Grand Throwback #2 - Maserati GranSport Light GT3
A historically significant car for GT3 racing, but not for the right reason
In early 2003 Maserati announced they would finally return to motor racing after a 12-year drought. Their previous efforts with the Group A Ghibli were anything but successful. Numerous mechanical failures and a lackluster pace bore a bleak resemblance to the road-going counterpart.
In 1993 Maserati had been bought by Fiat who promptly went to work re-establishing the brand after its image was on the brink of ruination. It took another 5 years for Maserati to finally build something that wasn't based on the ancient Biturbo from 1981. By now they had 20 different versions of it and no that isn't a typo.
The new car, called the 3200GT, looked infinitely more modern than the plethora of Biturbo clones that came before it. It did however feature the same 3.2L twin-turbo V8 from the Quattroporte which was in turn a slightly stretched out engine swapped Biturbo.
All ties with the Biturbo era were finally severed with the arrival of the Coupe in 2001. By then the other Fiat owned marque Ferrari had taken control of its former rivals. This meant the Coupe got an all-new engine in the form of the jointly developed F136 N/A 4.2L V8.
It's this new Coupe, also known as the 4200GT, that formed the base for Maserati's return to motorsport in 2003 when they announced a new one-make cup series, the Maserati Trofeo.
The Trofeo was based on the top of the range model which featured the Cambriocorsa "manual" transmission which was hydraulically operated and electronically managed. The two pedals on the wheel meant for shifting gears were generously dubbed as "F1 style shifting" by the marketing department.
The modifications stayed relatively tame. A basic engine remap bumped up the power from 385 to 412 horsepower. Despite the addition of a roll cage weight was brought down from 1670 to 1370 kg. A simple splitter at the front and wing at the back made sure the car stayed relevant to its road-going counterpart.
Nobody was actually allowed to buy one. Instead, for 120.000 Euro you could "subscribe" to a year's worth of racing. Seems like quite a hefty price but when you consider this gave you an entry into 2 pre-season test session and all 7 races including a small crew that took care of your car and many more, it was quite a good deal. Maserati even booked the Hotel and arranged dinner for you and one guest for the whole race weekend.
The formula was an instant success as the full 26 car grid traveled around Europe acting as a support series for various championships including DTM and F1. The racing bug had bitten and Maserati wanted more so work started on evolving the cup car into something more capable that could be entered in other international events.
Maserati managed to squeeze a little more power out of the stock engine making the total figure 430 horsepower. They stuck with the Cambriocorsa transmission as well but completely reprogrammed it in other to get the fastest shifts possible.
The most significant changes were done to the bodywork. Thanks to the use of composite materials, and a further crash diet interior wise, the total weight was brought down to only 1150 kg. A whopping half tonne less than the road car. The new lighter fender flares accompanied the completely new suspension setup in making the car significantly wider. The rear wing stayed the same but was now supported by enormous side end plates giving significant aerodynamic gains.
The new car simply dubbed the "Maserati Coupe Trofeo Light" was the most extreme evolution of the new Coupe. Because the Coupe was the first Maserati to be sold in the United States in years, the decision was made to make its first competitive outing the 2004 24H of Daytona. The first round of the Grand-Am Road Racing Championship. 2 cars were entered in the GT class by Scuderia Ferrari of Washington and Risi Competizione. The former was backed by the official Maserati dealer of Washington and the later by the Houston dealership.
They were up against a few Corvettes, Ferraris and M3 GTR's but the main enemy was an armada of Porsche 911s. Most of which were upgraded cup cars just like the Coupe was. The cars qualified 10th and 20th in class. Not the best result but definitely not the worst. The Houston car had an uneventful race finishing P10 in class in the race.
For a moment it looked like the Trofeo Light of the Washington crew was having a dream debut as it briefly took the class lead in the early stages. For the first 6 hours the new kid on the block proceeded to battle for a spot on the podium. That was until it went off track in the rain breaking a suspension part in the process. The massive amounts of time lost in the pits relegated it to 15th in class at the end of the race.
The Trofeo light was far from the only car to suffer in the torrential downpour.
The Trofeo Light's American racing career never really took off after that as Scuderia Ferrari of Washington raced the Maserati in only a select few races in the next two seasons. Bringing their older Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge out of retirement proved to be a more successful strategy in the end.
The Maserati had more success on its home turf as a few competed in the Italian GT Championship. It even managed to win one of the very first championships racing under the brand new GT3 class rules. That wasn't a hard-fought victory however as only a handful of cars were entered in that class. Most of which were Trofeo Lights.
Overall victory was never achieved though as that honor went to its new and somewhat adopted brother, The Maserati MC12 GT1. The Enzo based monster immediately proved to be far more competitive than the Coupe in the Italian GT Championship, the FIA GT championship and just about any other race it entered.
All the attention quickly shifted towards the MC12 instead of the Trofeo light.
So far the Trofeo Light had been in somewhat of an identity crisis having been entered as a GT in the US, a GT2 in Italy in 2004 and as a GT3 in 2005. Luckily in 2006, its fate was finally sealed as a GT3 car with the arrival of the brand new FIA European GT3 Championship. By now a sportier version of the Coupe had been released called the GranSport. To promote this new model Maserati quickly changed the name of the Coupe Trofeo light to GranSport Light.
On the 10th of January 2006 the Maserati received its homologation number: GT3 001. It was officially the very first FIA certified GT3 car. That honor almost went to Viper Competition Coupe which also got homologated on the same day.
