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.”
 

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.”
 

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Clutch Performance

“We’re on double secret probation, whatever that is….”
–Hoover, from Animal House
We’ve been here before, I believe. Backs against the wall. Reputation getting dinged. Up and then down and then up again and then down. Doubters around us. Competitors in front of us. Tah dah tah dah tah dah. Been there. Experienced that.
So far, 2011 is proving to be a year of potential and bad breaks. With five races done (Sebring, Lime Rock, Los Angeles, Mid Ohio, Mosport), Risi Competizione was staring at a won-lost chart that was not all that charming: a second (Mosport) and a third (Los Angeles) combined with three DNFs. Looking at it from the optimistic point of view—if we finished we were on the podium.
But 2011 is the first year of ALMS competition for the new Ferrari 458 Italia GT and there are things to be learned. The car has proven to be very fast—despite ALMS restrictor regulation games—and has run at the front of the pack, but heading into Road America, it had yet to close the deal and win. We were right there at Sebring, very close at Mid-Oh and Mosport but still not quite all the way there.

'Deathcrawl" on YouTube

First things first: you must understand this about Risi Competizione. We do not quit. We are not the type. You cannot race professionally without taking your lumps from time to time. It happens. Teams rise and fall, but the true, professional teams continue to challenge, to keep striving to rise up. They take the hits and keep on coming. We remember a time in ALMS, racing the Ferrari 360, when Porsche 911s won over twenty races in a row. We didn’t stop bringing our Ferrari to the track to run. And then the 430 came in, and we started running that and the 430 ended up dominating GT endurance racing for its’ five year production run. Fielding a professional racing team requires a high pain threshold and so we ride out the tough stretches knowing there will be some smooth patches ahead.
Road America (also known as Elkhart Lake) is a genuine American classic in terms of a road racing track. It’s 4.048 miles, the longest track that the ALMS circus will visit this year. It is also one of the fastest. In 2006, young Lucas Luhr laid down a 136.227 MPH qualifying lap in an Audi R8—that got everyone’s attention.
And Road America has history: Phil Hill won the first race held there, in September of 1955, in a Ferrari Monza battle against a D Jaguar driven by Sherwood Johnston. The track is in the same configuration now as it was then and it stays busy, hosting everything from NASCAR races to vintage car and motorcycle events. It’s also a (rumored) favorite test spot for the major Detroit automakers.
The high speeds possible at Road A don’t necessarily favor the Ferrari F458 Italia just as they didn’t favor the F430GT that was its’ Risi Competizione predecessor. This has always been a great track for Corvette and Porsche and recently for BMW, which with Rahal Letterman Racing, has won the last two ALMS races at Road A. All three of these cars have displayed serious straight line speed at Road America in the past and it is straight line speed that is the most important factor at this track, with it’s three major straights.
After Mid-Ohio, where a promising run for the podium was cut short by damage caused from a collision with another car (believe it was the Jaguar, again), the Risi Competizione team carefully examined the car from front to back, with the goal of continuing the development process and working on the details that would improve it in competition.
In addition to the desire to strike first and fast at the and bring home a great result, there was an extra added ingredient to this year’s event: the arrival of many of Ferrari of North America and Ferrari SpA’s top executives, coming into Road A to view the Risi Competizione effort in person. Nothing like a little pressure to clarify the view of what’s required.
The preamble complete, it’s time to get to work, and so on Friday, August 18, 2011 at 9:24AM the green flag was waved and the first official practice session was launched.
As expected the BMWs, Porsches, and Corvettes started out quick, trading quickest GT lap bragging rights faster than a Presidential contender changes his “official position” . Drama showed its first hand at the race meeting at 9:32AM when the No. 12 LMP Lola B06/10 went off and stopped at Turn 11, doing enough damage to require some repairs by the road crew. At 10:01, Rudy Junco, Jr. (No. 52 LMPC Oreca FLM09) made the news when his car went off and then on and then off again, ultimately stopping because fluid was leaking from the car.
Quietly, the Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia GT, driven by Jaime Melo, was making the rounds, going a bit quicker with each pass. At the end of the first practice session it was Corvette (2:06.422/Gavin/Magnussen) , Porsche (2:07.189/Bergmeister) and Ferrari (2:07.429/Melo). Nice start and yes, we’re in the money.
