The Ferrari 550 World Speed Records web site.
our contact: Email@550WSR.com
The Ferrari 550 World Speed Records:
(October 12, 1998)
0-100 km: 188.905mph
0-100 miles: 190.329 mph
One hour distance: 184.164 miles
non turbo Ferrari record speed
198mph (driver Csaba Csera)
On a cool Monday afternoon in mid October,1998, a 10 mph westerly breeze was blowing across the 7.5 mile long test track of the (then Honda) Transportation Research Center automotive track near Marysville, northwest of Columbus in central Ohio. At 3:45pm, following a full day of preparation, a titanium silver Ferrari 550 Maranello roared from the pit lane at full throttle and into the headwind on the southern, westbound straight. A backup car or two may have been in the huge Ferrari Challenge trailer.
On new full-tread tires, the Italian driver at the wheel pounded through the gated shifter's six gears. Entry into the track's western banked oval corner was at around 150 mph. Driver Dulio Truffo was a two year veteran of Formula 2 who had set the fastest lap at Mugello during the 1975 season. Truffo had also driven LeMans 24 hours in a Ferrari 512BB. Now, he was a leading Italian automotive journalist for Quattroruote magazine and the chief instructor at the well-known Autoscuola Quattroruote driving safety school in Prato. Today in red helmet, Mr. Truffo would set the pace for the relief driver in the pits, Csaba Csera, who would take the car at the 30 minute, 100 mile mark.
Truffo was first driver because Csera was taller. It's far more efficient during endurance-runs for shorter-to-taller driver rotation: the shorter leaves the car with seat pushed back to preset stop position for the taller; who then must only get the safety belts cinched (compared to pedal and belts both needing adjustment and confirmation for taller-to-shorter diver rotations).
Both drivers would be running some 13 laps along the TRC's 2.5 mile straights and two high banked ovals at over 190 miles per hour. The pit schedule for refuel, tires and driver change was mile 100. The car's drive train, running flat-out in sixth gear the entire time, would be stressed to possible destruction... the crankshaft spinning at almost 6,000 rpm, 100 times a second on a film of oil 1/1,000th inch deep. At the other end of the steel propshaft mating engine to rear differential, the torque-tortured gearing in the dif would hit 311 degrees, pushing the Shell branded oil's chemistry and the differential's dedicated radiator to the limit. Ferrari engineers had said the 550 could deal with this abuse "all day". The two drivers were happy to settle for 60 minutes duration, 13 laps each.
The TRC track's 10-to-28 degree banked corners applied centripetal force onto the car's steering rack with brutal effect on both driver's hands, as they clutched the wheel with aching forearm muscles. Lap after lap, the Ferrari wanted "out" of the banking which hammered the GT's modified suspension with 5,600 pounds of downforce.
Buffering the car's sprung and unsprung masses under those loads was the "Carrozzeria Scaglietti" sport suspension package chosen at the factory to enable the stock 550 to withstand ripping forces in the banked turns lap-after-lap for a full hour. Afterwards, components of this suspension package would be rebranded "Fiorano Handling Package" and become a favorite Ferrari factory handling option on later 550's and especially on the higher-displacement, paddle shifted 575M model.
Even at 190 mph in the banked corners, the compression-hammered suspension gave the two drivers what they needed to balance the car with light steering and throttle inputs as their hand/eye skills managed competing thousand pound forces in three vectors... inches from corner guard rails going by at 275 feet per-second. During the run, so much air pressure was hitting the front of the car, the hood was bulging open over the front wheel arches!
The suspension setup was a masterpiece in race engineering. But the car's titanium silver exterior and bordeaux interior colors had been specially chosen by the Maranello factory to highlight that this Ferrari example- albeit slightly modified for safety- was in all respects a truly stock example of the beautiful "Gentleman's Ferrari," which the two year old 550 model was marketed to represent.
This car was stock factory chassis number 113518.
Ferrari president Luca de Montezemolo had rescued Ferrari's finances in the 1990's by making fundamental changes to the way Ferrari cars were built and certified, country-by-country. Named the "Maranello," this 480 hp V-12 two seater GT would be the first Ferrari V-12 to meet all global standards: from Swiss noise to California emissions to US federal safety. The only things "different" in LH versions sold in Europe and those sold in America were minor components like airbag inflation cartridges. These explosive gas generators need to meet differing bag inflation times and forces set by European and American regulators. The "550 Maranello" was truly the first world-standard Ferrari V-12 model made by Ferrari in its 50 years.
