Unhappy with the FIA’s plans to cut down F1 engine regulations in the late 1980s, Enzo Ferrari was looking at various other options to keep his cars on the racing track.
Enzo Ferrari used the situation to threaten the governing body with his team leaving the sport. However, with a fully-fledged racing team and facilities under his grasp, where did Il Commmendatore decide to look at? He opted to take a new approach, and attempt to race in the CART Championship in the United States, including the famous Indianapolis 500.
The Scuderia were by no means going on an empty threat. Enzo released a statement in 1985 stating that the team were seriously considering moving state side in the future if it could not come to an agreement over the future engine regulations in Formula 1, with Ferrari's son Piero Lardi (later Piero Ferrari) confirming at that years' British Grand Prix that the team were very eager to build its own car and take on the mighty Brickyard at Indianapolis.
Bringing on board three-time IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal and his team TrueSports, both teams were connected through their use of Goodyear tyres, and Enzo was willing to learn from the success of Rahal and his team, while Lardi visited the team in America in 1985 to get the project off the ground.
Rahal re-called the meeting with Lardi in an interview with motorsportmagazine.com:
“Jim Trueman, Steve Horne and I took Piero out to dinner. That’s where everything was signed, that we would go to Maranello. The deal was that we would be the [works] team.”
“It was agreed to go forward at that stage, and that’s when cars got sent. And that’s when all of a sudden, people are going, “You’re not going to this race [in IndyCar] we’re going to Italy for the next month and a half.”
Leading the study of the technical demands of the series was Gustav Brunner, who joined the design team at Ferrari earlier in the year and was almost immediately assigned to the IndyCar project. However, Rahal was aiming to have now famous engineer Adrian Newey join the project due to his success alongside him at the TrueSports team, however Newey refused, feeling as he would never be comfortable with a move to the Italian team.
March 85C at Pista di Fiorano.
Rahal and the team first tested their March 85C in Italy in August 1985, attracting the attention of the entire team when the car fired up for the first time at Fiorano, as well as Enzo himself, who was very excited about the project. Michele Alboreto also tested the car around Ferrari's circuit, with Rahal managing to come within two and a half seconds of the overall Fiorano circuit record during his time testing.
Back over in the US, Brunner was heavily involved with the engineering and developing departments of the TrueSports team, attempting to learn as much as possible for the upcoming Ferrari project. While TrueSports experienced more success coming into 1986, with Rahal winning the Indy 500, Ferrari's own IndyCar was beginning to take shape.
The Ferrari 637
The end product was called the 637, a unique design which featured a 2.65-L, ninety degrees turbocharged V8 engine, with the upper body of the car made from aluminum. This was forged onto the car's lower frame, which itself was composed from carbon fibre. The car featured upward mounted exhausts, as per the regulations in CART at the time.
Ferrari were now ready, and were looking to move into the series and be competing by the second half of 1987. However, it was not to be. Thanks to the FIA going back on its decision of a single configuration for its F1 engines as well as Technical Director John Barnard's concerns that Ferrari could not be competitive in both F1 and CART at the same time, Ferrari soon pulled the plug on the 637 project. This was a shame considering Rahal's optimistic beliefs that the team could have been competitive straight away.
Al Unser won the 1987 Indy 500 in a March 86C.
In the end, the 637 only saw one installation lap of Fiorano at the hands of Alboreto before being taken off a race track completely. The car was on show at the Ferrari museum, before finally arriving at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but as a show-piece rather than a competitor.
However, over thirty years on, the IndyCar dream may not be over for Ferrari. After the FIA announced its intentions for a new budget cap for the coming years in F1, Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto confirmed earlier this year that the company were very much looking at entering the series in the future as a back-up programme to its main F1 team, as well as allowing the company to keep the same amount of staff on F1's tightened budget. IndyCar series owner Roger Penske confirmed that Ferrari are still looking at building an engine for the series as it moves to hybrid technology for the 2023 season.
Render: Sean Bull Design
So who knows? Maybe yet, we could see a Scarlet Ferrari proving it's worth around the steep banks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and what a sight that would be.
Written by Cóilín Higgins. Join our email list if you’re interested in receiving the latest on our online magazine and store.