Trend) slow? It must be mentioned that the MC12 was actually set up to be more docile on the road than the knife-edged Enzo and you can see that when behind the wheel of one: it doesn’t wobble from side to side under braking, the steering is direct and gives you the trust you need to push further and the lateral grip in fast corners is amazing, better than what the Enzo can offer which is more prone to sliding and needs a truly experienced hand to be pushed to the limit.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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To meet FIA’s homologation requirements, 50 MC12s were built over a period of just two years and, on top of that, 11 racing cars were also constructed. A bit later, a track day special called the ’MC12 Corsa’ was also introduced that was, in essence, an unhinged GT1 race car with the widest possible rear wing, over 730 horsepower on tap due to the lack of any air restrictors, and two seats. The car you see here, chassis #ZAMDF44B000024053, is the 11th MC12 GT1 built.

Maserati debuted the car towards the tail end of the 2004 FIA GT championship, AF Corse entering a pair of MC12s on the factory’s behalf. It performed more than admirable taking two wins, three seconds, and one third-place finish in a tour de force that was merely a sign of things to come between ’06 and ’10 when Maserati Team Vitaphone swept the floor mercilessly. In its debut season, the MC12 was driven by ex-F1 drivers Mika Salo and Johnny Herbert as well as Italian stalwarts Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio de Simone. Their competition? All of the cars I’ve mentioned above (Saleens, Prodrive Ferrari 550s, DBR9s, and a Reiter Murcielago), including a sole Corvette C5.R, the first to race in Europe outside of the Belcar Series and a couple of wildcard entries in the 24 Hours of Spa.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Earlier this year, Bonhams & Co. took care of the selling of chassis #ZAMDF44B000015440, the third car built and the one that was campaigned Stateside in 2005 by Giuseppe Risi’s Risi Competizione. A $2.5 million high estimate was slapped to the car that seemed a bit conservative considering Joe Macari tried selling his old MC12 GT1, an ex-Vitaphone championship-winning example, for a whopping $10 million three years ago. Around that time, an MC12 Corsa popped up for sale for a lot less, some $2.7 million, maybe because it lacked the pedigree of a homologated race car.

When we say homologated, there’s a catch, however.

While Maserati did manage to enter the MC12 in both the FIA GT Championship and the ALMS, the car exceeded both the width and length limits imposed by the GT1 class.

That’s because the GT1 class was not meant for a car such as the MC12, one built to go racing. It was meant for road cars that were turned into racing cars. The top category in the world of GT racing at the time was, basically, the GT2 class of the late ’90s that raced alongside the ludicrous and unhinged GT1 monsters. When that GT1 class went under due to the unbearable costs of running prototypes masquerading as GT cars, the GT2 class took over and was renamed. It was known as the ’GT’ class in Europe and ’GTS’ in America but, by 2005, it had been renamed to GT1 in order to distinguish it from the GT2 class (formerly ’GT’ in the U.S. and ’N-GT’ in Europe).

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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What the extra size did to the MC12 was to help it win countless races but it also harmed it: IMSA never allowed it to score championship points despite Risi doing the full season in 2005 and the ruling body also had the car run with extra ballast at all times, although it did let the full-width rear wing slip through (in Europe, the FIA GT tried to slow the MC12 down by having it run with a narrow wing that didn’t extend all the way to the car’s outer edges). Due to the added weight, the MC12 was never able to take the fight to the factory-backed Corvettes and Aston Martins scoring a season-best result of sixth overall at Lime Rock Park in the hands of Fabio Babini and Andrea Bertolini. In class, however, those weren’t Risi’s best results with a pair of third-place finishes at Road America and Road Atlanta (the May race) as the season’s highlights.

In light of all this, you may be questioning Fredy Leinhard’s decision to purchase an MC12 GT1 at all. Leinhard, a Swiss semi-professional racing driver and one of the main backers of the Horag Racing team (founded by Markus Hotz in 1971 as Horag Hotz Racing) had been racing for over three decades by then and was a part of the Horag Racing team since he started his career in Formula Super V.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Since the ’90s, Leinhard also began fielding cars prepared by Kevin Doran’s team with sponsorship from Lista. The Doran Racing team was quite successful during the early days of the partnership, winning races in the USRRC, and its follow-up, Grand-Am, with the Ferrari 333 SP. Doran, who was mainly running in Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototype class in ’07, was also tasked to prepare this car to race in selected rounds of the ALMS.

A full season campaign was out of question due to the lack of both funds and time as Leinhard and long-time co-driver Didier Theys of Belgium were doing the entire European Le Mans Series season aboard an LMP2-spec Lola-Jud B05/41 that carried them to a class win at Monza and a podium at Spa-Francorchamps.

According to a press release published on Doran Racing’s website, Leinhard had originally purchased the car "for his private car collection last year." A day and a half of testing at Elkhart Lake’s Road America circuit ignited the competitive fire in Leinhard’s belly who wanted to see how the Maserati would stack up against the works Corvettes, the only two cars that competed in all of the ALMS rounds that year. The appearance of the MC12 at the Road America 500 round in August was welcomed by everyone in the paddock as the GT1 class had become a shadow of its former self and was considered to be on its last legs: at most, only four cars raced in the category that year with the Modena Motorsports-prepared Aston Martin DBR9 only doing the 12 Hours of Sebring before letting the two Corvettes battle amongst themselves. A third C6.R was entered at Mosport for Canadian ace Ron Fellows and that was the only other time before Road America that the class featured a three-car field.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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"I have no idea how competitive we will be against the factory Corvettes," Theys
said before the debut Road America outing. "They have so much experience and they are a factory effort, and we are a small, private team. I have very little experience in a modern GT car, but I was really enthused about the Maserati after driving it at the test." Indeed, Theys’ previous experience at the helm of a contemporary GT1 car was at the Mil Milhas Brasileiras race in 2006 when the Belgian drove a Zakspeed Saleen S7R.