The Maranello's body shape was "exquisito." The Pininfarina design team, led by senior designer Lorenzo Ramiciotti, shaped the 550 body through multiple iterations based on 4800 hours of Ferrari factory wind tunnel feedback. Ramiciotti's young associate, Elvio D'Aprile, is credited for being a major contributor to "locking" final design iteration of the 550. D'Aprile would go on to become senior manager and designer of Toyota's Europe Design Development office in Sophia Antipolis, France (located in the hill country above the Riviera where the artist Paul Renoir himself sought inspiration for the same reasons billionaires today enjoy nearby Monaco). Look at D'Aprile's design for the Toyota Yaris and you'll see surprising resonance with the 550's front end styling cues.
The final Pininfarina design for the 550 had a beltline paying respect to the design firm's earlier Scaglietti-bodied Ferrari 275 GTB. Side engine heat louvers were a styling cue from both the 275 and 250 GTO. The 550's shark nose design's sculpted contours complicated wind tunnel data but looked great (unlike the "upgraded" 575M's nose, another Ramiciotti-credited design, which began the "aero"- but not as gorgeous- age of car design aesthetic, characteristic of every Ferrari V-12 model that followed the 550. The newer Ferraris tend to look "powerful" and "exotic"; the 550 looks "delicious."
The manual gate shifted 550 was designed by Ferrari enthusiasts- for enthusiasts who drove fast and long distances; people wanted to take both their lovers and golf clubs with them! The 550 is a car you can drive across three states and cover 750 miles... in 10 hours, including an hour-long dinner break and two rest/fuel stops (ie average speed 88mph). The long wheelbase car is comfortable and fun up to 140mph. After that, it gets increasingly serious. Above 170 mpg, the cabin noise is an assault: coming from tires on highway, intake and exhaust gas exchange and mechanical gearing, valves and pistons. At 190mph the violence of driving that fast is clearly communicated!
Subdued- yet shark like- the 550's body and cockpit design bridged two eras of Ferrari vehicle design. In this regard, as the last Ferrari V-12 produced in the 20th Century, the the 550 arguably represents the the pinnacle of the grand Ferrari V-12 aesthetic: bridging the "Enzo era" days of classic Pininfarina designers like Leonardo Fioravanti and Aldo Brovarone (Dino, Daytona, Berlinetta Boxer) and ushers in the modern era with the likes of Ken Okuyama and Frank Stephenson (Enzo, 612 and 599).
The current F12 model goes just as fast as the 550 (accelerating faster with another 50% horsepower and double the price of a 1997 550). Modern Ferrari cars are built with interior elements that are known to break off. The only things "missing" in the 550 cockpit is a cup holder and cruise control. But this "dates" the car wonderfully. You drive a 550. You don't sit in it and eat your dinner and let it drive you while you brush crumbs off your chest or check your email.
When seen in blue, black or silver, the 550 Maranello is understated in traffic, delightfully comfortable to drive and cockpit manage as a driver. The 4,000 lb car is also fast as hell in the hands of intelligent drivers who know- at speed- what they're safely doing on public roads or in traffic. Even in fifth gear, the 5.5 litre V-12 engine has torque like a tractor and can out-pull anything in mid speed ranges (please don't confuse that remark with comparison to any Lamborghini tractor!) In fourth gear, the 4,000 pound GT goes 80-100 in two seconds, thanks to hood scoop-rammed induction via F-1 derived intake plenums. The 550 rules any highway it's on and can do 198mph up a 3 percent grade at 7,000 ft altitude. Marysville's altitude is 991 ft, providing plenty of oxygen in the 700 cubic feet of air the engine was digesting each minute around the TRC oval.
That October afternoon in 1998, the 20 or so people gathered around a Ferrari Challenge team trailer in the pit lane of TRC had one goal for the silver streak screaming past their radar guns and timing lights:
This 550 would become the fastest car in the world, in sustained high speed driving!
The team's plan was to run the 550 flat out for an hour, possibly to the point of subsystem failure. Running above 190 mph for a full hour, the target was to beat the standing FIA Class B, 5-to-8 litre engine production car speed record of 174.5 mph average/hour, set in 1990 by a modified Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 in at the track near Fort Stockton, Texas.