Racing Team AF Corse would field 3 GranSport Lights in the 5 round long season, with each round consisting of 2 60 minute races, that acted as a support series for the FIA GT Championship running GT1 and GT2 cars. AF Corse were no strangers to Maserati as they provided valuable help in developing the MC12 GT1 and Trofeo race cars. They also maintained the latter at all the race weekends.
The AF Corse squad was joined by two more GranSport Lights entered by privateers GPC Sport for the first round at Silverstone. Despite the new Balance of Performance system, or BoP, used to make the playing field as even as possible, the Maserati was gonna be down on power no matter what. It had well over 100 horsepower less than the Viper and Aston Martin DBRS9 powerhouses. This was reflected in qualifying as the fastest Maserati of the bunch, the #77 of Alessi and Cerrai, only managed to qualify in 25th place.
Despite the poor qualifying Alessi managed to make up several positions on the first two laps until all that progress was lost after a spin into the gravel trap at Stowe. Making matters worse he repeated to spin again at the exact same spot on the next lap.
At the very least all 5 cars managed to finish the first race with the best result being P16 for the AF Corsa #76 of Palma and Sperati. That didn't carry over into the second race though as 2 of the 3 AF Corse cars were forced to retire. The #77 due to spinning off track, yet again, and the #76 due to an early race collision with one of the Porsches. The remaining Maseratis finished on P23, P30 and P32
While the Maseratis disappointed the race itself didn't. GT3 racing couldn't have gotten a better start thanks to the numerous on-track battles and the wide variety of cars competing. It would take further 2 months of waiting however as the next round was in early July in Germany at the Oschersleben racetrack.
From this round forward only the 3 AF Corse fielded Maseratis remained as GPC Sport retired from the championship. Sub-optimal qualifying saw the AF Corse squad take up P17, P20 and P29. Although the highest placed car of Alessi-Cerrai was forced to start from the back of the grid due to unknown reasons.
That seemed to ignite a fighting spirit as they battled their way through the grid in the first race to finish a very respectable P7. Meanwhile, the #76 car of Palma-Sperati finished P18 while the #78 driven by Casè-Marti was forced to retire due to crash damage. Race 2 saw better results for Palma and Sperati as they finished P12.
Casè and Marti couldn't seem to get a break as they got tangled up in another accident forcing them to retire for the second race as well. The #77 meanwhile seemed to have developed an odd habit. It was either decently competitive or it spun off track. In race two it did the latter and was unable to rejoin the track leading to another DNF for the AF Corse crew.
Only two cars were brought to Spa-Francorchamps for the third round of the season. The first race saw a very decent team result as the cars managed to finish P13 and P15. That was until the Sperati-Palma car was given a time penalty. Their pitstop was faster than 75 seconds which is the minimum time allowed. The penalty bumped them back to 24th.
Undeterred by the now unfortunate result, Sperati and Palma drove the #76 to another 13th place result in race two. And now they were allowed to keep that position thanks to a clean pit stop. Casè and new driver Giudici couldn't improve and fell back to P19.
All three cars were reunited again at the penultimate round at Dijon Prenois in France. The #77 car was now driven by newcomers Bellin and Conte while Casè was now accompanied by the third newcomer Marti.
The newcomers didn't exactly impress with a P26 and P28 finish in the first race. Luckily Sperati and Palma managed to save AF Corse's reputation by finishing P13 again. Three times in a row not considering the penalty at Spa.
The #76 car was on a roll as Sperati and Palma finished P10 in the second race. Their best result yet. Newcomer Marti, together with the experienced Casè finally pulled through and finished P14. The other newbies failed to make up for the first race result as now they didn't finish at all. Conte failed to avoid a spinning Lamborghini which clipped the front of his car in the process.
Despite horrible conditions, Sperati and Palma once again were the most successful Maserati drivers with another top ten finish in race one. Despite #77 car being driven by new drivers it still managed to spin out for the 4th time this season.
Luckily it kept pointing in the right direction in the second race with a 21st place result. The more fortunate #76 car couldn't improve and finished in the mid-field again on P17
The end of the 2006 FIA GT3 European Championship was also the end of factory backed Maserati GranSport Light GT3s. Despite the sub-average results overall, the head of AF Corse, Amato Ferrari, praised the reliability of the Maseratis. An odd statement at first but true when you consider every retirement was due to an accident or off track excursion.
The #77 Maserati was the one that suffered the most thanks to numerous spins that resulted in several retirements. One retirement even came at the hands of a different car spinning in front of it. While one car seemed like it suffered from some kind of curse, the other managed to perform consistently in the midfield pack. Not bad considering the blatant power disadvantage.
While most early GT3 cars it competed against were descendants of monstrous GT1 machinery, the Maserati was the opposite. The evolution of a simple cup car managed to finish in the top ten on several occasions. More importantly, it never broke down in the process. The horrible Biturbo era was well and truly over.
This post is the second in a week-long series about the first generation race cars of the now incredibly successful GT3 racing formula. Make sure to follow my colleagues and read their respective articles
An impossibly tall Dutchman with a fascination for the legends of motorsport. I try to find the weirdest, most obscure racers and tell their stories in minute detail on the interwebs. Expect plenty of feature length content from me.
40% Euro, 30% Muscle, 20% Japanese, 10% Aussie. Based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Est. 2001.