Petit Le Mans Practice notes & Driver quotes

After four official practice sessions held over the last two days at the 2.54 mile Road Atlanta track at Braselton in Georgia, Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT has run problem free and all three drivers have had time to re-familiarize themselves with the track and the enormity of the event.
This year’s 53-car grid will mark the largest field in Petit Le Mans history and will be the fourth-largest grid in ALMS history. Only the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1999 (58), 2002 (59) and 2003 (55) has had more starting cars.
Along with a stellar collection of full-season Series entries, Petit Le Mans also serves as the penultimate round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The seven-round championship began as part of the ALMS at Sebring and features factory and works-supported efforts from Audi, Peugeot, Toyota, Oak-Pescarolo and Nissan in LMP, along with additional GT entries from Aston Martin, Corvette, Ferrari and Lotus.
There are nine representatives of the Prancing Horse marque competing in Petit Le Mans, and six F458 Italias in the fiercely competitive GTE-Pro class.  The Risi Competizione, as at Sebring, is competing with the No. 062 instead of their more familiar No. 62 as there is another ILMC-entered Ferrari F430 with that same number.  Confusingly, for commentators and fans, both cars are red and similarly liveried but there is no connection between the two teams.
Driver Quotes…
Toni Vilander:  “We have three drivers here, the same as most of the grid, which doesn’t allow for much individual running time.  Traffic is obviously a big factor and will be in the race as well but it’s the same for everyone so we just have to deal with it.  The car has been good straight out of the box, and we’ve been trying one or two things during the practice sessions.  We have completed our minimum night laps and are now looking towards the race.”
Jaime Melo talking about how testing has gone:  “We have had time to test in race conditions and close to a qualifying simulation but I think the race is most important thing to work towards. On full tanks, new and used tires the car was handling pretty well and consistently and was easy to drive.  This is important especially on this track
“Fifty plus cars on the track is pretty hard, especially at turn 3, so we need to have a car which is really comfortable to drive.  I’m happy, we are in good shape.  Tomorrow (Friday) we have one more session and qualifying and of course qualifying is not really a goal but we’re going to try to do a good time and see how the race goes.
“We have seen on practice how busy the whole track is – there’s not enough space for everyone.  But anyway I think we just need to try to set up the car to be easy to drive and then we can be careful – especially in the first five or six hours in the race and then the race will really start.  In the last three hours, hopefully there will be fewer cars on the track and we’ll be in a good position to race.”
Raphael Matos, talking of the night session:  “The last time I drove at night was at Daytona last year but it was different as they’ve got a lot more lights all around the track; it was a lot more difficult here at Road Atlanta.  It will take a few laps for each of us to get used to the reference points and it’s tough especially with the prototypes flashing lights at you all the time. We’ll have to be very careful.”
On the Risi Ferrari 458 GT:  “I feel quite comfortable in the GT car now, but it’s so difficult in the traffic as you can never put a lap together.  It’s a bit frustrating on that side but this race is all about managing that part – I feel I’m getting better and better all the time I’m out there and certainly in the race I’ll have a lot of time to improve. I think I’m on the pace with Toni and Jaime and it’s just a matter of being consistent in the race and not putting yourself and the car in a position that can damage it.  Hopefully I’ll hand it over intact.
“A spotter is fundamental here because of the speed that the prototypes catch us.  It’s been very helpful.  I love the track but the most challenging part is going down the Esses.  It’s the most technical part and where the prototypes catch us the fastest so it’s difficult.  Don, our spotter, gives us a good idea going into there about what’s behind us and how many are closing on us.  That’s essential.”