The next practice session was Green Flagged at 2:00PM and Toni Vilander, in for Melo in the Risi Comp No. 62 Ferrari, put up some very fine numbers, including three laps which were best in class. Near the end of the session the No. 98 Jaguar XKR, with PJ Jones at the wheel, went off the course and Turn 4 and caught on fire.
When the session was flagged to a close, it was BMW (No. 56, Mueller) Corvette (No. 4, Magnussen) and Ferrari (No. 62, Vilander) in the 1-2-3 positions for fastest in GT.
Enough with the practice; on to Q-time, a 15 minute session for the GTs that started at 3:25PM on Friday the 19th and closed out at 3:40. Top three qualifiers were—-surprise—-the same as the top three cars in the last practice session, drivers included. So the grid was BMW, Corvette, and Ferrari, with a mere .240 seconds separating the Pole Sitter from the Ferrari. Throughout the crowd a small mummer arose as it looked like the Ferrari was showing some of the straight line speed that had been missing in previous years at Road America. And, not a moment too soon, as far as the ALMS season is concerned.
Could this be the breakthrough race?
Let’s find out, said the race officials, and promptly at 2:56PM, on Saturday the 20th of August the command was issued from the Road America race officials for the racers to start their engines. The Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase at Road America (official name) is Green Flagged at 3:02PM in extremely pleasant Mid-Western weather of 83 Degrees, with sunny skies above and soon-to-be-hot-pavement below.
Risi Competizione placed Jaime Melo into the Rosso Corso Ferrari F458 Italia GT to start the race. The first part of the hour was, thankfully, without incident for Risi Comp as Jaime Melo edged up through the pack and with 39 minutes gone, moved into Second, behind the Joey Hand driven BMW No. 56.
Melo was clever with his time management and when the moment arrived—3:51PM to be exact—he pulled in front of Hand’s BMW with 21 laps completed on the 4 mile plus circuit. Hmmmmmmm went the crowd. Unhummmmm went the Ferrari pits.
Ten minutes later, the order of GT leaders had changed, again, with Gavin (No. 4 Corvette), Mueller/Hand (No. 56 BMW) and Melo (No. 62 Ferrari 458 Italia GT) running one-two-three in class. So far so good, as everyone is on the same lap, all within striking distance of each other. And remember, this is a four hour race, not a two hour and 45 minute one.
The entire leadership group pitted at 4:08 PM and the race on the track was transformed into a race in the pits, as Gavin, Hand, and Melo all went in for fuel, tires, and, in the case of Melo, a driver change (Melo out/Vilander in). On the exit from the pits, Hand went out first, with Gavin and Vilander going out side by side; they touched, both went off but while the Ferrari continued, the Corvette had a bit of a tussle with some curbing and was held up.
There was soon some drama when Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette snagged the lead when the No. 56 BMW had to take “evasive action” to avoid a GTC Porsche that had spun while returning to the track. The ever-slick Gavin, passed both cars to the right while the drama was unfolding to the left. That’s racing.
Vilander, meanwhile, was circulating at a good pace and staying as far away as possible from potential on-track contact with his fellow competitors and his patience paid off when at 5:21PM, approximately two hours fifteen into the race, he inherited first place when first Gavin and then Hand went into the pits for fuel and tires and a driver change.
Vilander, riding the now improved fuel efficiency of the Ferrari F458 Italia GT, pushed his lead while he had it and then went in just a few laps later to hand over, again, to Jaime Melo, who would now be expected to bring the Rosso Corsa back home where it belonged, i.e. in First.
Knowing who was sitting in the stands at Road America, Melo put the hammer down and the show was on.
Interim leader Johannes van Overbeek in the No. 01 Extreme Motor Sports Ferrari F458 Italia GT gave up the leading position that he had inherited but regrettably, took a double ding for pitting under the yellow. Very tough break.
Melo took over the lead (from Van Overbeek ) at 5:38PM; an hour and twenty minutes (approximately) remained in the race. Thirteen minutes later Melo showed the potential of the F458 Italia GT to the crowd by posting the fastest lap of the race for a GT car: 2:06.285.
When a car runs its strongest in the last stages of a race, that is a very good sign and that was precisely what was happening with the Risi Comp No. 62 Ferrari. Melo was in good form, the car was strong, and the laps were ticking by as the clock ticked down.
At the three hour mark (with one hour left to go) Melo was in front, followed by Mueller’s BMW and then Patrick Long’s Porsche. But—even better—Melo had managed to grind out a one lap lead over the second and third place cars.
Amadeo Felisa, Ferrari CEO

