Ferrari Is The Latest Indy Hopeful
The Italian supercar maker confirmed that it’s evaluating a factory-backed program in the NTT IndyCar Seriesby Michael Fira, on LISTEN 10:43
Ferrari, the most celebrated manufacturer in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, a winner of 16 Constructors’ Championships and 15 Drivers’ Championships, hasn’t raced at the Brickyard since the ’50s but this may be about to change as the suits in Maranello are apparently considering to expand the team’s activity across the Atlantic and enter the NTT IndyCar Series sometime after the new rules come into effect in 2022.
Ferrari may go endurance racing or choose Indycar as its next playground
Right now, America’s premier open-wheel racing series is a two-horse race with Toyota and Chevy going head-to-head in spec-built Dallara chassis but, in just a few short years, a certain Prancing Horse could well join in on the fun if Maranello’s displeasure with the direction in which F1’s going grows some more. We’ve seen The Drake wiggle his finger at the FIA before and many a time did Ferrari try to scare the governing body of the sport from doing something that would inconvenience the Italian stallion and this may just be the latest move by F1’s biggest bully.
For starters, here’s some context. The Formula 1 World Championship was set to welcome an all-new set of technical rules in 2021 that, on paper, were meant to bring all the teams closer together in terms of performance, in turn offering the fans better racing throughout. One of the ways to achieve the end-all-be-all goal of touring car-like close racing was, the organizers pledged, a budget cap. The story of the budget cap is by no means a new one and smaller teams have been advocating for one to be put in place by the FIA for as long as I can remember but, every time, the big guys with the (seemingly) unlimited money vetoed such a decision. Now, however, it was finally going to happen.
"The F1 cost cap will end the growing spending gap between F1’s big spenders and those with fewer resources, and the on-track performance differential this brings," said an article on F1.com from 2019 and the budget cap was to be a - still astronomical - $175 million per year excluding "marketing costs, the salaries of drivers, and of the top three personnel at any team." More recently, however, the teams, who mutually agreed along with the FIA to push the introduction of the new rules one year away to 2022 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, also set in stone a new figure for the budget cap: $145 million, down by a sizeable $30 million or about as much as it would cost you to run not one, not two, not three, but four DPIs in IMSA’s Weathertech Sportscar Championship for a whole year.
Ferrari wasn’t happy about its peers’ decision to lower the budget cap because, of course, Ferrari’s got the industrial might of Fiat behind it and it’d love to keep spending its money to achieve those elusive drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles which Ferrari last grabbed in 2007 and 2008 respectively. During an interview with SkySport Italia, Ferrari Team Principal Matia Binotto, talked about the team’s social responsibility when explaining why the factory team looks at potential new areas where it may compete in the future. "We want to be sure that for each of them there will be a workspace in the future," Binotto said. "For this reason, we have started to evaluate alternative programs, and I confirm that we are looking at IndyCar, which is currently a very different category from ours [F1] but with a change of regulation scheduled in 2022 [introduction of hybrid engines]."
Binotto is talking about the introduction of a mandated hybrid system that will arrive at the same time as the hybridized LMDH class in IMSA to replace today’s DPI machinery as the fastest prototypes Stateside. Naturally, Ferrari is also watching the world of endurance racing and is known that folks from the Scuderia participated at multiple round table meetings during the development process of the Le Mans Hypercar ruleset that is also slated for a ’22 introduction unless the global situation goes berserk some more in the next few months.
"At Ferrari, we were structuring ourselves based on the budget approved last year, and the further reduction represents an important challenge that will inevitably lead to review staff, structure, and organization," underlined Binotto, basically saying that the factory would need to race in other series besides F1 if it wants to keep all the people in the racing department employed because a smaller budget in F1 means the current development race (which is what requires top teams to have such a long list of personnel back at base to develop all the bits and pieces that get bolted on to the cars) would effectively be slowed down a whole heap of a lot also as some spec parts will also be mandated in some key areas in two years’ time.
IndyCar, meanwhile, has vouched to remain a single-chassis formula which has been the case for 11 years now, Dallara becoming the sole chassis provider for all the teams back in 2009 after Panoz pulled out.
What we’ve heard from the endurance racing side of things is that Ferrari would rather go for the LMDH formula that would see the Italian automaker pick one of the four LMP2 chassis available then dress it up with a Ferrari-styled body and throw in the middle an engine of its own making. Considering the Italians would decide to do something similar in Indycar, it would mean that Dallara would remain the only chassis provider and the teams would be able to also pick a Ferrari engine if they so desire.
