Race on Sunday… The Maserati MC12 was built to dominate. Fifteen years since it broke cover, here’s how it did it. Words Nathan Chadwick. Photography Jordan Butters.
HISTORY: MASERATI MC12
How a little bit of Ferrari knowhow and the input of Michael Schumacher made this racer dominant Relish in the gorgeous details of the Maserati.
MC12 race car
Hangar Straight isn’t the most glamorous part of Silverstone. It’s about as far away from the glossy Wing building and the bustling infield as you’re likely to get. There’s some grass, pebbles, fencing and a distinctly decrepit metal pole to lean on. Not that you’ll see much as the cars flash by. But if you were watching GT racing in the 2000s, it was an absolute crime not to spend at least part of the race weekend there. It was all about what you could hear – and feel. For the last half of the 2000s, the variety was amazing. By 2010 you had the mournful howl of the Aston Martin DBRS9 and Lamborghini Murcielago, the bowel-shifting, floor-trembling Ford GTs, Chevrolet Corvettes and Saleens, and the trumpeting six-cylinder blare of the Nissan GTR. But the most stirring din came from the back of the Maserati MC12. It was a fizzing, shrieking scream, the kind of yell you’d imagine a malfunctioning cyborg making just before it exploded. It put out the same base notes as the V8s, but the Ferrari F140 V12 motor in the MC12 rattled your ribcage like nothing else on the grid.
Though 50 road cars were built, the MC12 was actually created to do one simple thing – dominate GT racing. The road car considerations were an afterthought. As it happens, that would be the car’s Achilles heel – but more on that in a moment. After the turbulent 1980s, it had taken Fiat and Ferrari most of the 1990s to get Maserati back on song. Maranello had been instrumental in elevating the marque from obscurity, with the new 4200 and Quattroporte V. To get to the next stage, Maserati needed a headline-grabbing racing car to give the marque the modern-day prestige it needed.
‘A NATURALLY ASPIRATED V12 SCREAMING TO THE HEAVENS? IF ONLY.’
The answer came with the Ferrari Enzo supercar. Mechanically, most of the MC12’s engine was identical to the Enzo’s, but the Maserati’s cams were driven by gears rather than belts. The road-spec MC12 lost around 1000rpm off its rev ceiling (to 7500rpm), but homologation rules meant that the race car was down on both power (by 35bhp) and torque compared to the road car.
The original profile of the MC12 was crafted by Giorgetto Giuigiaro after extensive wind tunnel time. Frank Stephenson, famous for the 2001 Mini, came in to add the details. It was a job he relished, saying later that it was one of the most fun projects he’d ever been involved with, despite the short time frame.
Dallara took control of the drivetrain, chassis and aerodynamic fettling. They had a clear instruction to focus on the race car, and complete freedom over the car’s size, aerodynamic additions and use of exotic materials. The key material is carbon fibre: not only is the monocoque tub made from it, but so is the entirety of the bodywork. For the load-bearing parts of the chassis, the carbon was reinforced with a Nomex honeycomb. Only the front and rear subframes are made from aluminium. This, plus the ditching of the road car’s Cambiocorsa paddleshift transmission in favour of a sequential manual and the loss of the road car’s luxury furnishings, gave the race car a hefty 135kg saving over the road car.
There are other differences too. While the road car has a fixed rear wing, difficulties getting the MC12 past the scrutineers meant it needed to be reduced in size. The car was still deemed to be too wide and too long, and while the MC12 sports a steeper nose compared to the road car to mitigate the length, there was very little Maserati could do about the width – or about the need to build 100 cars before the start of the 2005 season. It still performed well in the warmup events it entered in 2004, rounding out the year with a win in Shanghai, even if the team couldn’t garner points. Eventually the organisers said just 25 cars needed to be sold for the car to compete, much to the annoyance of Prodrive and Aston Martin.
Le Mans organisers ACO said it was 2.6in too wide, denying the car a shot at the ultimate GT racing prize. Although it was permitted to run in the American Le Mans series, it was never allowed to compete at La Sarthe. Instead, the Maserati won everything else in Europe, including three Spa 24 Hours races. You’re looking at chassis number eight, which competed in 2005 under the JMB Racing banner.
Andrea Bertolini was paired with ex-F1 racer Karl Wendlinger for the season. Despite winning at Magny Cours in France, and taking a string of mid-season podiums, a retirement at the last round meant the driver’s title would go to Ferrari driver Gabriele Gardel, while the teams championship would go to fellow MC12 outfit Vitaphone. Maserati took the 2005 manufacturer’s title. Vitaphone won the teams title for the next four years. Andrea Bertoloni and Michael Bartels took the driver’s title in 2006, 2008 and 2009, with Thomas Biagi taking it for Vitaphone in 2007. When the GT1 Championship was phased out for the FIA GT1 Championship in 2010, Bartels and Bertolini were successful once more.
This 2005 car now belongs to west London exoticar specialist Joe Macari, who happened to race the sister JMB Racing car to this one (chassis 004) for part of 2007. This car did compete later in the decade, but never reached the heights of its 2005 run. For some, the MC12’s lack of Le Mans wins will always count against it in the pantheon of great GT racers. Others argue that Maserati’s singular focus on the race car rather than on the adaptation of a volume road car spoiled the spirit of the GT1 Championship.
Whatever you think, the MC12 represents the end of a great era. It was designed to win at all costs, with the homologation cars a minor consideration. The new Hypercar GT class promises drama from hybrid drivetrains, turbochargers and all sorts of dilutions, but a naturally aspirated V12 screaming to the heavens? If only. If an MC12 returns to Silverstone, be sure to make a bee-line for the Hangar Straight.
Thanks to: Joe Macari (joemacari. com)
SPECIFICATIONS MASERATI MC12 GT1 RACE CAR
Engine 5998cc, 12-cyl, DOHC
Transmission RWD, 6-speed manual
Max Power 600bhp @ 7500rpm (est)
Max Torque 480lb-ft @ 5500rpm (est)
0-60mph 3.8sec (est)
Top speed 210mph
Economy Not a great deal
Pushrod suspension pornography. Road cars got paddle shifts – racer got a sequential manual. You’ll want to belt up to hear the V12. Engine was derived from the Ferrari Enzo’s. JMB Racing leads the Vitaphone Team, but the latter would win the GT1 title five times in a row. Michael Schumacher was involved in the car’s testing.
‘THE C12 WAS NEVER ALLOWED TO COMPETE AT LE MANS’