Along pit row, the excitement was palpable: the sleek Rosso Corsa Ferrari F458, the “baby” of Amedeo Felisa, the CEO of Ferrari who was sitting on the Risi Competizione timing stand with Giuseppe Risi, was rocketing toward history and its first win in the ALMS series.
But, as anyone who has ever been in competition can tell you, an hour is an eternity in a sporting event, especially in racing, where things can change in a nano-second.
While Melo was pushing forward, the competition was experiencing some of the difficulties that Risi Comp had battled through in the first part of the year. Beretta in the No. 3 Corvette had to rumble through the grass to avoid smacking Gunnar Jeanette in an LMPC Oreca, who was slowly, slowly, moving into the pits with damage to his car. Then Milner, who took over for Beretta, went off and ended up swapping ends and banging the wall with the front and back of the Corvette. The car made it to the puts but ended up behind the wall. One challenger down.
Melo made his last pit stop at 3 hours seventeen minutes into the race; he got fuel and new Michelins, but stayed in the car. It would now be up to Melo, the factory test driver for the 458, to finish the race.

The shadow of Ferrari is drama, and unknown to the fans and the competition was the fact that the F458 Italia from Risi Comp was experiencing some type of clutch disorder. A very sharp ear could hear the engine pitch change unexpectedly, out of sequence—one of the tell tale signs that there is a problem with the clutch.

Although a lot of minds were focused on this nagging problem late in the race, the reality is that it had been there all along with both Toni Vilander and Jaime Melo doing such an excellent job of managing the situation that no one knew but the Risi Comp pits, techs, and engineers.

A weary Melo exits the car in victory row and lays upon the hood, embracing the machine that has stayed with him to the finish.

At 6:32 PM, Melo ran down the leading BMW, the No. 55, driven by the estimable Dirk Werner. There were 28 minutes left in the race.
Lap by lap, Melo did what he does best when in front (and equally well went closing from behind): eek out an extra tenth of a second here, a third there, pushing his lead out to approximately 3.0 seconds over Werner with twenty minutes to go.
Twenty minutes is a long time to hold your breath but that appeared to be what was happening in the Risi Competizione pits. Melo hung tough and extended his lead to 9.061 seconds over Werner when the checkered flag fell. Werner’s BMW team mate Mueller brought in the No. 56 BMW M3 GT in third. On the podium it was Ferrari-BMW-BMW.
A collective sigh of relief gathered in the Risi Competizione pits as the team had captured its’ first ALMS race with the F458 Italia GT. Fittingly enough for a team that prides itself on being good in the clutch (double secret probation ) and even better in the longer races, the win had come in a four hour event at a track that had proved problematical in the past for the 430.

In the post race press conference, both Melo and Vilander were enthusiastic about the win and even more enthusiastic about the work in the pits that day.

On every pit stop, the team had been flawless, the fueling and tire changing and driver ins and outs executed efficiently and fluently. Picking up a second or two in the pits gives the drivers a real boost on the track. It was, truly, a team victory.

Melo acknowledges Chris Riggs in post-race interview

The win could not have come at a better time for Risi Competizione and one is hopeful that it sets the table for high placing performances at the final three races of the season:a street course blast in Baltimore (although Hurricane Irene is taking aim on Baltimore and that could cause problems), and two long races, one at Laguna Seca (six hours, start in daylight, finish in darkness) and the legendary Petit Le Mans (ten hours give or take).
Next up: a street fight in Baltimore. Stay tuned.

MID OH

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.