From his dead start at the beginning of the hour, Dullio Truffo's first task was getting the standard profile Michelin SX MXX3 tires up to full temperature. As he came out of the first banking and onto the north straight he monitored the dashboard liquid crystal display to confirm output of infrared sensors hovering above each tire. If one of the tires began to blister, IR sensing of the tread's surface temperature would confirm what Truffo might also be hearing in the tire noise... notice of impending blow out. Tire carcass failure at the speeds being run, especially in the banked corners, could be destructive to the point of killing the driver if the car hit the railing and lifted-off.
Truffo's first lap averaged 170 mph. The next lap was 191 mph. Seven more laps went by...191...192.
Standing speed records started to fall:
first 100 km came with 188.9 mph average.
first 100 miles at 190.13mph average.
At the half hour, Truffo braked hard dove into the pit lane for the planned change of tires and drivers. Fueling was needed as the engine was burning over a gallon a lap, 6mpg at full speed. The next 30-minute stint driver was waiting in red, green and white helmet. He was also the man who'd dreamed up this extreme speed challenge. Car and Driver Magazine's technical director and editor-in-chief Csaba Csera (CHU-ba CHE-da) also had racing background (fifteen stints as a driver in 24 endurance races). With an engineering degree from MIT, Csera had previously helped design a range of successful engines for Ford.
As the tire and fuel crews hurried around the car, Csera- inches taller than Truffo- moved the sport seat back and cinched the four point racing harness tight on his shoulders. He listened carefully to Truffo's update on track surface and wind conditions. The big bump on the transition from the exit of the eastern banked corner- onto the southern straight- had given Truffo fits with the changing crosswind/headwind adding to the car's unbalance at the bump.
Even with the seat padding in the bordeaux-colored sport seats cut down about an inch to ensure Csera's head, with helmet, wasn't unsafely cramped against the ceiling, he would soon find himself bouncing off the headliner each time the 550 hit the speedbump from hell at 190mph. The car's rebounding off the hammered suspension blocks was brutal, happening just as the driver wanted vehicle balance to gain maximum traction for the acceleration onto the southern straight. The chassis rebound was boosted by the 10 mph of additional airflow from the westerly breeze as it got under the car and pressurized the full underside.
For each driver, the half hour in sixth gear with the Ferrari's accelerator floored was a maelstrom of engine, tire and wind noise, producing top speed temperature saturations that would soften most car engine's valves and destroy transmissions- as lubrication viscosity failed in micron-level eddies. The 550's engine design was pure thoroughbred. It's F-1 derived titanium connecting rods were light enough to mail with two stamps. A variety of other features were derived straight from both championship V-12 Formula 1 engine intake plenum design, and from the bulletproof straight intake 65 degree cylinder angle and metallurgy of the highly-evolved Dino racing V-6 engine block.
During the pit stop, Csera had waited 90 full seconds after Truffo pitted. The new set of tires took a full minute to mount and those lost seconds would cut 3mph from the one hour average speed. Sitting there much longer and the heat-soaked engine might experience lubrication failure in the main bearings as extreme forces were re-applied to the crank again on track. The whole hour's performance effort was a balancing act of endurance and intelligent design... down to understanding forces at the molecular level affecting heat patterns on 1/1,000 inch machined surfaces.
A new set of Michelin Pilot SX MXX3 tires were bolted to the car's spindles, each tire inflated to 43.5 psi of pure nitrogen, to prevent H2O in compressed air from over-pressurizing the tire as the water molecules absorbed tire heat and expanded the molecule's cross section and volume. Some 17 gallons of cool fuel were loaded via a racing-style 7.9 gallon fuel cell with racing style dry-break disconnect and overflow fire protection. The fuel cell was factory mounted atop the stock 550 fuel tank in the trunk, with access for the refueling crew via cutout in the boot lid. As the tires were mounted, Csera checked the dashboard display of infra red sensors to ensure they were displaying the cool new tires properly. All good.