The qualifying duties at Road America were handed to veteran Theys who posted a 2:01.978 on the board in his sixth and final fast lap that put him 16th on the grid and only 0.919-seconds shy off the second-placed Corvette. The pole time was barely a second quicker. "If I had more experience in the car I would have jumped the rear wing a hole," said Theys after qualifying. "Without the understeer we would have had another second."

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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The rain-affected four-hour race saw Leinhard and Theys drop three laps down behind the winning Corvette before the checkered flag flew to score the No. 27 Maserati in third place. In spite of a coming together with a GT2-class Ferrari 430 GTC, the MC12 ran faultlessly throughout the race but was almost a second off the absolute pace set by the C6.Rs. "We had understeer the whole way," said Theys after the race. "Kevin [Doran] made an adjustment to the tire pressure on a pit stop that helped, but then it started to rain so we had to stop to put on rain tires."

Satisfied with the result and the Maserati’s ruggedness, Leinhard, who drove over an hour at Road America to fulfill the minimum drive time rule, announced the team would partake in the Petit Le Mans race in October of 2007, a 10-hour event that’s nowadays the championship finale in IMSA competition. Originally, Eric van de Poele was supposed to complete Doran Lista Racing’s roaster at Petit Le Mans but, instead, Maserati dispatched factory driver Andrea Bertolini to Braselton, Georgia, to race alongside Leinhard and Theys.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Bertolini had also been on board when an MC12 last competed at Petit Le Mans, in 2005.

That time, the car finished fourth in class. In 2007, however, the Maserati proved even more competitive despite the fact that it lacked the financial backing from Maserati that Risi benefitted from. After continually working on the car’s setup, Bertolini was strapped in the driver’s seat and sent out for Friday’s 20-minute qualifying session. A 1:17.428 recorded on the Italian’s sixth flying lap was enough for the No. 27 GT1 machine to snatch pole position from under the noses of Corvette Racing’s storied team of drivers. Dutchman Jan Magnussen, who’s still racing for Corvette Racing to this day and also competed in Formula 1 for Stewart Ford, was second but by quite a margin. The driver of the No. 3 C6.R could only muster a 1:18.415, almost a second slower than Bertolini in a freak session that saw the Corvette unable to delve into the 1:17s despite managing to do so effortlessly in the free practice sessions that preceded qualifying.

The race was long and almost trouble-free for Doran Lista Racing. At the start, the Maserati quickly conceded positions in favor of the two Corvettes but Bertolini got back to second in class barely 20 minutes in after Jan Magnussen was tagged by the Bryan Herta-driven Andretti Green Racing-entered Acura ARX-01a going through the Esses. The No. 3 Corvette was wrecked but Magnussen walked away unhurt.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Sadly, an upset wasn’t on the cards for the small team as the trio of works drivers (Oliver Gavin, Olivier Beretta, and Max Papis) in the No. 4 Corvette Racing made good their getaway in the quicker C6.R built by Pratt & Miller. The Maserati, meanwhile, duly racked up the race laps but never reached the checkered flag. Barely half an hour after returning to the track following an unscheduled trip to the paddock to fix a loose water hose, Bertolini slammed into the wall on the back straight after something broke on the car. Damage to the left-hand side forced Doran to park the car. In spite of this, it was still classified second in class after completing 314 laps (you had to cover 70% of the laps completed by the overall winner to be classified and win the prize money). This was the best result for a Maserati in the ALMS at its last appearance in the series.

The 2007 edition of the annual Petit Le Mans will be remembered as one for the ages with Porsche and Audi going hammer and tongs at it for overall honors until the very end (the margin of victory was less than a second after more than nine hours of intense racing).

It will also be remembered as the swan song event of the MC12 GT1 in America.

After the event, Leinhard’s car was repaired by Doran Racing and shipped back to Switzerland to be parked in Leinhard’s personal museum.

Car for Sale: Maserati MC12 GT1 Exterior
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Now, over a decade later, the retired racer decided to sell it and, as such, it will be up for grabs at the upcoming RM/Sotheby’s London auction on October 29th. While lacking any sort of Le Mans cache (no MC12 ever raced at Le Mans despite Michael Bartels to return to Circuit de la Sarthe in 2010) and only having raced twice in period, the car will surely sell for many millions due to its well-known origin and the fact that it’s being sold from the estate of its original owner. If we had six, seven, eight, or 10 million lying around, we’d make it our goal to bust it all on this car and then take it back to the tracks. The V-12 behemoth is currently eligible for the Masters Endurance Legends series organized by Masters Historic Racing (that’s also active in the U.S.) and Peter Auto’s Europe-bound Endurance Racing Legends category for contemporary grand touring and prototype racing cars.

Further reading

2004 - 2005 Maserati MC12 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2004-2005 Maserati MC12

2006 Maserati MC12 Corsa
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Read our full review on the 2006 Maserati MC12 Corsa

2016 Maserati MC12 VC By Edo Competition
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Read our full review on the 2016 Maserati MC12 VC by Edo Competition

Source: RM Sotheby’s

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