The sound came and went, like ocean waves, but instead of regular intervals there were different gaps between the crescendos. It was Le Mans, in 2004, my first time there, the last day of practice and qualifying. I, along with thousands of other spectators, stood on the mound at the exit of Indianapolis and watched the drivers attempting to extract the most out of their machines.
The cars and sounds continued to come and go, and one sound stood out above all the rest. In the distance, a red speck was quickly approaching. As it became larger, I saw its silhouette—red paint, large rear wing, low stance—was distinct yet familiar, as was the unmistakable growl of a normally aspirated V12 engine. It was a Ferrari 550 GTS.
The trio of 550 GTSs lapping the circuit featured everything that was great about the Prancing Horse. They made the right noises, they had sex appeal, and, having already won their class at the world’s most famous endurance race two years earlier, they were successful. I dreamed of driving one some day.
Here’s the funny thing: These Ferraris weren’t built by Ferrari. The last time anyone in Maranello touched a 550 GTS was when the donor road car, or chassis, rolled out of the factory gates. Instead, a total of ten of these astonishing race cars were built and engineered by British motorsport company Prodrive to the order of one Frédéric Dor.
DOR, A FRENCHMAN LIVING IN SWITZERLAND, had a dream: to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari. He’s not alone in that dream, but unlike most dreamers, Dor had both the resources and determination to pursue it.
“It was a dream [I had] when I was a young boy, to do Le Mans in a Ferrari,” recalls the charming Dor, now in his late 60s. “Then [in the late 1990s] I say before I get too old I must find a Ferrari and do Le Mans. And there was no Ferrari; the only GT cars running at the time were the Lister and the Viper.”
Dor asked friend and motorsport promoter Stefan Ratel to ask the FIA about running a car that wasn’t currently homologated. Ratel then visited several automakers, including Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes, and Ferrari, and found that Maranello, which at the time wasn’t involved in GT racing, was interested.