Having spent its entire life in Japan, this Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive – chassis number CRD07 – is poised to star at this year’s Le Mans Classic. Before this 550 makes it debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe, however, it’s undergoing a comprehensive restoration in the hands of Venture Engineering. And as longstanding champions of these special GT1 cars, we couldn’t resist documenting – and sharing! – the process…
Here at Girardo & Co., the Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive is a car which needs no introduction. The Italo-Anglo GT1 sports-racer will go down in history as the final 12-cylinder Ferrari to win at Le Mans and, with 69 victories across a seven-year competition career, the most dominant endurance racing car of its generation. We’ve famously championed these ultra-special Ferraris, which is why, in conjunction with DK Engineering, we’re producing the definitive book about them. You can find out more about that by clicking here.
Just 10 Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrives were raced in the noughties, of which this car – chassis number CRD07 – was the only one delivered new to Japan. The famous Hitotsuyama Racing Team was the recipient. Founded by Mikio Hitotsuyama in 1990, the eponymous outfit had garnered success in the Land of the Rising Sun with European sports cars, ranging from BMW M3s and Porsche 911s to McLaren F1s and Aston Martin DBR9s.
Chassis CRD07 contested the Japanese GT Championship in 2004 and, as the series evolved, Super GT in 2005. But as Hitotsuyama remembers, fighting the might of the factory Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans on their home turf as a comparatively small privateer team was no mean feat. “We were fighting against major manufacturers and we invested a lot into developing our car with more aerodynamic bodywork and wider wheels,” he recalls. “We might not have won any races at this time, but the Ferrari was very special and I know so many fans travelled to circuits specifically to see the 550 Maranello race.”
“This Ferrari made such an indelible impression on Mikio Hitotsuyama that when its gloves were hung up at the end of 2007, he unusually decided to keep it.”
Success for this Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive finally came in 2006 and 2007, when Hitotsuyama’s focus turned to the Japanese Le Mans Challenge, which was run to the Automobile Club L’Ouest’s technical regulations – the same used for the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans and, more specifically, European GT1-category cars. In the hands of Naoki Hattori, Tatsuya Kataoka and Eiichi Tajima, CRD07 won four of the 19 races it entered to win both the 2006 and 2007 titles.
This Ferrari made such an indelible impression on Mikio Hitotsuyama that when its gloves were hung up at the end of 2007, he unusually decided to keep it. “I’ve raced for many years as a gentleman driver but the V12 sound, response and sensations I felt with the 550 Maranello Prodrive were truly unforgettable – superior even to the McLaren F1.
“We fought with this car for four years and after it retired, I just felt like I should keep it as part of our collection. Modern racing cars have improved in so many ways from a technological perspective, but the 550’s beauty, noise and aura simply cannot be bettered. I have such great memories with this car and I’d like to keep it in the family.” True to his word, Hitotsuyama has kept chassis CRD07 ever since. And remarkably, it has never left Japan – Prodrive instead flew engineers across the world to look after it and teach the Hitotsuyama Racing Team engineers about the car’s particulars.
All that changed in the summer of 2022. You see, Hitotsuyama spied an opportunity. Twenty twenty-three marks the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And in this, the French endurance classic’s centenary year, chassis CRD07 take to the hallowed asphalt of the Circuit de la Sarthe as part of the Le Mans Classic’s bumper Endurance Racing Legends grid.
“In this, the 24 Hours of Le Mans’ centenary year, CRD07 will take to the hallowed asphalt of the Circuit de la Sarthe as part of the Le Mans Classic’s bumper Endurance Racing Legends grid.”
Before this Ferrari’s special moment in the centenary spotlight, however, Hitotsuyama deemed it high time to return CRD07 to the United Kingdom and have it comprehensively restored to its original build specification.
Venture Engineering, the motorsport company based in Witney, was entrusted with the not-insignificant project. Venture was founded by Stuart Gale and his two partners Joe and Adrian. Stuart was one of the engineers instrumental in the 550 racing car programme and, in fact, the Prodrive employee who flew to Japan in the period to hand over CRD07 and support the Hitotsuyama Racing Team with racing it. Venture employs a number of ex-Prodrive personnel with first-hand experience of working with this technologically-advanced Ferrari in the period.
Suffice to say, CRD07 is in especially safe hands as it’s meticulously restored to its former glory. These fascinating photos captured by Robert Cooper over the last nine months show the anatomy of the Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive as it’s been slowly disassembled.
Stuart Gale gave us a little insight into the restoration process thus far. Venture’s first task was to painstakingly disassemble the Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive in order to paint an accurate picture of its condition and help determine the subsequent path of the restoration. With the Venture engineers’ experience from building, racing and maintaining these cars in the period, it does not take long for them to understand the extent of what needed to be done. Once disassembled, the six-litre V12 has been returned to Prodrive to be rebuilt as part of its Legends heritage programme.
Meanwhile, the chassis, components and running gear have been returned to their as-new configuration, the gearbox has been removed and rebuilt, the body panels where required have been repaired using the original tooling, the suspension components have been restored and recoated, and the entire car is currently in primer awaiting an imminent fresh coat of paint.
“If you’re headed to the Circuit de la Sarthe, believe us when we say you’re in for a treat when CRD07 barks to life and hits the track on European soil for the very first time.”
Interestingly, this is the first Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrive to have been completely restored. And that’s why it’s such a privilege to be able to share the process with you, on behalf of the car’s longstanding custodians. We’ll update you again before the Le Mans Classic in July, but if you’re headed to the Circuit de la Sarthe, believe us when we say you’re in for a treat when CRD07 barks to life and hits the track on European soil for the very first time. Excited? Us?
Photos: Robert Cooper
With special thanks to Venture Engineering – you can discover more about Venture’s precision engineering prowess and race preparation/support services by CLICKING HERE.
If you’d like to find out more about our definitive book about the Ferrari 550 Maranello Prodrives or order your copy, please CLICK HERE.