Ferrari 333 SP
By Marshall Pruett
It won on its IMSA debut at Road Atlanta in 1994, and more importantly, it won legions of fans as the immensely popular GTP class gave way to the new open-top WSC formula in 1994.
With the big factory GTP programs from Toyota, Jaguar, Chevrolet, Nissan, and others replaced by a return to customer-driven racing, it was the Prancing Horse and its Formula 1-inspired Ferrari 333 SP that maintained the throughline of captivating IMSA prototypes that brought waves of endurance racing lovers rushing to see and hear the Italian machines in action.
Bathed in the sonic glory created by the 4.0-liter V12 Ferrari F1 engine mounted in the back of the high-tech carbon-fiber chassis built by Dallara, the 333 SPs filled a massive void for IMSA’s entrants and its promoters. Hailed by some as ‘the car that saved IMSA,’ the beautiful Ferraris were as fast as they were sexy and gave the post-GTP era an exciting air of exclusivity as select few could afford the $1 million price tag.
Pitted against the fierce Riley & Scott Mk III and Kudzus from the U.S. and a variety of Spices from England, plus a number of homebuilt specials, the 333 SP opened its IMSA account after the initial endurance rounds were held and shot straight to victory lane in Georgia with driver Jay Cochran in the No. 50 Euromotorsport entry. The late and legendary Gianpiero Moretti and Eliseo Salazar would win next in the MOMO Racing Ferrari at Lime Rock as 333 SPs locked out the podium and add another win in July at Indianapolis Raceway Park before Andy Evans and the late Fermin Velez put Evans’ Scandia Motorsports’ 333 SP into the win column in Monterey.
Missing the start of the 1994 season at Daytona and Sebring made winning the inaugural WSC championship an impossibility, but a statement of intent for 1995 was made: The title would go through Ferrari.
“In my mind, it is still one of the best race cars I ever drove,” says IMSA GTP entrant Wayne Taylor, who won a pair of 1995 WSC races in the No. 30 MOMO 333 SP. “It was a combination of the engine and Dallara’s involvement and then obviously the aerodynamics were superior. That car was really at the highest level compared to any other cars that were out there.”
MOMO and Scandia would win five rounds with their Ferraris in 1995, with Evans, Velez, and Eric van de Poele making history with their victory at the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the first overall win for a product from Scuderia Ferrari since 1972, and thanks to a frequently changing cast alongside him in the No. 3 Scandia Ferrari, Velez was crowned as the lone Drivers’ champion.
At the fastest tracks, the smoothest tracks, the shortest tracks, and the bumpiest tracks, the 333 SP proved itself to be adept at mastering all the diverse challenges the IMSA calendar threw at its WSC entries.
“It was a design collaboration where Dallara did most of the car and had input from [famed racecar designer] Tony Southgate on some things,” said former Scandia technical director and race engineer Jeff Braun. “And if you remember, Dallara was dominating everything at the time with their Formula 3 car, and if you looked at the front of the Ferrari, it had a lot of that Formula 3 approach to it with little springs and the little dampers and all the things they did were very compact and efficient, just like the F3 car.
“And if you knew what they were doing elsewhere in racing, you’d look at the Ferrari and see some really smart philosophies that carried over. And even the tub was a step forward; most WSC cars were aluminum honeycomb, and this was full carbon, so it was super stiff. From a chassis setup standpoint, it did all the things you wanted it to do. Some cars don’t do that, but with the Ferrari, it was a dream. Make a change and the car did what the driver asked for.”
More wins would follow in 1996, but the tide was turning towards R&S and the Mk III chassis which, in the hands of Taylor, earned the WSC championship with Oldsmobile V8 power, and Dyson Racing carried on the R&S Mk III tradition in 1997-1998 using Ford V8 propulsion to parry the 333 SP’s advances and earn titles of their own. But the stage had been set.
Throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, an unforgettable fight was IMSA’s gift to its fans as Ferrari and R&S waged epic duels from race to race. By 1998, the 333 SP remained highly effective and had more history to make as the car captured its first Rolex 24 At Daytona overall victory with the MOMO/Doran Racing squad, delivered a follow-up win for the team weeks later at Sebring, and in the hands of the Doyle-Risi Racing team, the Ferrari triumphed at the inaugural Petit Le Mans with Taylor, van de Poele, and Emmanuel Collard.
Other WSC models might have garnered more championships, but the Ferrari 333 SP is a cult classic that won the hearts of those who were fortunate to experience them in person or, on select occasions at Historic Sportscar Racing vintage events, shrieking to the skies at modern vintage races.
“I heard that it was going in the IMSA Hall of Fame, and my first reaction was, ‘Yeah, of course, it would be,’” Braun says. “I'm always proud of this: Every year I go to Sebring, I look up at the race winner banners behind the pits there, and there's a big gap between the Ferrari that I ran in ‘95 when we won and the Ferrari In ‘72, because Ferrari was out of sports cars, they were all about Formula 1, and so for Ferrari to build a sports car in that era, and commit to it with something so unique, using a Formula 1 five-valve, high-revving V12…I mean, who does that? That wasn't being done by anybody at the time.
“It was great marketing for them, and for IMSA to have it first for so many years. It's a Ferrari. It's a million dollars. Every driver wanted to drive it; all the engineers and mechanics wanted to work on it. That's why it should be in the Hall of Fame. Yes, it was a good car. We won lots of races. We won championships with it. But it went beyond that. It brought more interest and intrigue to sports car racing than we’d had in a long time.”
FERRARI 333 SP
Ferrari 333 SP