NEWS FEATURE

Enzo's American Dream Machine

Michael Schumacher, United States GP 2001

Michael Schumacher, United States GP 2001 

 Â© The Cahier Archive

It was the unfulfilled dream of Enzo Ferrari that his cars should add the Indianapolis 500 to the list of achievements on the Scuderia's roll of honor.

Doubtless the Old Man would have been heartened by Michael Schumacher's Brickyard victory in 2000 but the US Grand Prix is still another Grand Prix and, to date, the cars carrying the Cavallino Rampante have won 142 others together with sundry other Mille Miglias, Targa Florios, Tourist Trophies, Le Mans, Daytona and Sebring endurance races. The Indy 500 remains unconqueredÉ just.

The current political climate in the sport on both sides of the Atlantic brings to mind Enzo's last great attempt to win the Indy 500, back when Bernie Ecclestone's FOCA first took control of Formula 1 in the early 1980s and, coincidentally, turbocharging became de rigeur in Formula 1.

This put F1 engines into the same orbit as Indycar, and the Old Man was at his wit's end over surrendering his team's income from racing in Grands Prix - Ferrari's staple income since 1930 - to the trawlerman's son. So high was Enzo's dudgeon that he seriously considered permanently moving away from Formula 1 to chase the missing trophy in the Maranello cabinet, and at the same time as the 126 C engines were developed for F1 (120-degree V6 compressore), a sister project was quietly undertaken.

The project was a 2.65-liter V8 turbo engine designed in the Ferrari tradition of getting the engine right first and everything else surely following on as a result. Fortunately for Formula 1 nothing else followed, and by 1986 Ferrari and Ecclestone had resolved their differences, John Barnard was changing the way Ferrari thought about designing its racing cars and the Indy engine program was tucked into a quiet corner of the Gestione Sportiva.

In 1988 Enzo Ferrari passed away, and two days after his death Fiat picked up its option on the remaining 60% of the Ferrari empire. Immediately the auditors got to work and, lo and behold, a methanol-fuelled V8 race engine was uncovered. Desperate to make what they could from Ferrari the Fiat executives signed off on the project to be seen to completion and, in 1989 a March 89C was duly running with Enzo's dream machine in the back.

With a typical display of the old adage that where there's no sense there's no feeling however, the corporate honchos at Fiat made one adjustment to Enzo's engine. They took the badge off and replaced it with that of another name of resonance to Ferrari from the Agnelli family stable: Alfa Romeo.

That the marque for which Enzo Ferrari had raced in his youth, managed in his adulthood and fallen out with so completely in the days leading to World War 2 should be bequeathed a Ferrari engine would have doubtless brought about apoplexy in the Old Man. Nevertheless, five years too late, the engine made its debut at the Brickyard in 1990 for Patrick Racing, and finished 23rd.

After struggling on with still less reward in 1991 the project was canceled and Alfa Romeo crept away from open-wheeled competition in an ignominious end to a 70-year story and a terrible abuse of Enzo Ferrari's legacy. The corporate suits at Fiat shrugged their shoulders: Formula 1 was again the main target, Jean Todt had been recruited and the Scuderia was about to start clawing its way back to the top over the course of the next decade.

Fast forward to 2002. With Enzo's former right hand man Luca di Montezemolo in charge of Ferrari, the Scuderia is again threatening to abandon Formula 1 if negotiations with Ecclestone and co. over the distribution of the sport's funds. America meanwhile remains the Holy Grail for the F1 manufacturers, and while the US Grand Prix has been a worthwhile toe in the water, Indianapolis still only really means the 500.

Let's pretend for a moment that CART is eventually forced to go down the same route as the IRL on engine specifications. With the motor manufacturers all wanting to cut the cost of their motor sport programs and with the Indy 500 still the greatest single race on the planet, could it be that the European manufacturers are thinking of running their breakaway formula to a 3.5-liter V8 specification?

And if Luca di Montezemolo could do one more thing for his late boss, might not another crack at that missing prize put the seal on Ferrari's ambitions? All in all it makes you wonder just what might be lurking in a quiet corner of the Gestione Sportiva.

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