Filipinetti

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In 1970 Mike established the base of the Filipinetti team at Formigine, conveniently near the Ferrari factory in Maranello.  This meant that he could continue to live at Modena and maintain close links with SEFAC Ferrari, even though he was not actually working for them any more.  As well as preparing and racing a Ferrari 512, the team also had an agreement with Fiat to prepare and race a rally version of the Fiat 128 (the “Filipinetti Stradale”) and a racing version of the Fiat 128 coupé.  Mike was not all that keen on this part of the racing programme, but it was part of the package.

One of the aspects of this job which appealed to him was the fact that he would be working with a small, closely-knit group of people.  When the journalist Logan Bentley asked him about leaving Ferrari he said: “Ferrari as I knew it no longer exists.  Everything has got much bigger now, it’s become part of a big organization [Fiat] and I prefer to be a big wheel in a small machine, rather than a small wheel in a big machine … I can’t stand the politics, the plotting involved in a big operation.”

Perhaps Mike hoped to create at Scuderia Filipinetti an outfit similar to the Maranello Concessionaires + Equipe Endeavour team for which he had raced so successfully and happily in the early Sixties.  The problem was that in the intervening ten years the racing world had changed.  Driving racing cars had become ever more professional and drivers, especially in Formula 1, were commanding higher and higher fees.  Motor manufacturers were beginning to get much more involved in motor racing, seeing it as an important promotional tool: consequently more money was being invested in making technical improvements to the cars, experimenting with new materials, and managing the racing process more professionally.  In 1965 Ford had teamed up with Colin Chapman at Lotus (investing £100,000) to produce the Ford-Cosworth and Fiat came to an agreement with Ferrari to produce the Dino.  1969 was the first year in which F1 racing teams were sponsored by companies other than those directly linked with the car business, such as oil companies or tyre manufacturers.  Colin Chapman, of Lotus, was the first to take the plunge, signing up with Gold Leaf cigarettes.  This led to the appearance of advertising on the cars and the drivers’ apparel (up to then there was at the most a discreet little trademark on the driver’s overalls).  Television coverage became more and more important, and this led to increased sponsorship revenues.  In Sports car and Prototype racing the smaller teams with less robust financial backing were being squeezed out.  Maranello Concessionaires, for example, gave up running a racing team in 1967.  Colonel Hoare told Doug Nye that competition cars had simply become too sophisticated and thus too expensive for him to continue.  SEFAC Ferrari itself began to focus its competitive activity: in 1969 Ferrari participated in the World F1 Championship, the World Sports Car Championship, the European F2 Championship, the Can-Am Series, and the European Mountain Trial Championship.  From 1970 it concentrated on F1 and the Sports Car Championship and from 1973 onwards, after an immensely successful Sports Car season in 1972, it competed in F1 only.  In a way, Mike’s attempt to make a success of Scuderia Filipinetti, with the resources he could command, was like rowing against the tide.

The results Mike achieved driving the Filipinetti 512S were quite respectable, but not on a par with those he had achieved as a works driver.  In any case, even the works 512Ss did not perform brilliantly.  In all the Filipinetti races of 1970 Mike’s co-driver was H. Müller.  At the Nürburgring 1000 Km. they came fourth (the best works car came third).  At the Brands Hatch 1000 Km. they came 13th (the works cars came fifth and eighth).  At the Targa  Florio they came sixth (and Vaccarella/Giunti came third in the works car).  At the Monza 1000 Km. they came eighth (the works cars were second, third and fourth).  At Le Mans in the third hour of the race he was involved in a four-car accident with Wisell, Bell and Regazzoni and his car caught fire.  Luckily he escaped with nothing worse than leg burns.
In that year Mike also drove a Ferrari 312P, which had been raced in the works team in 1969 and was then refurbished and sold on to NART.  It came fourth overall and first in the Prototype category in the Daytona 24 Hours race (co-driver Sam Posey) and sixth overall but only fourth in the Prototype category at the Sebring 12 Hours (co-driver Chuck Parsons).

