Three years after retiring from motorsport, Fittipaldi got behind the wheel of this special March 83G prototype racer
Emerson Fittipaldi is one of the world’s greatest racing drivers. For 33 years he held the record of youngest Formula 1 world champion, taking the coveted title at the age of 25. He went on to be crowned champion again before retiring in 1980 after remarking that his last two years in racing were ‘very unhappy’. However, there was one car that managed to coax Fittipaldi out of retirement and back into the driver’s seat. Meet the March 83 G ‘Spirit of Miami’, the car responsible for his second career.
Three years away from the track had enabled Fittipaldi to focus on family and other projects, with little hunger to return to motorsport. However, a phone call to his home in Brazil from famous motorsport promoter Ralph Sanchez offered him the opportunity to drive the official car in the IMSA Miami Grand Prix of 1984. After some deliberation, Fittipaldi agreed to drive.
In a beautifully cinematic Petrolicious film, Fittipaldi talks about the challenge of athletes returning to the cockpit after a leave of absence. With some time back behind the wheel and returning to his routines, the F1 champ put the ‘Spirit of Miami’ on pole position for the Sanchez-organised race.
The ‘Spirit of Miami’ was a March 83G, the work of Robin Herd and a young Adrian Newey, who would go on to become one of the world’s leading racing car designers. This IMSA GTP prototype racer packed over 600hp from a 366ci Chevrolet engine, and lacked modern luxuries such as power steering. Fittipaldi remarked: "On a street circuit it was very aggressive driving because the car is very heavy. Going around the corners and changing gears very fast with one hand, no power steering. It was very tough to drive the car, a very mechanical car."
Fittipaldi was up against works Porsche and Ford cars in his privateer March, and ended up leading the race, resulting in "a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotion". Sadly, transmission issues meant that the car finished 18th, but the experience was enough to get him craving the fast lane once again.
Falling back in love with motorsport, Fittipaldi proved that he still had the talent by taking victory at the Indy 500 twice, as well as one CART title. He is a true racing legend that today at the age of 72, only calls himself semi-retired from racing.
The ‘Spirit of Miami’ was recently restored to its former glory and returned to the Homestead-Miami track, another of Sanchez's projects, to be reunited with its first driver.
"Looking at the pictures I was already very impressed, but looking at the real car here today, was very emotional."
Check out this great video that sees the March 83G roar back into life.