Ferrari built the 550 Maranello from 1996 to 2002. This grand tourer was not intended for motorsport and never used in races by Ferrari. It was, however, raced by privateers with the highlight being a class victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 2003, two FIA GT Championships titles (2003 and 2004) and two LeMans series class titles (2004 and 2005).
When Ferrari introduced the 550 Maranello it signaled a return to the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-seater 12-cylinder model. The car's name was in referred to the 5.5-liter engine's displacement and tot the town of Maranello, home to the Ferrari factory and headquarters. Pininfarina was responsible for both the interior and exterior design styling. It shared its chassis and engine with the 2+2 Ferrari 456. Production continued until 2002 with 3,083 examples built before it was replaced by the 575 Maranello.
The V12 engine was naturally aspirated and offered 485 horsepower and 568 Nm of torque. The chassis was a tubular steel space frame clothed with aluminum body panels. Top speed was approximately 320 km/h and zero to 100 km/h took 4.4 seconds.
The Ferrari 550 Maranello was built exclusively for street use and was not intended or designed for competition. Despite this fact, the first racing versions appeared in 1999, and had been built without the involvement of the Ferrari factory. The Ferrari 550 Maranello would be used in the French GT Championship until 2009 by many different teams.
Stephane Ratel, one of the creators of the BPR Championship, desired a Ferrari entry to compete in the series. He was able to convince Ferrari motorsport principal Jean Todt in the late 1990s to construct a competition version of the F50 supercar. Three examples were built, but the project was later abandoned.
Rule changes from year-to-year are not uncommon, and some of those rules make certain cars ineligible to compete, and opens the doors to new competition. After the 'N-GT' and 'GT' classes were established, Ratel saw another opportunity for a Ferrari entry. The 'N-GT' were for mildly modified cars and the 'GT' category allowed more modifications. Ratel and a number of interested privateers commissioned Italecnia in Italy to build a GT racing car around the Ferrari 550 Maranello.
Michel Enjolras spearheaded the first Ferrari 550 GT project. It was built in the Italtecnica workshop and raced by the French team Red Racing in the GT3 class of the 1999 French GT Championship. Two cars were ready by late 1999, and prepared to race in the following season. They were quick but unreliable, leading to the third customer car order to be canceled. The car had been ordered by Frederic Dor, who was still interested in competing with the 550 Maranello in the FIA GT championship. So he commissioned Prodrive in Great Britain to build two cars for his newly formed Care Racing Development team. The work was completed in early 2001 and were dubbed the Prodrive 550 GTS Maranello.
The V12 engine in the Italtecnica cars had proven to be unreliable, so Prodrive modified the engine accordingly to alleviate this problem. The engine grew slightly in size, was strengthened, and positioned father and lower back in the chassis to achieve optimal weight distribution. Carbon fiber was used extensively throughout the vehicle in efforts to minimize weight and achieve the 1100 kg limit established by the FIA. In the back was a large wing to provide downforce at speed.
Alain Menu and Rickard Rydell drove the Prodrive Ferrari at their inaugural debut in round six of the eleven round FIA GT championship. Although they were quick, they were forced to retire early due to mechanical issues. Two rounds later, Peter Cox and Rydell scored the car's first victory, followed by a third place podium finish at the Nürburgring and a victory at Jarama.
Having proven the car's potential, several more examples were commissioned in preparation for the 2002 season. Prodrive entered one car in the 2002 24 Hours of Le Mans where it was driven by Rydell, Menu and Tomas Enge. It qualified for the pole position for the GT and led their class during the race until it was forced to retire due to an oil leak.
Privateers scored several victories in the 2002 FIA GT Championship series, followed by a very dominate season in 2003 by the BMS Scuderia Italia team. At LeMans, Veloqx Prodrive earned Ferrari's first GT class victory in nearly three decades. Prodrive contested the full American LeMans series in 2003, finishing in second place of the GTS class, behind Corvette Racing. Corvette Racing had won five races in a row during the early part of the season. Prodrive won the last four races, driven by Jan Magnussen, David Brabham, Darren Turner, Alain Menu, Tomaš Enge and Peter Kox.
For the 2004 season, BMS Scuderia Italia continued their winning ways in the FIA GT Championship.
Prodrive turned their attention to the Aston Martin DB9 following the 2004 season. Privateers continued to race their Ferrari 550 GTS Maranello. In the Le Mans Endurance Series, they were often contenders for class victories. In the GT Championship, they were often outclassed by the faster Maserati MC12. At LeMans in 2004 and 2005, the Ferrari's were outpaced by the Chevy Corvette C6.R and the Aston Martin DBR9. Corvette Racing took the top two podium places in 2004 at LeMans, with Prodrive and Darren Turner, Colin McRae and Rickard Rydell in the #65 car in third place. The #66 Prodrive car finished in fourth, and the #69 Larbre Competition Ferrari in fifth. The following year, Larbre Competition missed the GT1 class podium, finishing in the fourth place. Three cars contested the 2006 LeMans race, but none were able to finish the race. The final appearance for the 550 at LeMans was in 2007 where Convers MenX Racing finished 14th overall and 8th in GT1 class.
The Prodrive Ferrari had proven to highly competitive, especially without factory support. Their success inspired Ferrari to return to GT racing with the 575M Maranello.By Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2020