In 1971 Scuderia Filipinetti bought a 512M, a modified version of the 512S which was raced only by the private teams.  Mike competed in only three events that year.  There were three 512Ms in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km., where Mike’s co-driver was Jo Bonnier.  Porsche 917s took the first two places, followed by two Alfa Romeo 33/3s.  The three 512Ms came fifth, sixth and seventh, Mike’s car being sixth.  At the Monza 1000 Km., where Mike again had Bonnier as his co-driver, the car did not finish due to a mechanical failure.  At the Le Mans 24 Hours the Scuderia entered a modified version of the 512M, unofficially named the 512F.  It was retired after Mike spun it at White House at 1 am on the Sunday, wrecking the front and rear bodywork and damaging the wheels and suspension.
At the time there was considerable controversy over the accident at the Buenos Aires 1000 Km. in which Ignazio Giunti, who was driving the single works Ferrari in the race, was killed when following the Ferrari driven by Mike.  On lap 37 of the race Jean-Pierre Beltoise, in a Matra MS660, ran out of fuel not far from the pits and began to push his car along the left-hand side of the track.  When he got to the entrance to the pits he began to push the car across the track directly in the path of the oncoming cars.  The marshals failed to intervene.  Giunti, who was driving in the slipstream of Mike’s 512M, presumably could not see Beltoise until the very last moment when Mike swerved to avoid the Matra.  Giunti’s car slammed into the side of the Matra, which was straddled across the road.  He did not even have time to brake or swerve and hit it almost flat-out.  The 312PB was catapaulted two hundred yards down the road and burst into flames.  Giunti was badly burned as well as suffering head injuries, and died on the way to hospital.  Beltoise survived.  His racing licence was suspended and he was charged with manslaughter in Argentina.

In 1972 Mike drove a Scuderia Filipinetti Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona at Le Mans with Jean-Louis Lafosse and Jean-Jacques Cochet, coming seventh overall and third in the G.T. category.  In October of that year he was asked by Ray Keller, a Californian who had bought the ex-Scuderia Filipinetti 512F, to race it in the Can-Am Riverside race.  He drove the car to tenth place in the face of stiff competition.  Keller was so excited by the result that he took the car back onto the track crowded with spectators and did a couple of laps, as a result of which the car was disqualified from the race by the organizers.

As Mike himself commented, the 512S was not very successful as a competition car, even when raced by SEFAC Ferrari.  Porsche was its strongest competitor, with its 917 4.5 litre Competition Sports Car, which in 1970 was raced by two teams: the works cars, prepared and entered by John Wyer and sponsored by the Gulf Oil Corporation, and a team operated by Porsche’s Austrian subsidiary.  In 1970 the 917s beat the Ferraris in every race except for Sebring, winning seven of the year’s ten Championship Sports Car races and the World Sports Car Manufacturers’ Championship.
In 1971 Porsche scored victories at Buenos Aires, Daytona, Sebring, Monza, Spa, Le Mans and the Ősterreichring, and again won the Championship.  In that year the Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/3 was also very successful, winning the Prototype class of every Championship race in which it was entered and taking second place in the Championship.  Although continuing to produce the 512M for private owners, Ferrari concentrated on racing a new 3-litre Prototype, the 312P, which was very fast but did not produce racing successes (only 26 points in the Championship compared with Porsche’s 72).
In 1972 there was a new capacity limit of 3 litres, and the season became a duel between Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, in which Ferrari won the Championship with Alfa Romeo second and Porsche third.

Filipinetti also had an agreement to enter a team of Fiat Abarths in touring car races; Mike was responsible for preparing the cars and managing the team but did not drive them himself.

After a while Mike was forced to admit to himself that racing for Filipinetti was not the same thing as racing for the Ferrari works team.  As he recounted to Mark Kahn: “On paper it seemed like a good proposition. But it did not take too long of the 1970 season for it to dawn on me that we were not getting the same modifications as the works cars. It is very difficult for a factory to make enough bits and pieces for its own cars, let alone customers’ machines.  Unless you have the best you are not going to win.  And as by then I had enjoyed the position of a leading works driver, and the only aim was to win, I was forced to accept the fact that unless you have a works car with works support you are not going to do any good.  I was running the Scuderia Filipinetti, so I had the opportunity to work on my own cars and modify and prove them.  But of course we didn’t have the resources, and the 512 was not so good a competitive car as the Porsche 917.  So the results were not good.  I was driving and, I was pleased to find, with every bit as much ability and nerve as before.  All that was lacking was the works car to drive, the works organisation, the works mechanics … all the things that are necessary in long-distance racing.  I was reluctantly forced to start accepting the fact that I was wasting my time going on being a professional racing driver.  I was merely going to, I won’t say make a fool of myself, but throw away the name and reputation I had achieved while being a driver for Ferrari.”

Mike’s last fling, so far as racing was concerned, was driving a De Tomaso Pantera, on which he had done development testing, in the 40-lap Conchiglia Shell G.T. Trophy at the Imola Autodrome on June 2nd 1973.  By then he was forty-one years old.  He came first and made the fastest lap time.  A minor victory, compared with his past glories, but no doubt he enjoyed it.

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