June 24, 2009

Ferrari 312PB

A little history

Regularly beaten by Porsche during the 1970 and 1971 seasons of endurance racing, Ferrari was decided to take its revenge under the new 1972 rules. Engine displacements were now limited to 3000 cc and minimum weight was increased. A new car was developed by Mauro Forghieri around Ferrari's F1 engine. The resulting car, officially called 312P but usually referred to as the 312PB in order to avoid any confusion with the similarly-named Ferrari of the late Sixties, was a spyder with an aluminium monocoque structure.

Competition would be provided by Alfa Romeo and Matra, experienced outfits which had already raced in the previous three-litre class of prototypes for several years, and by private Porsche 908s. The German factory, fearing that its 908 wouldn’t be competitive for a lack of horsepowers, had selected to withdraw from sportscars and concentrate exclusively on GTs for the time being.

As it turned out, neither the Alfas nor the private Porsches were any match for the Ferraris. As meanwhile Matra had focused its efforts on winning Le Mans, a race Ferrari would skip (the team rightfully feared its F1-based engine wouldn’t last two clock’s revolutions), it was soon obvious that the world championship couldn’t escape the Italian team anymore. Though Peterson and Schenken were first to drive the 312PB to victory at the Buenos Aires 1000 kms, Ickx and Andretti soon proved to be the fastest pair at Ferrari’s disposal. Without much challenge, Matra won Le Mans, but Ferrari got all other ten events of the championship, along with the crown thanks to 160 points, to compare with Alfa’s 85 and Porsche’s 66.

After a rather boring 1972 season, things were about to change for 1973. Matra having reached its first goal now set on winning the world championship, directly challenging Ferrari. The thundering clash was supposed to bring back all the excitement of the Ferrari-Ford, then Ferrari-Porsche duels. It partially did but unfortunately, that year proved to be one of the worst ever for Ferrari. Apart from a disastrous Formula One season, the Italian team was regularly outpaced by Matra in endurance racing, though it tried hard and even led the championship until mid-season. Needing all the points it could score to retain the title, Ferrari defied its challenger at Le Mans, but to no avail: the 312PB was beaten all fair and square. The rest of the season was all Matra's, and the French team won the championship with 124 points to Ferrari's 115.

In order to restore its fortune in Formula One, which has always been Enzo Ferrari’s favourite discipline, the Scuderia announced its retirement from sportscar racing at the end of 1973, a prelude to the meagre years of the rest of the Seventies.

About the model

Model: Ferrari 312PB
Year: 1973
Event: 1973 Le Mans 24 Hours, driven by Arturo Merzario and Carlos Pace (finished 2nd)
Maker: Ixo
Scale: 1/43
Distributed by: Altaya as no.31 of its Les Monstres Sacrés de l'Endurance press series
Acquired: brand new, in December 2007, in Souillac, France

Ferrari entered three cars in the 1973 Le Mans 24 hours, fitted with long-tail bodies and V12s as thoroughly prepared as it possibly could be. Still, the Scuderia people could only cross their fingers hoping that their machines would last. Their strategy was reminiscent of Aston Martin’s in 1959: the fast Merzario-Pace pair was sent ahead as a hare in order to tire the Matras down, while Ickx-Redman and Schenken-Reutemann would patiently wait for their hour… which never came. The Matras ran like a Swiss clockwork, finishing 1st and 3rd, while Merzario-Pace ironically drove the only Ferrari to reach the chequered flag. Though it’s not my favourite period in sportscar racing, I have to admit that I love this splendid model: 14/20.




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