SECOND THOUGHTS

POST RACE DEBRIEF: MOSPORT
Risi Competizione Gets Back on Track (and Podium).
Best to start a review of this year’s Mosport race by taking a glance in the rearview mirror. In 2010, the Grand Prix of Mosport was held over the August 29th weekend. It was the most important race of the year for Risi Competizione as the team entered the race weekend with a very real chance at winning one more ALMS championship in the final year of the 430GT era. But-they had to do well at Mosport and then win at Petit Le Mans in order to bring home another title.
The 2010 race weekend did not start out on a terrific note, despite the fact that the two 430GTs were very, very quick. First, Risi Comp driver Pierre Kaffer had a major off and wiped out the front end of his 430; the accident sidelined both Kaffer and the Ferrari for the weekend. Then, Jaime Melo, who was paired with Gianmaria Bruni in the No. 62 Ferrari caught a vicious stomach virus and was unable to drive. This resulted in Toni Vilander, who had been paired with Kaffer in the No. 63 Ferrari 430GT, moving up to the No. 62 car to share duties with Bruni; but it also put the car at the rear of the grid (driver substitution).
After amazing drives on the part of both Vilander and Bruni, the Ferrari pulled into second place and was closing on the leading Porsche from Flying Lizard when the 2010 race was stopped with approximately 30 minutes to go after one of the GTC cars took a sudden and rather severe liking to the ARMCO barrier at Moss Corner (turn 5a/5b) upon high speed contact and totally and completely demolished it, leaving drivers defenseless against an on-track incident or off.
No ARMCO. No Go, said ALMS.
The Red Flag was pulled out and shown to the thundering herd and the race was over. But Risi Comp picked up a Second, a very good showing considering the way the weekend started. That podium position was key because it put the team in contention for the ALMS championship going into the last race of the season, the 10 hours plus/minus Petit Le Mans. But that was 2010.
Life and racing refuse to stand still and in 2011, many things had changed as the big red transporters from Risi Competizione pulled into the paddock for this year’s running of the Grand Prix of Mosport. For one thing, the date of the race was now advanced from August(2010) to July (2011). And another big change: ALMS divested itself of ownership of the Mosport track. Actually, it was Panoz Motor Sports Group, the entity controlling ALMS, which sold the track to a group of Canadian owners, more precisely Canadian Motorsports Ventures, Ltd., whose ownership is composed of well-regard industry professionals, including driver Ron Fellows, real-estate developer Carlo Fidani, and Al Boughton, a classic car enthusiast and race enthusiast. Good luck to all of you in your new venture but could this downsizing from Panoz/ALMS signify something else?
Also new at Mosport this year was the car Risi Competizione is campaigning, the high-potential Ferrari 458GT, AKA the 458 Italia, AKA F458 Italia GT. This car has shown brilliant bursts of speed and run at the front of the pack, but it’s the first year and the development curve is tres steep. At Sebring, Risi Comp’s 458 went out after 10 hours with electrical issues. At Long Beach, the team bounced back and got on the podium with a 3rd place finish after another dramatic 100 minutes of fun amongst the barriers. After the Le Mans break, the boys were back at it, in Lime Rock, but again the team had a rough outing, with electrical/electronic issues taking the car out of contention. Three races, two DNFs and one very very disappointed team.
The goal at Mosport was simple: finish. And, importantly, finish in the money.
No reason not to believe it couldn’t be done. Jaime Melo has won a couple of times at Mosport and Vilander brought home a second last year. Mosport is a track that favors, very slightly, the Ferrari, with big sweeping curves, a brutal 180 degree double apex corner (the Moss Corner), and a very long straight to wind ‘em up on. It’s a quick one. The track rewards smooth drivers and punishes the un-smooth.
For 2011 at Mosport, Risi Competizione brought in Toni Vilander and Jaime Melo along with the constantly developing 458, which had undergone a nose to tail review after Lime Rock. Development of a new car is composed of two parts: learning the car’s systems and improving those systems and performance through engineering development. It is pretty much the never-ending story.
