The Zen of Street Racing

A Risi Comp Ferrari GT racer at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Photo (c) 2014, Regis Lefebure. Regis is the Official Team Photographer for Risi Comp. He’s good.

Editors Note: This post originally ran on the Risi Competizione website in April of 2009. It describes a race meeting at the Long Beach Grand Prix, among other topics. The Long Beach Grand Prix(now known as the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and also as the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix) is a sports car race conducted on a city-street course in Long Beach, California. There’s a sports car race and an open wheel race. It’s a bit of a classic. The 2017 race is this weekend. The piece is repeated here to set the mood (if you follow racing; if you don’t follow racing, we’re also setting the mood for golf in other posts. Your weekend, your choice.). 
From The Racing Archives: 
(Dateline: Los Angeles, 14 April 2009)……….
“One of these nights
One of these crazy old nights
We’re gonna find out
Pretty mama
What turns on your lights
The full moon is calling
The fever is high
And the wicked wind whispers
And moans
You got your demons
You got desires
Well, I got a few of my own”
One of these Nights, Eagles
Why is it always rock n’ roll and speed? Why is it that a certain song can capture a certain speed and mood with such perfection?
Why does loud and fast and fast and loud appeal so much to me….and to most of those who read this column?
It’s primal, it works at the cellular level, it’s rebellious, it’s us, and we’re not going to change. Ever.
Downtown Chicago. More than a decade ago. A Rosso Rubino Ferrari 275GTB/4 is rolling down Michigan Avenue, the sound from the exhausts ricocheting off the stone and glass-walled skyscrapers as the big four cam 12 cylinder engine housed in,  arguably, the most beautiful production coupe that Ferrari ever produced, emits the purest tone imaginable, a rumbling, threatening, dangerous wave of sound that makes this particular car, at this particular moment, the center of the city.
The sun is just coming up over Lake Michigan as EE and I make the turn out of downtown Chicago and head onto the Dan Ryan Expressway for Lake Forest and the rest of the weekend. We have been up all night, partying, living for The City, and now we are headed out to Lake Forrest to decompress with our friends.
The five speed, competition gate gearbox, with its’ delicate thin chrome shift lever and black shift knob, is fully heated now (the tolerances on the 275GTB/4 gearbox are so fine that if the oil that lubes the box has not reached operating temperature, there will be a bit of a grating sound as gears are changed), and the gearshift clicks through the gates with a sweet type of precision that is almost erotic as I work up the scale, the Ferrari twelve cylinder engine singing a song of rebellion and speed and pride.
First is a memory, second not far behind, we are in third and climbing and then into fourth and past the massive RR Donnelly printing compound, a huge production facility where the Yellow Pages are printed for America. There is a big sweeping curve, a right hander as you go out of town, by Donnelly and EE looks over at me with both trust and trepidation, because we are booking 145 plus and still accelerating as I click the gearshift into 5th and continue the ride up the rev chain, out of town, in a Ferrari, invisible, invincible, too fast to be found, too young to know the consequences of a mistake. We were immortal and we loved it.
Last year, at Laguna Seca, EE and I revisited that moment and laughed all night about it, the fun, the danger, the adrenaline, the pure experience of speed in the city and the sheer, cocky attitude that comes with driving a Ferrari that fast on city streets.
This year, at the Long Beach Grand Prix, Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer will take the Risi Competizione F430Gt and drive much faster, on streets much tighter, with traffic much denser. They will be seeking and living their own type of immortality as they do so.
Think of it this way: one hundred fifty-five miles an hour in the Risi Comp F430GT on city streets tightly bounded by concrete barriers, with no room for error, even less room for the faint of heart.
True racing drivers—the ones with the deepest possible well of courage and daring—love city circuits because these circuits are dangerous, technical, demanding, penalizing. They are racing’s equivalent of a knife fight—one mistake and you’re out. We have two of those types of drivers racing for Risi Comp this year, Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer. Last year, we also had two: Melo and Mika Salo, an equally dangerous combo.
The Long Beach Grand Prix (Officially known as the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach) is a major race on the ALMS circuit. It typically attracts one of the biggest crowds and has the largest TV audience. The sponsors lineup for this one like banks working for a TARP bailout: Toyota, Firestone, Patron Tequila, Korbel, Canon, Tecate, Coca Cola, The Orange County Register, The Port of Long Beach, etc., etc., etc. It’s a big race, a hugely popular race, and a very difficult one.
