Analyzing Maserati’s latest bid at racing glory by looking back at its predecessors

Maserati unveiled the MC20, its first supercar in 15 years, and claimed this 621-horsepower, mid-engined model is the sign of rejuvenation for the brand and, also, the perfect way for the Trident to go back to its roots.

That means, of course, that Maserati plans to build a racing version of the MC20 and thus some questions arise right off the bat: On the one hand, where will it race? And, on the other, will it stand a chance against the opposition? Read on to find out our take on Maserati’s official return to racing.

Competition is embedded in the name of the Maserati MC20

2019 Maserati Gran Turismo Zeda
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Between 2007 and 2019, Maserati’s flagship sports car has been the aggressive but laidback GranTurismo, whose seemingly endless production cycle ended with the wacky-colored Zeda.

The GranTurismo tipped the scales at over 4,000 and, while powered by a Ferrari-sourced V-8, it would always pick the highway over a twisty mountain road. Just like any Gran Turismo (Italian for Grand Tourer) would. In short, the GranTurismo was no supercar and the only reason it could stand out among its stablemates is because the stablemates bore names such as Quattroporte, Ghibli, or Levante - they were all bloated, four-door, semi-luxurious people carriers.

2016 Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4
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The plan sort of worked if we consider 10-15,000 cars sold Stateside every year a success. But to us, it felt a bit like Maserati had lost its way. Sure, building long-legged GTs and sedans had deep roots in the company’s history (the first Quattroporte dates back to the ’60s), but stuff like assigning the legendary Ghibli nameplate to a sedan didn’t go well with enthusiasts.

When word came of the GranTurismo’s one-way trip to the retirement home, the echo spoke of a new sports car. Hiding a brand-new engine developed entirely in-house, this new car was supposed to drop in May but the pandemic intervened. So, we’re now in September of 2020 but the statement Maserati has made with the MC20 (short of Maserati Corse 2020) is the same: the company wants to reinvent itself, and the first steps lead back to the race tracks, back to the company’s roots at the dawn of the 20th century. And back to the MC12.

The New 7 Series Customized By BMW Individual Interior
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Maserati last sold a mid-engined car 15 years ago and it was with that car that the company sat atop the GT racing world.

For years, the MC12 was synonymous with domination in the GT1 ranks and now, somehow, the MC20 has to do it all again. Because that’s what the fans and enthusiasts expect. Because that’s what Maserati expects. But this time around, it’s a lot tougher.

First off, let’s take a look at the road-going MC20. Touted as the first Maserati to be built almost completely out of carbon fiber, the MC20 is underpinned by a tub designed in collaboration with Dallara meaning it’s both tough and light. The whole car weighs little over 3,000 pounds and while that’s nowhere near the Murray T.50 (although the two cars are comparable in size), the MC20 is still a pretty light supercar when you consider that the rivaling Ferrari F8 Tributo is just as heavy.

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By making use of under-body aerodynamics (read venturi tunnels that channel the air through the front air dam and all the way to the back where there’s a diffuser), Maserati decluttered the body of the MC20 that’s devoid of dive planes or other appendages although there is a ducktail of sorts in the back. All the aero suggests the output figures are spectacular but they aren’t really that spectacular.

While an F8 Tributo makes 710 horsepower being on par with a McLaren 720S, the MC20 brings to the table just 621 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque.

The power comes from Nettuno, a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 that makes its debut in the middle of the MC20 and boasts F1-grade pre-chamber combustion coupled with both port and other injection.

With the engine being built in-house, Maserati also claims the car in its entirety is the first to be built 100% {in} Modena.
2016 Ferrari 488 GT3
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So, after looking at what the road-going MC20 has up its sleeve, let’s see where Maserati can race the thing. The car was driven onto the stage by Italian Andrea Bertolini, a veteran GT driver who was arguably one of the MC12’s best wheelmen alongside Thomas Biagi. Bertolini mostly drives Ferraris nowadays but that hasn’t stopped him from rejoining Maserati to help develop the MC20 and, in fact, his hours spent behind the wheel of Ferrari’s last few GT race cars may help Maserati get a head start in building the MC20 race car. You see, Bertolini drove and still is driving for the Italian squad AF Corse that’s fielding the Ferrari 488 GT3 in the GT World Challenge Europe (both the Sprint Cup and the Endurance Cup) and he’s also been on duty at Le Mans and in the States driving the GTE version of the 488 for Risi Competizione or JMW Motorsport.

GT3 and GTE are the two most likely options for Maserati when it comes to building a racing version of the MC20. The GT4 class is, we think, out of the question because, under GT4 rules, the cars can only be modified lightly and, as a result, they’re slower. Then there’s GT2, a category that slots between GT4 and GT3 that we’ve talked about here. Both GT4 and GT2 cater to gentleman drivers while in GTE and GT3 there are plenty of teams running professional drivers and you’ve even got factory teams such as the Bentley Team M-Sport operation in the GT3 ranks as well as all of the Works teams in IMSA representing BMW, Chevrolet, and Porsche.

Thanks to the MC20, Maserati Is Finally Relevant Again
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We’d expect Maserati to offer some sort of factory support if it doesn’t decide to enter as a factory team for at least the first year of the MC20’s racing life which is why we’re looking at either GT3 or GTE as the most likely platforms. The latter is the more expensive of the two and, as we’ve seen, the one that seems to be on the brink of extinction. Ford left the class at the end of 2019, BMW and Corvette are only active in North-America, while Porsche will leave the North-American scene and focus solely on its FIA WEC commitments in the GTE-Pro class. There’s, obviously, the GTE-Am contingent made up of privateer teams fielding an array of professional and amateur racers but there’s no denying that with cars costing as much as $1.2 million a pop and full-season race programs in the $5-6 million ballpark, GTE is an expensive game to play.