While Risi Comp was in Year 1 of a new car development program, the usual suspects—BMW and Corvette—were deep into the second year of their GT programs. BMW was off to a splendid start to the year and the Corvettes were getting sharper and faster with each race. Also in the game–as always– was the Flying Lizard Porsche team with a pair of the competitively ageless Porsche 911 GT3 RSRs. In the points race, after Lime Rock it was BMW, Porsche and Chevrolet (Corvette) with Ferrari in fourth.
For only the fourth race of the season, Mosport was suddenly very critical for Risi Competizione’s overall hopes in 2011. Would the team be able to rise to the challenge?
The first practice session was blessedly non-eventful. At one point in the one hour session, Melo held the fastest time with a 1:18:385 but by the end of the session, the top three cars were BMW (No. 56), Porsche (No. 45) and BMW (No. 55) with the best time at 1:18.029 by Joey Hand in the No. 56 BMW M3 GT.
The second Saturday practice session brought out a slight reshuffling of the top three—Porsche (Bergmeister for Flying Lizard in No 45), BMW (Mueller for BMW in No. 56 and….Vilander for Risi Competizione in third. The three cars were separated by about two-tenths of a second. Dat’s close.
Qualifying was satisfying if not surprising. The Risi Comp No. 62 Ferrari qualified in fifth, with Vilander handling the duties. First in class was the Mueller/Hand No. 56 BMW (Dirk Mueller doing the honors) followed by the No. 55 Auberlen/Werner BMW, then Bergmeister and Long in the No. 45 Porsche. Sharp and Van Overbeek in the No. 01 EMS Ferrari 458 captured fourth. Top qualifying time was 1:17.085 and Risi Comp’s Q-Time was 1:17.543. Close but no cigar.
Unlike most ALMS races in America, Mosport runs on Sunday instead of Saturday and so at 2:57PM on July 24th, the drivers were told to start their engines and promptly at 3:00PM, the Green Flag dropped and the race was on. It was 85 degrees in the air and 108 on the track. For the first 30 minutes, it was a BMW/Porsche/BMW sandwich with few on course obstacles. Van Overbeek, in the No. 01 Ferrari 458 had a bit of a tangle with Tony Burgess in the Lola BO6/10 (LMP1, No. 12) and after a modest period of time stuck in the gravel, made it to the pits.
Approximately 44 minutes into the race Joey Hand’s BMW hit Toni Vilander’s Ferrari when Hand was exiting the pits, an uncharacteristic mistake from Joey, for which he would pay with a Stop and Go Penalty. Another penalty was handed out to the EMS No. 01 Ferrari 458 for entering the pits when they were closed to GT cars (a result of the previous off in the gravel trap) and so the car had to pit, shut down, and restart. Bummer, because they were actually running quite well but those kinds of things just ruin your race day.
An hour and 10 minutes into the race, the leaderboard started to look familiar to Risi Competizione fans when it was BMW, Corvette and the Risi Comp No. 62 running 1-2-3. Vilander had been driving a very well-paced but, even better, well-judged race and was now just three seconds off the lead.
With one hour and 43 minutes gone in the race, the top 3 in GT were BMW (Auberlen), Ferrari (Vilander), and Corvette (Gavin).
There was one hour to go. Could the Rosso Corso clad Ferrari bring home a podium position?
Vilander pitted for fuel, tires and a driver change and so the No. 62 Ferrari was turned over to Jaime Melo for the final act at Mosport.
The competition was having a tough day. Dirk Werner got tagged with a Stop and Go for avoidable contact (he hit Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 66 GTC Porsche) and while Dirk was sitting in Pit Lane, Jan Magnussen took over fist place in his No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1.
The leaders are now Corvette, Ferrari, BMW with Werner now 14 seconds down on the leader with only 15 minutes left.
With just 4 minutes left, Melo had cut the gap to Magnussen to 2.201 seconds but was having difficulty with slower traffic.
A minute and change later, it was over, with Magnussen/Gavin taking the victory for the No. 4 Corvette C6 ZR1, Melo bringing the Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia home to second position and B-Boys Auberlen/Werner picking off third in the No. 55 BMW M3GT.
The race was uncharacteristic for BMW because,they experienced a tough time with penalties and contact.
Mosport was more typical of what we expect from Risi Competizione because it was a race without incident, the car was fast, and the team was right there with a chance to win at the end. And it was a return to winning form for Corvette, now gathering some serious steam in the series. Congrats to all the competitors for a well-run race and thanks for the memories.
Next up: Mid-Oh.

