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When Ferrari Almost Came to Indy

Submitted by on May 5, 2014

MSR Ferrari on the Indy bricksThe idea was much closer to reality than a lot of people ever thought.

Two of the most emotive worlds in motorsport almost came together in 1986: Ferrari and the Indy 500. Can you imagine? It might seem like a fanciful dream to most enthusiasts, but that idea was closer to reality than a lot of people ever thought. Just for good measure, throw a young Adrian Newey into the mix. Fact, or fiction?

By Andy Hallbery

Ferrari Indy 3The background of the Ferrari IndyCar story was the result of politics, principally Ferrari’s Commendatore Enzo Ferrari, and Formula 1’s Bernie Ecclestone, over that age-old document of battle, the Concorde Agreement. By 1985, Ferrari – himself 87 years old remember – was still not one to lay over and give in. So to threaten F1, he commissioned the Ferrari 637, designed and built to compete in America’s CART World Series, which at that time included the famed Indy 500.

To do so Ferrari had got in touch with the future Indy 500-winning CART team TrueSports, and a March IndyCar was delivered to Ferrari for the design team to dissect how it worked and what was needed for their new venture. Bobby Rahal, 1986 Indy 500 winner for TrueSports, was also sent to Fiorano mid-season for a two-day test of the March for Ferrari to gather data.

Rahal explains: “This was right in the middle of the racing season, and I went there to test in September while the season was still going on. We tested our March-Cosworth at Fiorano, and [Michele] Alboreto drove the car, too. Of course, Ferrari copied everything, or tried to. We took a skeleton crew over, and we tried to convince [then race engineer] Adrian Newey to leave March and design the Ferrari IndyCar, but we didn’t know March had committed Adrian to another team for 1986.”

With Newey unavailable, Ferrari designer Gustav Brunner was selected for the job. Predictably the outcome was a gorgeous, scarlet IndyCar, adorned with the Prancing Horse.

Enzo grumpyTo stir things up, as you would, Ferrari issued a news release: “The news concerning the possibility of Ferrari abandoning Formula One to race in the United States has a basis in fact. For some time at Ferrari there has been study of a program of participation at Indianapolis and in the CART championship. In the event that in Formula One the sporting and technical rules of the Concorde Agreement are not sufficiently guaranteed for three years the Ferrari team (in agreement with its suppliers and in support of its presence in the US) will put this program into effect.”

In effect, ‘I have my toys, and you have the pram. And I am prepared to throw those toys out’.

So, Brunner’s IndyCar came to fruition. Side by side, it was as pretty as the F187/88 F1 car that Brunner later produced for Ferrari. Welcome to the world, the type 034. No six wheels on this type 034, but just as much of a surprise.

Alboreto tested the car at Ferrari’s legendary test track Fiorano, where it is said that it was as competitive as the March 85C that Ferrari still retained.

But just when it was looking good for one of the most emotive names in racing to arrive in IndyCar, in stepped Ferrari’s John Barnard. He decided that the IndyCar project  was hurting the F1 programme, and should stop. And it did.

Not before the politics started again, however. The old man was not going to walk away quietly. Enzo wanted an end to the 1.5-litre turbo formula in F1, so suggested a new idea to Ecclestone. If F1 would switch to a 3.5-litre normally aspirated formula for 1989, allowing his beloved 12-cylinder engines to compete again, Ferrari would cease work on the IndyCar project.Berger Ferrari 1987 Bernard Cahier“In the end, Enzo was just pulling everybody’s chain,” Rahal says. “He was fighting with the FIA, as he did so often. But it was an interesting time and an interesting experience.”
The Ferrari IndyCar might never have seen the light of day, but the Type 034 engine survived and was ultimately re-engineered and badged as an Alfa Romeo. Installed in a March chassis, the Alfa was raced by Roberto Guerrero, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser, but without any real success.
As for the car itself, the Ferrari 637 IndyCar finally made it to Indianapolis. In 1994, it was loaned for a time to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, where American racing fans saw it and dreamed about the day when Ferrari met Indy. The never-raced chassis, which ran only a few times, now resides in a corner of the Gilles Villeneuve exhibit at the Ferrari Museum in Maranello, Italy.

Follow Andy Hallbery on twitter, @hallbean  and at www.romanceofracing.co

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