Currently, most teams in the paddock would probably be in favor of this rather than having Ferrari as a second chassis maker and as an engine provider as everyone’s looking at costs. An IndyCar program amounts to about $8 million if you want to do it right which is light years away from the money you’d spend as a team in F1 and we’re sure Roger Penske is well aware that a chassis war would see the costs go through the roof in an instant.
Ferrari’s What If? story from the CART days
The Scuderia almost raced at Indy in the mid-’80s with the Tipo 637. While the name’s decidedly dull, the car was a thing of beauty and the same goes for the 2.65-liter, single-turbo V-8 powering it. Developed throughout 1986, it’s generally considered that its existence can be directly linked to Enzo Ferrari’s displeasure with the state of F1 at the time and the FIA’s decision to switch to naturally-aspirated, 3.5-liter V-8s for 1989. You see, back in the ’80s, a few years after just about everyone on the grid had adopted turbocharged powerplants, Ferrari was struggling to keep up.
Through sheer bad luck and tragedy, it missed on the drivers’ title in ’82 with the manufacturers’ crown a pale consolation. Thereafter, things went downhill at unabated speed with the next evolutions of the 126 chassis proving highly uncompetitive mainly due to the poor aerodynamics and awfully unreliable engines. Still, come ’85, Ferrari seemed to be on the way up again and Enzo liked what he was hearing from his motorsport department. What he didn’t like was that the FIA was bent on limiting the performance of all of the cars at a time when the BMW-powered Tyrrell cars developed some 1,300 horsepower in qualifying trim. The multi-element wings were gone by the time the circus assembled for round one of the 1985 world championship and further boost pressure cuts were slated for introduction further down the road.
Thinking all the limitations could hinder the progress of his beloved race team, Enzo apparently concocted a plan to keep the status quo at least momentarily in place. The Old Man had an eternal love affair with engines, saying at one point that "aerodynamics are for people who can’t build good engines," and the engines Enzo loved the most were those with 12 cylinders placed in a vee. He was keen to go back to that legendary configuration at some point in the future but, under the proposed 1989 rules, all the 3.5-liter mills would have to have eight cylinders. Probably unamused by also having to run V-6s in the 126, he didn’t like the idea of switching to V-8s either.
So, he pulled some strings and, behind closed doors, Ferrari began building its own CART single-seater, a car meant to take on America’s best and, maybe, win the Indianapolis 500, a race that’d eluded Enzo for decades. Or maybe not. While at least one Tipo 637 CART car was completed, Ferrari never raced at Indy in the ’80s. Reporters went nuts when then-Ferrari President Vittorio Ghidella showed up to attend the 1986 running of the Indy 500 with the March people including Austrian Gustav Brunner. The designer even moved to Italy to help design the Tipo 637 after March - through Team Truesports - was kind enough to lend Ferrari an 85G for Michele Alboreto to try out at Fiorano.
The folklore abounds with stories of how, not long after the Tipo 637 and its engine were done and ready to run, Enzo called for a meeting to take place in Maranello. As written on 8W Forix, "FIA and other F1 representatives came to Maranello to speak with Enzo Ferrari about the future of F1 and tried to persuade him to remain in F1. It is said that Enzo told them he was willing to do so but if V12s would be disallowed he couldn’t guarantee his company not pursuing other options. Hardly had Enzo spoken these words or everyone in the room heard an engine being started, which could be identified as a turbocharged V8 of about 3 liters, with Ferrari pointing out to the people in the room what they were hearing. The attendants supposedly all of a sudden realized that Ferrari was indeed in an advanced state with its Indy project. At that moment, the deal was struck that V12 engines would be allowed in F1, under the condition that Ferrari wouldn’t further pursue its IndyCar plans. Project 637 came to an instant standstill as a result."
While the truth may be less dramatic, history has documented more than one instance in which Enzo threatened the FIA that his team would quit F1, famously doing so in 1964 when future World Drivers’ Champion John Surtees ran the last couple of races in the blue/white livery of Luigi Chinetti’s N.A.R.T. after Ferrari refused to do the American rounds. In the ’80s, America was Ferrari’s biggest market which single-handedly would justify Ferrari developing an interest for CART, a championship that, at one point, was attracting the might of Porsche and Lotus into the freight during what became known as the ’CART vs. IRL War’ that lasted for over two decades. We guess, ultimately, Ferrari didn’t want to get involved in yet another war... those with the FIA would suffice.