Mosport GT thriller gives Risi best result of the season

The Pennzoil-supported Risi Competizione Ferrari 458 Italia GTC of Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander took second place in an extremely hotly-contested GT battle in today’s Grand Prix of Mosport, round four of the 2011 American Le Mans Series.  It is the Houston-based team’s best finish of the season and their second podium in 2011, and the entire event presented a great spectacle for the large number of Ferrari of Ontario guests watching.  The GT race was won by the Nr.4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen.

Jaime (left) and Toni on the podium at Mosport

With Toni Vilander taking the green flag from fifth place, and the 31-strong field starting under hot and sunny conditions, the first 39 minutes of the 2 hour 45 minute race were run exactly as the manufacturer-led entries had started from the grid, with no changes for position within the top eight in class.
 
The event’s only full course yellow caution period shook up the order somewhat, not least because the red Ferrari had unwarranted contact from the leading BMW at pit exit.  A penalty for avoidable contact for the BMW, plus slick work in the first of two great pit stops from the Risi crew, saw Vilander make good use of his new Michelin tires and start a climb through the field.  At just after the hour mark, there was only 1.4 seconds separating the top four in class, with the Ferrari moving into third place after the No.45 Flying Lizard Porsche was knocked into a spin.
 
The Ferrari’s second stop saw lightning work from the Risi crew which allowed Jaime Melo, now at the wheel of the F458, to leapfrog the No. 4 Corvette into second place.  The two-time Mosport winner then proceeded to carve his way into the deficit between himself and the leading BMW, reducing the gap to less than two seconds before his tires began to suffer.  Slower traffic helped the Corvette find a way past Melo and it looked as though the team and drivers would have to be content with a third place finish.
 
The race Gods were smiling down on the Houston-based team though and, when the No. 55 BMW was given a penalty for avoidable contact with a GTC Porsche, Melo regained second place.  He challenged Magnussen hard towards the closing stages of the race, but wasn’t able to make enough headway in the time available to secure victory.
 
Toni Vilander said after the race:  “There’s always a little bit of tension when you start the race but I tried to take it easy and keep out of trouble.  Our initial strategy with the tires wasn’t perfect but once we’d made a change for my second stint, things were better.  From here on we will work hard – we still have new things to come for Mid Ohio, and we’re still chasing a perfect balance that suits both of us.  It’s a positive result today and we’ll keep going in the same direction.”
 
Jaime Melo echoed his team mate’s sentiments:  “It’s definitely a good result for the team and Ferrari and this is our second podium finish.  We need to work a bit harder to make the car easier for both of us to drive.  Toni did a great job once again and unfortunately I couldn’t challenge for a better result because of traffic but that’s the same for everybody.  I’m a bit disappointed with second place, to be honest, but we’re now looking forward to Mid Ohio.
 
“Our right side tires were going off pretty quickly towards the end, but I think we’ve learned something from this race and we’ll take that forward for the future.” 

