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Pace Notes: the story of Ferrari’s pace cars

18 maggio 2018

Words: Chris Rees

Ferraris have long been used as pace cars – so often the unsung heroes at race events

At every race event, one car has a vital role to play, yet that role is rarely celebrated. Often seen running at the front of the field, this car is seldom mentioned and never appears in the final race classifications. We’re talking, of course, about the ‘pace car’, or safety car. This is the car that intervenes during a race should an incident require the pace of the race to be controlled, keeping competitors safe. A pace car still needs to be fast, though, as it must circulate at speeds high enough for racing cars to maintain their highly tuned components in an effective operating ‘window’.

And what better car could there be for these duties than a Ferrari? High-performing and powerful, Ferrari road cars are perfect for the role. Powerful? Just so: the 488 GTB pace car used in the current Ferrari Challenge series has more engine power than any safety car used in the entire history of Formula 1. One of the most famous pace cars of all was a Ferrari 348 tb, which became an iconic sight at race circuits in Italy. The 348 tb was donated by the Austrian-born Formula 1 driver, Gerhard Berger, as a ‘thank you’ gift to the rescue services after an incident at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1989, when he was at the wheel of his Ferrari F1 car. Remarkably, this 348 tb safety car could still be seen as late as 2013 at the Formula 1 Grand Prix at the Monza circuit.

Very few cars are ever built specifically as safety cars, but one exception is the Ferrari Mondial PPG Pace Car constructed for the Indianapolis 500 race in the United States in the late 1980s. This unique Ferrari paced dozens of Indy Car World Series events in the USA and also appeared at several European tracks during the 1990s. Over its 25-year existence, the Ferrari Challenge one-make race series has seen Ferrari pace cars become a very familiar sight. Many varieties of Ferrari have been used as pace cars in the series, from the F430 to the 458 Italia. The latter appeared at races as far afield as the Infineon Raceway in California, and a supporting event at the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The Ferrari California has been a safety car many times, too, perhaps most notably in the American state that gave the car its name, appearing as a safety car at the famous Laguna Seca circuit in California, for example. Meanwhile the Ferrari FF and GTC4Lusso, with their four-wheel drive systems, have been the perfect pace choice of safety car at many races. In 2016, the 488 GTB debuted as the Ferrari Challenge safety car one year ahead of the 488 becoming the model on which the Challenge race cars would be based. It’s still used as the first choice pace car in the Challenge series today. Perhaps the most extraordinary Ferrari safety car of all, however, was seen at the 2014 Goodwood Motor Circuit 72nd Members' Meet in the UK, when the course cars were Ferrari F40s – two of them!