The track is tight, 1.968 miles and 11 turns. It’s a temporary course, like all street courses, and technical. The fastest part of the course is a long, curving straight right in front of the very crowded pits. That straight leads to a 90 degree lefthander, a little juke-and-jive right hand u-turn up to turn 4, another 90 degree right hander. Then it’s down a short straight to turn 5 (90 degrees, turn right—it’s a street course, there are lots of 90 degree turns) down a quick straight to a left hander, up a short straight with a left-hand kink about 1/4th of the way through, then a right-hander (you guessed it, 90 degrees), a blast down the Seaside Way straight to another 90 degree righthander, then a short straight followed by a sweeping left hand semi-high speed curve into the slowest turn on the track, a hairpin! And then onto the curving front straight again. GT1 and GT2 cars don’t have too much trouble with the hairpin curve (officially Turn 11) but it’s a bit of a problem for the P1 and P2 cars that lumber through it, in the automotive equivalent of gasping for breath.
Rick Mayer’s excellent preview of this race should be your guide to what to expect from an automotive dynamics point of view. The field of ALMS cars will be down again this week: Audi and Peugeot have gone away from the ALMS circuit for this part of the year to do battle in Europe and the Porsche RS Spyders are but a memory. It’s Hollywood, however, and this week the surprise guest is Corvette, who bring their wonderfully organized and super-competitive GT1 program to Long Beach for the fans. I said in my Sebring writing that I didn’t think we’d see a GT1 Corvette race again in America this year because Corvette was pointing for Le Mans and a showdown with Aston Martin; their plan was to return to ALMS in the GT2 category, with a new model now in development. But I was, thankfully, wrong.
Hey, it’s Hollywood! And Corvette will be running and Corvette fans should show up and support them, in mass. These are good guys and their program is superb. If the rest of GM was run as well as the Corvette Racing program is managed by Pratt & Miller, GM would not be in trouble.
The real action at Long Beach will be in the GT2 category, where 12 different cars will be entered. Flying Lizard will be there with their two car Porsche 91 GT3 RSR program; Rahal/Letterman, feeling rather spunky after a podium at St. Pete, will bring in a pair of the still-in-the-development-stage BMW E92 M3s; Panoz will bring in an Esperante, the only car in the series to podium in both of the first two races. Lou G will line up his Chevrolet Corvette C6 (he was fourth at Long Beach), and the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe from Primetime Race Group will also be present. VICI Racing, new sponsorship deal with T-Mobile in place, will return to the circuit with their new Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, this year racing on Michelins. Welcome back, guys.
Risi Comp will, as the legendary University of Texas Football Coach Daryl Royal once said, “dance with who brung us”, which means Melo and Kaffer handling the driving chores for our Rosso Corsa clad Ferrari 430GT. We had a brilliant start to the year with a win at Sebring and a rather inglorious second race at St. Petersburg, where we DNF’d after leading early (we also had the pole) due to suspension failure. Analysis complete, the  team doesn’t expect THAT to happen again and does expect to be very competitive at Long Beach.
We have had success at this track before. Winning  in 2007 with Mika Salo and Jaime Melo driving. . We did not do so well in 2008, but two races later we won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, so……not a bad year, that 2008.
Practice time at Long Beach, like St. Petersburg, is severely restricted, a mere 90  total minutes of pre-qualifying practice, so we will count on Rick Mayer’s legendary memory of how to set up the car up for this particular circuit and Jaime Melo’s ability to dial it in quickly (he was the development driver for the 430GT project at Ferrari). Kaffer is a very quick study in the 430GT (he is also a mechanical engineer) and his input adds immensely to the Risi Comp braintrust. A quick path to the optimum setup is a key to victory here and I believe we will get to the proper setup and race pace very expediently.
Here is what expect: it’s a tight track and passing spots are few and far between. It is not a tough track on brakes because there are enough straights to keep the brakes cool. The track is uneven because it’s a street course. There will be celebrities in the stands and in the pits but we will be unable to fulfill their requests for new Ferrari California convertibles because they live in Los Angeles and not in Houston. The stands will be packed. The atmosphere will be electric. Jaime Melo will put on an amazing show during qualifying. The pits will be crowded and jammed and the yellow flags will be few, because the car count is down and there are fewer things to hit on the track. The hairpin will equalize P1 and P2 cars. The Zone may be achieved, again.
Here’s what not to expect: another DNF due to suspension problems for the Ferrari 430GT. Last place on the grid due to poor qualifying speed. An inability to take advantage of the course and the strategy. A lack of competitive zeal from the Porsche and BMW factory teams (they’re here to win, too). It will not be a walkover for any team.
“One of These Nights” by The Eagles was the opening cut in their seminal “HOTEL CALIFORNIA” Album. It’s a song written about Los Angeles and it pretty much sums up the sentiment at Risi Comp as we get ready for battle at the concrete jungle that is the Long Beach Grand Prix.
We’re here. We’re pumped. Let’s race.
“You got your demons
You got desires
Well, I got a few of my own”
One of These Nights.  Eagles
You got it.

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