The pit boss signaled release and Csera dumped the clutch. At full throttle, the 550's patented factory exhaust flapper valves at 5,000 rpm. The exhaust canister design provides back pressure gas dynamics needed for low-end torque, then at 5,000 rpm, a second exhaust tip's flapper valve opens to allow full bore free flow to enable top end horsepower. Because the Ferrari Tipo 133A engine in the 550 doesn't produce vacuum at full throttle, an electric vacuum pump safety system had been added to this chassis ensure full steering and brake servo authority was always there during the run as needed.
Within seconds of being in motion again, the cooling car's engine found thermal equilibrium and Csera came out of the first corner onto the north straight at 190mph. Like Truffo, Csera had -real- high speed auto experience... including having survived an end-over-end 200 mph vehicle failure on Bonneville Salt!
Minutes into his stint, Csera rode the the north straight with the breeze behind him at 198 mph, thus pushing the 550 faster than any normally aspirated Ferrari had ever been clocked! Lap after lap, Csera matched Truffo's earlier pace in both corners with mid-turn speeds of 190 and 191. The forces in the steered corners forced Csera to grip the steering wheel so tight his muscles ached within minutes. For an hour, the Ferrari's driver door was typically less than 60 inches from the upper safety rail.
30 minutes went by... lap-by-lap... 7.5 miles each.
In the pit, Truffo and the team of Ferrari race technicians, the Michelin tire crew and TRC track safety personnel all waited for Csera's 13th and final lap... and the results of their effort!
Csera came blazing through the timing lights.
Yes! The odometer showed 184.164 more miles than had been on it when Truffo had set out!
A quarter century later, the 550's World Speed Record still stands for cars in its displacement!
Yes, other cars have since broken the 550's record in the same FIA class: including a Volkswagen V-12 and a Lamborghini V-12, both running at the Nardo track.
Both cars appear to have greater displacement and horsepower (details which will be documented in detail here soon).
This web site will explore the origins of the 1998 effort, interview both drivers, as well team mechanics and others involved in the achievement from as many points of view as possible.
The web site will also document the subsequent ownership of thirty-three 550 WSR commemorative edition cars now selling on the world market. Some people say that the 33 WSR's are nothing but standard 550's presented by Ferrari as "special."
But no ordinary 550 coupe in the world has notation shown on the front shock in the photo below... notation befitting the 1998 achievement as the pinnacle of race-ready 20th Century Ferrari V-12 engineering and design.
Thank you for your interest in the 550 WSR!
Please tell your friends about this site.
We are happy to receive any information from any 1998 WSR team member, or from the owners of any of the 33 special edition WSR cars. We especially seek photos and videos of the 1998 speed record event!
THERE HAS BEEN AN ONLINE VIDEO OF THE 1998 RUN. DO YOU HAVE A COPY?
THE VIDEO WAS ONCE ON THE FERRARI SPA SERVER. IT SHOWED DETAIL OF THE 1998 RUN WITH DETAILS LIKE SCCA OFFICIAL MITCH WRIGHT TESTING CYLINDER STROKE.
If you have a copy of this video, please let us share it as part of making this web site the best possible archive of the 1998 WSR effort! Thank you!
The 550WSR.com web site policy is to publish only the national location of the 33 commemorative 550 WSR cars. Owners can be assured that the site will -never- reveal their names. Individual dealers who have enjoyed a sales history with WSR examples will be listed as a resource for determining the market value of these 33 WSR examples.
The sales history of each WSR edition car is of historical interest because the 23 LH and 10 RH examples are now dispersed worldwide in private collections. Four exterior colors and interior combinations are known to exist. The value of WSR examples are never listed as a sub-category of 550's in publications (as Barchetta examples are). But recent sales activity in Europe of WSR examples shows a clear differentiation of value - from ordinary examples of 550 coupes. There are fewer WSR's than 250 GTO's!
This web site will seek to establish the actual market history of WSR sales worldwide; as well as the history of similar "Shumacher Edition" cars (which superficially resemble the WSR edition in roll cage and sport seating) and "WSR-spec" cars.
Thank you for your interest!
Please note that neither Ferrari nor the Transportation Research Center have any affiliation with this web site; nor do they endorse this web site's description of the 1998 World Speed Record or anything else related to describing the 550 Maranello models, Ferrari or the TRC facility.
Below: the front suspension of a 550WSR car, photographed in England in 2015.
This photo suggests that factory spares developed for the 1998 world speed attempt were subsequently installed on the 33 WSR cars manufactured by Ferrari. This web site will seek to clarify this possibility.