When the 20th Century Fox film “Ford V. Ferrari” premieres on November 15, the world will be reminded of the legendary battle between American and Italian racing teams – resulting in the Ford team (led by Carroll Shelby) famously beating Ferrari with ‘1-2-3’ finish with the GT40 model at the 1966 24-Hours of Le Mans.
As the most successful marque at Le Mans for the first half of the 1960s, Ferrari was completely surprised by Ford’s notorious upset in 1966. Motivated to win at Le Mans after being snubbed by Ferrari in a failed business deal, Ford’s story of retribution went down in history as a landmark in American auto racing.
But that wasn’t the last time that Ferrari was beat at its own game by an American automotive brand.
Luca di Montezemolo standing proudly next to the then-new Maserati MC12 of 2004
Nearly 40 years after its defeat at Le Mans, Scuderia Ferrari was once again upset by an American GT car – but this time it was beaten at its own track.
The 7.0-liter S7-R was a force to be reckoned with
On Sunday, September 5, 2004 at the FIA GT 500km race at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, the Ferrari team set out to celebrate the racing debut and “inevitable” victory of the Maserati MC12 model – its newest GT race car based heavily on the Ferrari Enzo.
The Italian Ferrari team – headed by Fiat group chairman Luca di Montezemolo – had gathered top motorsports press and VIPs from around the world to witness their sure victory.
Both the 550 GTS and MC12 were flying the flag for the home team on that fateful day
To show just how serious Ferrari was taking this race, the entire Formula 1 team (minus Michael Schumacher) was brought to Imola for engineering and track support, including all mechanics and F1 team manager Jean Todt.
The Italians weren't messing around with this guy at the wheel
Fiat even hired Finnish F1 driver Mika Salo and Ferrari test driver Luca Badoer as its lead drivers for the 2004 FIA GT season, to debut the Maserati MC12.
Betting against Saleen in GT racing was a risky move back in the '00s
After Ford’s victory in 1966, only one other American automotive brand in the history of international GT racing ever beat Ferrari in an FIA series race: Saleen.
The Saleen S7 debuted in August 2000 as the first true American supercar. Conceived, designed and engineered by racing legend and automaker Steve Saleen, the S7 boasted true supercar credentials. The car’s 7-liter V8 engine produced over 550 horsepower and it featured the latest F1-developed aerodynamic bodywork and lightweight chassis design. In “S7-R” racing form, the Saleen S7 was purpose-built to take on the world’s most prestigious racetracks – which is exactly what it did at Imola in 2004.
Some soon-to-be disappointed Ferrari fans watch as the race fires into life
Privateer team Vitaphone Racing (Bartels Motor & Sport GmbH), was running the Saleen S7-R and rapidly gaining momentum in the FIA GT series in 2004, leading up to the Imola race.
Downforce + horsepower = Imola-demolishing speed
With Steve Saleen in attendance to witness the event, Vitaphone drivers Michael Bartels and Uwe Alzen drove the #5 Saleen S7-R in a stellar race against the Italian Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini teams at Imola on Sunday, September 5, 2004.
The Saleen S7 is probably the most underrated American supercar
Instead of the “sure win” that the Italian team was expecting, the American Saleen S7-R clinched overall victory at Ferrari’s home track – in front of a crowd of Italy’s top VIPs, press, dignitaries and automotive executives.
That must have felt good
Ferrari had once again been beaten at their own game by an American brand, and this time by a much smaller outfit than Ford Motor Company. Upon the defeat at Imola, Fiat Group chairman Luca di Montezemolo purportedly conceded defeat with the mea culpa, “We were no match for the Saleen today.”
On this day, V12s played second fiddle to an American V8
Saleen’s performance at Imola is considered by many to be the most dramatic upset victory at a home track in motorsports history. It helped to cement the S7-R’s place in GT racing history, and proved – once again – that it was possible for an American company with the skill, determination and engineering to take on the world’s most famous racing brands.
The Saleen S7-R went on to log over 100 professional GT race wins in the 10-year period it was actively campaigned (2001-2010), including winning its GT1 class at Le Mans in 2010. A true legend of a car.
Watch a summary of this epic weekend here: