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The Best That Never Ran: Part 2 – Ferrari 637

Photo via: Oilpressure.com

While Lotus’ CART challenger had been built with the dream of a new international series in mind, Ferrari’s challenger may have had more political motives. The FIA had been looking to make V8 engines compulsory in Formula 1 in the mid-1980s, while Ferrari had been running V6s since 1981. Ferrari had only run V8 engines in F1 in 1964 and 1965; while John Surtees won the 1964 championship in the car, the team switched to primarily 12-cylinder engines in mid-1965.

CART, meanwhile, had always run 2.65-liter turbocharged V8s. As such, developing a car for CART competition offered leader Enzo Ferrari two options for his team: a bargaining chip to force the FIA to back down if it wanted to keep one of its most storied teams, or an opportunity for the company to build a sort of “practice” turbocharged V8, with the ideal that some of the technology would carry over to F1.

Ferrari has never entered a competition it didn’t think it could win, and sometimes that means bringing in others to help achieve that goal. So Ferrari contacted Jim Trueman, owner of the competitive Truesports team, on the recommendation of tire supplier Goodyear. Trueman and driver Bobby Rahal were coming off a wild 1985 season that saw them finish third in CART points despite ranking 20th through seven of 15 races. But Rahal had won three of the last six races of the year, and led by manager Steve Horne, the team would be poised to contend for the 1986 title.

After the season, Rahal and Truesports were invited to Italy to demonstrate the March 85C-Cosworth that most CART teams used. Afterwards, Ferrari’s lead F1 driver, Michele Alboreto, would try the car, and Ferrari would disassemble and study the vehicle in order to better understand it before building their own challenger.

Ferrari unveiled their car, the 637, in 1986, with Alboreto again turning the majority of laps. Meanwhile, Truesports would put together its finest season in 1986. Though the team once again suffered a series of issues early in the year, Rahal would lead 58 laps on the way to winning the Indianapolis 500. Owner Trueman passed away 11 days later after a lengthy battle with cancer; the team would dedicate the rest of the season to his memory, winning five more events. The potential combination of the series’ best team and racing’s most prominent manufacturer for 1987 could have put the rest of the series to shame.

But it wasn’t to be. Depending on who you ask, one of two things happened: either Ferrari backed out at the last minute after a change of intent, or the team had never intended to race in CART at all, simply using the program as a very serious ploy to gain F1’s attention. Originally, the plan had been to enter a one-off entry at Laguna Seca in one of the final races of 1986 (a race that Rahal won) before campaigning the full 1987 schedule, but the car withdrew at the 11th hour. Chief designer John Barnard made the call to abort the program and focus on F1; Horne believes that this was truly a last-minute decision, rather than an attempt to use CART as a threat.

In fact, the aborted Ferrari program facilitated what would become a lengthy downward slide for the Truesports team. Chevrolet, with its competitive Chevy Indy V-8, offered engine leases to most of Truesports’ competitors, such as Penske Racing, Patrick Racing, and Newman/Haas Racing, but Truesports was shut out. Rahal would defend the championship regardless, but not the Indy 500. The next year, the team would switch to underpowered Judd engines, and the lack of a competitive motor would inspire Rahal to race elsewhere. Truesports would push on with Scott Pruett and Raul Boesel, but after slipping to 11th in points in 1992, the Trueman family would sell the team to Rahal and trucking magnate Carl Hogan.

– Chris Leone

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