Risi Competizione is back at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend, May 1 – 3, site of two victories, four additional podiums and three poles in 15 seasons of competition at the scenic Northern California road course. Round Four of the 2015 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series will feature the quick and productive driving duo of Italian Giancarlo Fisichella and German Pierre Kaffer behind the wheel of the Houston, Texas-based No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia, clad in Ferrari’s traditional Rosso Corsa (racing red) color.
Unlike last year’s double header race meeting, all four classes of the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship will be on the track at the same time for the 2015 Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix, with an extended race time of 40 additional minutes, for a total of two hours and forty minutes. Risi Competizione enters the fourth round on the 10-race season in third place in the GTLM class Team and Driver’s Championship points, following back-to-back second-place finished at Sebring and Long Beach.
The results of the popular Risi Ferrari team and it’s Fisichella/Kaffer pairing include an impressive five podium finish in the past eight races, including two victories (at Road America and VIR in 2014) and three second-place finishes (Indianapolis 2014 and Sebring and Long Beach in 2015). In that eight-race span they also have two poles (Indianapolis 2014 with Fisichella and VIR 2014 with Kaffer).
Risi Competizione celebrated victories at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca circuit in 2006 and 2007, while their other four podium finishes were in 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2014. This weekend will be Kaffer’s sixth appearance at the Monterey, California circuit; his best showing was a victory in 2004. Fisichella makes his third appearance at Laguna Seca this year with his previous best finish a third-place last year with Kaffer.
The 2014 race at Mazda Racing Laguna Seca was the first one in which team owner Giuseppe Risi paired Fisichella and Kaffer and it immediately produced a podium result (third)– their best of the four races to date on the 2014 calendar. The duo went on to collect victories at Road America and VIR (Virginia International Raceway).
PIERRE KAFFER, No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia, Risi Competizione Driver:
How do you think the Laguna circuit is suited for the Ferrari race car?
“It’s very good, I mean last year we had a very good car and Giancarlo did a very good job in a qualifying. I remember when we swapped to new tires and I handed the car over after a great pit stop, we were leading the race. We also finished on the podium last year, so for us it has been a very good track so far and when I consider this whole season so far. It’s a shame we could not finish at Daytona, but our performance this year and how we work as a team, together, I think everyone from the outside sees that we are very competitive. From a personal side I have to say I am really proud of this privateer team. Although he was not at Long Beach, Giuseppe Risi would have really enjoyed the race at Long Beach. He is a really patient man and I’m really happy and proud that I can play my part in the whole picture. I’m really looking forward when he will be on the pit stand again in Monterey and I feel we will be very competitive against the many factory teams. It should make Ferrari Italy really proud of what he’s done.”
What are your thoughts on returning to Laguna Seca for round four?
“I’m really looking forward to going to Laguna. For me it was a very emotional moment last year here when I stepped back with Risi Competizione when Giuseppe Risi gave me a chance to drive for him again since 2009. Last year we did pretty well, and I have to say our car should be in really good shape at Laguna. It will be such a pleasure to drive again for the team this race. I think we have a really good atmosphere within the team. It’s really nice to be a part of this whole team and I’m really looking forward to driving at Laguna again.”
GIANCARLO FISICHELLA, No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia, Risi Competizione Driver:
What has your experience been like racing at Laguna Seca?
“Well, I’ve been to Laguna the past two years those were my first times and it’s been a really great experience. It’s a very challenging circuit with all the ups and downs (hills). There are a lot of high straight corners, which I like. Last year we were on the podium. I think this year we can score another podium since we have such a good package and set-up for this race. I’m really looking forward to it.”
With the momentum you have going into this race, do you think it will carry you and the team through to the finish?
“Absolutely, of course, it brings a lot of energy into the next race with two back-to-back podiums. It’s important to keep that speed and mentality because we are a great team and should keep doing well the whole season.”
What is it going to take for the team to qualify on the pole for Sunday’s race since this is something that is particularly important at this track?
“This will be very difficult with the competition we have and the current BoP (balance of performance). We have to have the setup perfect and do our fast qualifying lap at the perfect point for the tires and others have to be off a bit on setup and not be perfect in qualifying, as we don’t feel we have the best BoP for this venue. But in saying that, I don’t think we will be far off or at a large deficit. But the margins in lap time we are talking about are very, very small. We have a new aero package for this event (giving a small downforce improvement) but it comes at a price of a smaller air restrictor (less power) and added car weight. We are not sure if these changes will be a gain, the same or a slight loss in a sense of BoP within GTLM at this track until we run them in the first practice or more likely we won’t know until the race unfolds.”
Sand onthe track in always a factor at Mazda Raceway. The Michelin tires are strong and you have great drivers. How do you overcome the constant sand issue?
“You don’t, there’s nothing any tire can do with the sand. If you qualify at the front and stay out front of the pack the sand issue will have less of an effect, as you can at least choose your driving line when you have clear track. There’s a lot of luck needed. If you catch traffic at the wrong time the sand on the track could be a factor. The first part of the race will be the most difficult as all the Am drivers will start in GTD and PC making it more difficult for all the GTLMs, as the Am PCs drivers are typically slower than the GTLMs and the Am GTDs are not all consistent with holding position while being passed. This sometimes requires the GTLMs to use a non-ideal line to pass in traffic and the risk of getting sand on the tires is higher.”
What spawned the Evo kit and other aero dynamic changes you have made to the car for this race? Was this a BoP change and if so, why?
“It’s not really a BoP change. It was an ACO accepted 2015 evolution of type (Evo kit), that was accepted by IMSA as a separate evolution of type document, but cost the GTLM F458 a smaller air restrictor and additional car weight. The F458 has the least usable downforce in GTLM and IMSA is trying to allow the field to be more level in how the lap time is achieved. IMSA’s thought is add some downforce then reduce the air restrictor and add a little weight and the ‘performance’ should be equal but you’re achieving the lap time less from top speed (smaller air restrictor) and more from cornering speeds (and braking) from the downforce. Manufactures are allowed to petition for changes every two years currently in the ACO homologation system, which the GTLM rules are based on. Unfortunately the team (Risi or others) have little to no input and no control over what is requested or approved. Outside of setup parameters there is little any team can do to improve their cars ‘base’ performance. The ‘base’ is all controlled by IMSA with an ACO influence in GTLM.”
Dave Sims, No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia Risi Competizione, team manager:
This track plays to the particular strengths of the Ferrari and the team has done well here in the past. What things need to happen to get to clinch the victory this time at Laguna?
“We’re going there with the new aero bodywork. We haven’t tested it, but they have tested it in Europe and it looks pretty positive. So, we’re going there with a good sense of success. I think it’s always difficult when you’re running a one-car team against all the other manufactures with two cars because they can do strategy with two cars, especially in a two-hour and forty minute race, so we’ve got to be on top of it from the word ‘go’ to combat that like we were at Long Beach. We’ve got to start off in practice to get a good setup and match ourselves with the others who are going to be quick. It’s going to be close, probably one of the closest GTLM races at Laguna in a few years.”
You’ve been coming to Laguna Seca with Risi for sixteen years now. Are there any specifics that are key to success at this circuit?
“I can remember back and we’ve been on the podium quite a bit here. It’s one of the best circuits we go to. A good indication for us is in practice because Laguna is a real drivers circuit and handling circuit. Once you establish a good setup straight away and with just two drivers, it’s good. Pierre will mainly do the setup and Fisichella likes Pierre’s set-up. We’re really looking forward to it. “