2019 McLaren 720S GT3 Exterior
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2019 McLaren 720S GT3
This all leaves us with GT3 which we think is the perfect platform for a Maserati MC20 race car.

For starters, the GT3 class undercuts GTE price-wise (but not by much) and, more importantly, it’s more popular with Maserati being able to sell a GT3-spec car to numerous customers all over the world. The fact that it’s a popular platform means that the MC20 can shine against a vast array of rivals such as Aston Martin, Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini, Lexus, Nissan, Honda, Audi, or Mercedes-AMG. It also seems right when you look a the models already racing there: there’s a McLaren 720S GT3, an Aston Martin Vantage GT3, and, as mentioned, a Ferrari 488 GT3 - all of which are cars that the MC20 strives to beat on the road as well.

Looking over the regs, we can already tell that the future race-spec MC20 will weigh somewhere between 2,645 pounds and 2,866 pounds with the power output somewhere between 550 and 600 horsepower. As is the case with all the other GT3 cars, the Maserati’s performance levels will be managed by governing bodies through the use of Balance of Performance (BoP) by either adding/stripping weight, blocking/freeing up air inlets, changing torque/power curves, and so on and so forth. To comply with the current homologation requirements, besides having to build at least 150 road-going MC20s, Maserati will also have to make available at least 10 cars within the first 12 months of the car being homologated, and a minimum of 20 cars within two years.

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While we’ve got no timeline set for the upcoming Maserati MC20 race car, expect it to arrive no earlier than 2022 when the new GT3 regs come into effect. BMW is, thus far, the first and only taker as it has unveiled the 2022-spec BMW M4 GT3. While laying the groundwork for the new project, we think Maserati might fancy a look back at its last few GT race cars including not one but two GT3 examples.

2013 Maserati GranTurismo MC GT3

2013 Maserati GranTurismo MC GT3 Race Car Exterior
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The GranTurismo-based GT3 car is a bit of an oddity. While the GT4 version based on the same model was developed in-house by Maserati Corse Clienti, the GT3 project was spearheaded by Swiss Team with Maserati only doing as much as allowing the private outfit to do the job. Led by Guido Bonfiglio, the engineering department at Swiss Team created a bespoke body kit that widens the GranTurismo all the way to the maximum width of 2.5 meters (98.4 inches). By dumping the interior and everything else that wasn’t necessary, the race car weighed in at just 2,711 pounds, some 440 pounds lighter than the road car.

With the standard air restrictors in place, Swiss Team’s GranTurismo GT3 developed 530 horsepower, compared to 460 horsepower for the standard model. The V-8 engine in the front is a modified version of the unit that was first utilized by the team in its Maserati Quattroporte race car that successfully contested the V8 Superstars series a few years prior to the introduction of the GranTurismo MC GT3.

2013 Maserati GranTurismo MC GT3 Race Car Exterior
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With Technical Director Giuseppe Angiulli (ex-Osella F1) onboard, the big grand tourer showed its might in 2012 while still in non-homologated guise (it ran fifth in the Hungaroring round of the International GT Open and won a race in the Italian GT Championship). The homologation papers from the FIA only arrived in December of 2013 after the car was benchmark tested in February of the same year. Thereafter, the project went off the radar and no GranTurismo MC GT3s have raced since those test outings in ’12 - despite Swiss Team stating that the car would race in 2014 and that there’s even an IMSA GTD version in the works.

Read our full review on the 2013 Maserati GranTurismo MC GT3

2006 Maserati GranSport Light GT3

2004 Maserati Trofeo Light
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Maserati Trofeo Light

Maserati’s first foray in the world of GT3 racing came right as the formula was born, all the way back in 2006. At the time, the cars (known as Cup GT3s) were a lot simpler with Porsche effectively entering the S version of its 911 Cup car while Maserati pulled a similar trick by modifying the existing Maserati Coupe Trofeo to meet GT3 regulations. The move was somewhat successful against stiff opposition from Chevrolet-Callaway, Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Chrysler amongst others.

In Trofeo guise, the Maserati Coupe (nee 4200GT) put out just 415 horsepower at first and the Coupe Trofeo Light version didn’t improve much in this department with just 430 horsepower. A few outings for the Trofeo Light in America in 2004 were soon forgotten as Maserati re-focused on the MC12 GT1 but the model returned in ’06 to become the very first GT3 car to be homologated. It was still down on power (by almost 100 ponies compared to the Viper Competition Coupe) but AF Corse still bought a few. The team that now runs Ferraris was at the time closely intertwined with Maseratis but didn’t race the GranSport-based GT3 car beyond 2006.

2004 Maserati Trofeo Light
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As a side-note, Andrea Bertolini has driven both the GranSport Light GT3 (in the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring no less) and the GranTurismo MC GT3, so we’re pretty sure he’ll at least test the new race car if not actually race it. The experience of Bertolini will surely help push the development of the new car forwards but, ultimately, its success will lie in sales. If people won’t buy into the idea of a Maserati GT3 then the car will flop and we think the market is super-competitive right now but not impossible to penetrate - especially by a famous name such as Maserati.

Read our full review on the 2006 Maserati GranSport Light GT3

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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