POST RACE DEBRIEF: LIME ROCK 2011

“Houston, we have a problem”—
Jim Lovell (as played by Tom Hanks) in the movie, Apollo 13
Only seems appropriate to kick-start the Lime Rock 2011 Debrief with a quote from Apollo 13, since this month, July, is full of tributes (both right and wrong) to the end of America/NASA’s space shuttle program. When STS-135 made a night landing at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, 21 July 2011, that was el finito and double-adioski for the U.S. space shuttle program, now grounded forever.
In the future, when we want to make that escape-from-gravity run to the ISS (International Space Station, we will be hitching a ride with our Cosmonaut comrades on Russia’s SOYEZ space vehicle, our own astronauts being de-horsed. Stranger things have happened in the world of space exploration but not recently.
Seems difficult to believe now.
A magnificent space program dismantled and there’s not necessarily a new one in sight (although much has been made of the Air Force’s super-secret X37B robotic space plane which is fancy to be sure but manned by robots or at least is robotically controlled; don’t expect much in the way of snappy dialogue under pressure from that chipset). With the end of the space program—do you really think we learned all we need to know and so it’s time to shut it down—the economy in certain parts of Florida, Alabama, and Houston will take a big punch. That wheezing sound you hear is the life going out of
south coastal Florida’s space and tourist industry.
But that’s progress. Do something incredible and do it well enough and people will quit paying attention and dropping their jaw because you make it look easy and the next thing you know your congressional budget disappears faster than Donuts at a Weight Watchers convention.
The “Houston, we have a problem” line is one of the best in history because it’s an obvious understatement, coming as it does when Apollo 13 is booking it for the moon and suffers an Oxygen tank rupture which puts the entire mission and the lives of the crewmen (James A. Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred W. Haise) in jeopardy.
With massive effort and some slick technological maneuvering, the three managed to turn it all around and arrive safely back on earth creating one of space exploration’s first major legends in the process.
For this year’s meeting at Lime Rock Park, Apollo 13 will prove to be the perfect allegory. A high tech, high risk mission aborted and blunted by fate, then the crew reworks the craft to save the day.
It’s not been easy for us at Lime Rock—at least during my time with the team—and rather than break form and have some good luck for a change, Lime Rock delivered, again, a very nasty series of jabs that prematurely ended another race weekend for the Rosso Corso clad team, cars and gear of Risi Competizione.
Coming into Lime Rock, hopes were modestly elevated. The team had a rather tremendous outing at the Long Beach Grand Prix, despite a rather difficult start(lost the wing in qualifying and so recorded no good flying lap, necessitating a trip to the rear of the grid), the drivers and team worked very hard and managed to punch the new Ferrari 458 onto the podium, snagging a third. It would be impolite not to mention that Extreme Speed Motorsports/Tequila Patron was kind enough to loan to Risi Competizione one of their spare 458 wings so that we could compete in the race, another in a series of very fine and classy acts of sportsmanship that makes us proud to say they also run Ferrari 458s. Thank you to Scott Sharp, Ed Brown and their group.
With the Long Beach results in hand, expectations were hopeful-but-cautious for Lime Rock. The new Risi Competizione tandem of Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander have proven to be tres quick and so despite a rather dismal history at Lime Rock, the mood in the pits was “maybe this is the year”.
The first practice certainly seemed to back up that feeling. The car turned a 51.813, which was quick enough for third place in the GT category and the cqr really wasn’t fully sorted, but just starting to test a series of adjustments, tweeks, and mods that had been planned for Lime Rock. First in class went to the No. 56 BMW(Mueller/Hand) at 51.330 and second was another BMW, No. 55 (Wener/Auberlen). BMW is on a tear this year—their last in ALMS—and it’s showing on the track.
The second practice did not go quite as well. With ten minutes to go in the one hour session, the left rear of Vilander’s Ferrari had contact with the right front of Bill Auberlen’s No. 55 BMW at Turn 4. At that point, both cars went off into the grass, with Vilander drawing the short straw and hitting the fence, damaging the right front as well as the left rear of the car. Auberlen’s car had no such damage (or luck) and continued back to the pits for a good checkover.
Risi Comp Team Manager Dave Sims called it for the press: “ There was some repairable chassis damage and we’ll replace the left rear suspension, right front cooling ducts, front splitter and floor. We plan to be out for warmup tomorrow but will start the race from the back of the grid because we didn’t set a qualifying time”.
And so there it went: another promising start to the race weekend pushed aside by luck and fate.
What Sims described in a few sentences would take the rest of the day and most of the night to fix, but the Risi Comp techs went to work and the car appeared right on time for the morning warmup on Saturday, July 9th, putting up a fourth-in-class time of 52.170. Obviously, it was fixed and the fixed worked.
Asked about the car, Jaime Melo just said “Everything is fine and it feels great”.
The flag dropped at 2:05PM for the two hour and 45 minute race and it didn’t take long for things to develop on the extremely tight Lime Rock track. Twenty minutes into the race, Ed Brown in the No. 02 Ferrari 458 GT was turned around by a prototype and managed to bag the two Corvettes (No. 4 and No. 3) in the process. All cars ended up in the pits where they had a rather long visit. Next, Werner’s No. 55 BMW came into the pits to have the entire front end replaced due to extensive damage.
Starting from the back of the grid doesn’t have too many advantages, but one of them is avoiding the hazardous crowding that always takes place in the front at a track like Lime Rock. To everyone’s surprise but the most astute observers, at 44 minutes into the race, Toni Vilander in the No. 62 Risi Competizione F458GT had moved into third place. From last on the grid. The car can go and the boy can drive.
But would it last.
Twelve minutes later, Vilander pulled into the pits for tires, fuel, and a driver change (Vilander out/Melo in). Race fans were just settling in to see how Jaime Melo was going to handle the last one hour and 45 minutes of the race when, at 3:21 PM, just 22 minutes after he was handed the car by Vilander, Melo was back in the pits complaining of engine misfire. Out came the laptop computer, in went the diagnosis connection and then….the car went behind the wall, with one hour and thirty minutes gone in the race and another hour and 15 minutes to go. Any such activity at a track as short as Lime Rock is difficult to over come.
“Houston, we have a problem”.
Melo brought the car back out on the track about 20 minutes later but it was not to be because just a lap or so later he returned to the pits, the car went behind the wall and Lime Rock 2011 was over for the Risi Competizione No. 62. The car was officially retired two hours and 34 minutes into the race with unspecified issues, and credited with 79 laps completed (the winner completed 176).
Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller won the GT class in their No. 56 BMW E92 M3; Patrick Long and Jorge Bergmeister returned to the podium in second place in their Flying Lizard Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and—surprise—David Murry and Anthony Lazzaro (a Risi Comp alum) took third in the Doran Ford GT/Elan Power crowd favorite. Well done all.
So, one third of the season gone and much has been learned.
Perhaps Mosport—a high speed track where Risi Competizione has had very good success—will see the team return to the top of podium. The Risi Competizione F458GT Ferrari has been competitive in every race this year but first year development issues have stunted podium progress.Personally, I sense a breakthrough race coming and the track for breakthrough is right in front of us: Mosport.
See you there.

DEBRIEF: Long Beach 2011

It’s these changes in latitudes,
changes in attitudes,
nothing remains quite the same.
With all of our running
and all of our cunning,
if we couldn’t laugh
we would all go insane.

