POST RACE DEBRIEF: MID-OHIO
It was going great. Until it stopped.
Risi Competizione’s showing at Mosport had the team looking forward to similar and/or better results at the August 6th Mid-Ohio race. Last year, Risi Competizione won a terrifically close race, beating out the favorite Corvettes by just 0.582 seconds in the F430 GT, with Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni driving.
But that was then and this is now and for 2011, Risi Comp had brought both a new car (the F458 Italia ) and a new driving team (Jaime Melo/Toni Vilander). Mid-Ohio is the “home” test track to BMW, who, along with Corvette, was expected to produce very tough competition.
The first practice on the 2.25 mile 13 turn track started on Friday morning, at 9:30AM.
When the checkered flag dropped ending the session, Jaime Melo in the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia had the best lap of the morning, with a 1:20.787. He was followed by Jan Magnussen in the No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1 at 1:20.944 and Guy Cosmo in the Extreme Motor Sports F458 Italia Ferrari, No: 02, with a 1:21.025 time.
Next up was the combined practice session at 1:15PM. The session was interrupted by a Red Flag, but when the dust settled, it was BMW (Hand/BMW M3/No. 56); Porsche (Bergmeister/Porsche 911GT3 RSR/No. 45) and Ferrari (Melo/Ferrari F458 Italia/No. 62). Hand posted a 1:21.067, slower than the morning session fast time posted by Melo.
The cars were called to the grid for Qualifying at 2:25PM and, as expected, BMW played their hand (literally), with Joey Hand taking the pole (1:20.539); Dirk Werner in second (BMW No. 55) at 1:20.655 and Melo in third at 1:20.745.
We’ll skip the Saturday morning raceday warmup reports because….well..it’s the warmup . Warmups are important and should be reported on if a car had a shunt, large or small, during practice or testing. But we didn’t (thankfully) and so on to the Show.
The request was made to start engines at 3:25PM on Saturday, 6 July 2011 and at 3:30PM the race was green flagged.
A mere 4 minutes in, Toni Vilander, who started for Risi Comp, had moved into Second ahead of Dirk Werner in the BMW. Meanwhile Jan Magnussen in the No. 4 Corvette was powering his way into the lead and trying to obtain separation from the pack.
Twenty minutes in, the drama started when Marc Bunting in the No. 68 Porsche 911 GT3 GTC car reported that he was hit in the carrousel by Dirk Mueller in the No. 56 BMW. The authorities judged it a racing incident and said play on, and so they did.
Magnussen and Vilander continued to run 1&2, with a mere 1.27 seconds difference between the two of them after 23 laps at Mid-Oh.
Fifty minutes in, the No. 99 Jaguar GT XKR was given a Stop and Go penalty for a familiar problem for them: avoidable contact.
The pit stops came at approximately 54 minutes into the race, with Vilander and the two BMWs, driven by Mueller and Werner in for fuel and tires; Werner handed off to Bill Auberlen but Mueller and Vilander didn’t hand over to anyone and stayed in their driver’s seats. Just two minutes later, the two BMWs both spun out at Turn 2 and continued on, and one would have to imagine there was some rather colorful language coming at the two drivers from the BMW pits. Rule Number 1 of Team Racing: Do No Taketh Out Thy Own Team Member.
An hour and twenty minutes into the race, Vilander brought Risi Comp’s No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia into the pits for fuel, tires, and driver change; he handed off to Melo who was expected to make one of his famous runs –for- the- checkered- flag –in- the- waning- hours- of- the- race drives.
Not so fast
Almost simultaneously the Safety Car reported a problem with the transmission (Wonder if it’s still under warranty?) and slowed on the front straight, thus bringing the cars behind it down to a snail’s pace if not a stop.
With one hour and 24 minutes gone, the top 3 in the GT class were Gavin (Corvette); Long (Porsche), and Mueller (BMW). As everyone settled in for the sprint to the finish, a slight rain started to fall.
Meanwhile, most of the field headed for Pit Row and some of those very handy Intermediate Rain Tires. As the competition pitted, Risi Comp made a strategic move and decided to keep Melo out short term and, as a result, when Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette went into the Pits, Melo moved into the lead.
That was precisely at 5:28PM , one hour and fifty-eight minutes into the race (with approximately 47 minutes left to to run).
Melo managed to maintain the lead until the two hour and eleven minute mark, and then went in for fuel and fresh rain-suitable Michelin tires, and, when he did, Patrick Long in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche took over first.
But then the roof caved in when Melo in the Ferrari made contact with one of the Jaguars with two hours and 16 minutes gone. The impact was sufficient enough to damage the rear suspension and the Ferrari pulled to a stop near the start-finish line.
It was Uh-Oh at Mid-Oh and the 2011 race was over for Risi Competizione.
The race itself was Red Flagged due to a huge soaking downpour of the type we really, really need in Texas now, at two hours and thirty-four minutes. Prior to the Red Flag, Tommy Milner’s No. 3 Corvette had gone off at the Esses and then off again at Turn 8; Darren Law in the No. 44 Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR went into but did not come out of the gravel, and then Patrick Long in the No. 45 Flying Lizard Porsche also went off and stopped in the gravel. With standing water all over various parts of the track, calmer heads decided that enough was enough and out came the Red Flag followed at the two hour and forty five minute mark by the Checkered Flag, delivered while the cars were in the Pit Lane.
The podium was Porsche (No. 17, with Wolf Henzler) in first; Gavin, in the No. 4 Corvette in second and Auberlen in the No. 55 BMW in third.
So, No Go at Mid-Oh.
Next up: Road America on the weekend of August 20th. Perhaps something in a four hour endurance race will be just what we need to get back to the top of the podium. One thing is for sure: GT racing is the bomb. The racing is exceptionally close and every team is bringing its “A” game for every race. Expect nothing less at this level.