The Ferrari 250 P became the first midengine car to win the world’s greatest road race when it took the checkered flag at the 1963 Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Ferrari 250 P proved to Ferrari that mid-engine cars were the future of racing.
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The winning mount traced its origins to the Ferrari 246 SP, the V-6 model that launched Maranello’s midengine prototype line in 1961. For the Ferrari 250 P, the 246’s tubular frame was lengthened slightly to fit a Testa Rossa-derived 300-horsepower 3.0-liter V-12. The engine, five-speed gearbox, and final drive were located behind the two-place cockpit in what was technically a mid/rear-engine layout.
That chief engineer Mauro Forghieri would pursue such a design was a given. The trend in all forms of top-flight motorsport was to rear-engine placement for better handling and aerodynamics. Moreover, Le Mans had teamed up with Sebring, the Targa Florio, and the Nurburgring to create world constructors championships for prototypes.
Then there was the atmosphere in Ferrari itself. The company had already done well with non front-engine cars in Formula 1 and endurance racing, and Forghieri had Ferrari’s confidence. This was important to the young engineer, for prior to the 1961 “Walkout,” he had primarily been responsible for engines and gearboxes. That was a far cry from running everything. Now, Forghieri’s creative talent was let loose while Enzo himself handled all the corporate politics. The results spoke for themselves.
The Ferrari 250 P ran 1-2 in its first outing at Sebring, then took first overall at the Nurburgring. At Le Mans, the Ferrari 250 P of Ludovico Scarfiotti and Lorenzo Bandini was first overall, marking Ferrari’s seventh win in the 24 Hours. Another 250 P was third.
For 1964, Ferrari updated this successful formula with the 275 P and 330 P; which, unlike the Ferrari 250 P, were made available to privateers. The basic design was similar to the 250 P’s, with increased engine capacity the biggest change. For the Ferrari 275 P, the V-12 was bored to 3285cc for 320 horsepower;while, the Ferrari 330 P's stroke increased for a capacity of 3967cc and 370 hp.
Visually, the new cars were identified by fuel caps on the front fender forward of a more steeply raked windshield. They had a larger rollbar and smaller air intakes located higher on the rear fenders.
The Ferrari 330 P was one of the first midengine
Ferraris to take first place at a race.
Race results for 1964 were much like in ’63. At Sebring, a Ferrari 275 Ps went 1-2 while a Ferrari 330 P was third. Another Ferrari 275 P won the Nurburgring. At Le Mans, the 275 P driven by Jean Guichet and Nino Vaccarella gave Ferrari its eighth outright win within 24 Hours; a victory that would be the last for a Ferrari factory car at the historic track. Finishing second and third were 330 Ps, which later in the year tasted victory at England’s Tourist Trophy and in the season finale at the 1,000 km of Paris.
Pressured as never before in international endurance racing by the full weight of Ford and its GT40 and by the fierce Chevrolet-powered Chaparrals, Ferrari for 1965 dug deep for new technology and more horsepower. The result was the 275 P2, 330 P2, 365 P, and 365 P2.
The Ferrari 275 P2 and 330 P2 had basically the same appearance, but were quite different from their prototype predecessors. Designed with the aid of a wind tunnel and built by Carrozeria Fantuzzi, they were lower and wider, with a fresh nose, more upright windscreen, larger rollbar structure, and a new tail with a pronounced ducktail spoiler. The wheels were cast magnesium rather than wires, and were staggered in width — eight inches front, nine rear — instead of six inches at each corner.
Chassis and suspension utilized Formula 1 technology. Body panels were riveted to the tubular frame for additional rigidity, and the rear suspension got new geometry and employed two supporting struts.
The P2s used double overhead cams and twin plugs per cylinder. Horsepower was 350 for the 275 P2’s 3285cc V-12, and 410 for the 330 P2’s 3967cc V-12.
The Ferrari 365 P was introduced just before Le Mans and displayed yet another new skin. Its 4390cc V-12 retained single overhead cams, one plug per cylinder, and made 380 horsepower.
All these cars saw the winner’s circle. A Ferrari 275 P2 won at Monza and the Targa Florio. The Ferrari 330 P2 was victorious at the Nurburgring. The Ferrari 365 P2 took the checkered flag at Reims. All told, Ferrari won makes world titles for prototypes in 1963, ’64, and ’65. And though it won Le Mans in 1965, it wasn’t with a P2. Maranello had some momentum, but the challenges of sports-racing were not about to get any easier.
The Ferrari 330 P spawned a series of Ferraris with very impressive race records.
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