— Jimmy Buffett, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes
When it comes racing, if there are two places more distant in philosophy, belief systems, dress code, and karmic intensity than Sebring, Florida and Long Beach, California (AKA Los Angeles) … I have yet to see them.
These two are the polar opposites on the sports car racing circuits: one track is a legendary butt-kicker and reputation maker and the other is something tossed up as a weekend show for the locals and visiting dignitaries.
Sebring is 12 hours of pain and grind and perseverance preceded by a week-long prep period that is, in itself, an endurance test.
Long Beach has the air of a party that is just barely going to start on time, with a course as permanent as an L.A. agent’s smile. One course is at the center of the sports car racing world for a weekend; the other is the center of the sports car racing world for about two hours. Sebring is a destination resort for the knowledgeable fan; Long Beach is a rolling party and high-def media opportunity where the stars, not the cars, are the center of attraction.One course is a continuous history lesson in the greatness that comes from world class endurance racing; the other track is an afterthought.

Released Jan 1977 Watch >

If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.

Which brings us to the lines quoted above, from one of the great Jimmy Buffett songs. Buffett is both an amazing businessman and a unique musical talent. His masterpiece album was Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, released in 1977. That recording unleashed “Margaritaville” on the world (and the subsequent Magaritaville culture) but Buffet’s signature song was only one of a series of great songs on an album that many consider his masterpiece.
Without irony, looking for the right tone for this column, I bumped into “Changes…” again and boy did it ring true, especially for the task in front of us.
Coming out of Sebring and into Los Angeles is a huge cultural leap, a form of race attitude shape shifting that is blinding in its disparities.
Long Beach is tight for time, transporter space, pit accommodations, hospitality, press facilities and parking. Because the ALMS race is jammed into a dual race weekend with an INDY CAR event, track time is harder to come by than a Charlie Sheen apology.

But, Long Beach is important to sponsors, supporters, manufacturers and honored guests because it’s in L.A., it’s glamorous, and the weather is usually……perfect.

Risi Comp came west after a stirring but ultimately unsatisfying debut at Sebring where our new Ferrari 458 did a DNF, excusing itself from further on-track excitement late in the race when certain electrical items failed to function as projected.
Back for another run at Long Beach glory were Risi Comp drivers Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander. Giuseppe Risi did some fine tuning to his team after Sebring, bringing some new faces in and leaving some others off the traveling squad.
The results started to return almost immediately. In the first/only practice session, which started at the very early hour of 7:15AM (I told you practice time was tight) on the Friday, April 15th before the race on Saturday, April 16th, Jaime Melo turned the fastest lap of a very fresh session at 1:25.99, later topped by Bill Auberlan in the No. 55 BMW M3 GT , who was then topped by P. Long in the No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR. The merriment stopped when Wolf Henzler in the No. 17 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR went heavily and rather dramatically into the tires at Turn 9, bringing out the Red Flag. A few minutes later (3 to be exact), the Green Flag came out again.
There was a moment of anxiety at 9:01AM during the morning practice session when Melo in the Risi Comp Ferrari and Dominik Schwager in the No. 8 Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 touched and did more-or-less simultaneous revolutions but no damage was incurred and both cars continued on. At the end of the session, the No. 56 BMW with Joey Hand at the wheel put up the fastest time of the sole practice session, at 1:20.522.
Next up: Qualifying at 5:20PM.
The record for Long Beach is 1:19.581 held by Jaime Melo in a Risi Comp F430 (set in April of 2010) and so the usual suspects set off in pursuit of a prized pole position and some post-Q bragging rights.
Qualifying wasn’t what we’re used to from Melo, because just five minutes into the session the car backed into the wall at Turn 2 and the rear wing came off and that was it for qualifying for the Risi Comp No. 62 Ferrari. Joey Hand set a new class record at 1:19.090 and took the pole.
And the Risi Comp Ferrari No. 62?
To quote Dean Wormer from Animal House, : “Mr. Blutarski. Zero Point Zero. No Grade Point Average”…all of which translates in racing to no qualifying time, go to the back of the grid. (Note: the car did have a qualifying time, but it was not a full flying lap and thus was “out of the money” for the GT class qualifying times.)
Now followers of the Rosso Corso have seen this before, the trip to the rear followed by an exhilarating run to the front, but this time prospects were not so great for a Cinderella-in-a-458 thriller, because it’s a street course with limited passing opportunities and only 120 minutes long.
Starting options could be better, but…we’re here and let’s race and so right at 4:30PM, Pacific Coast Time on Saturday the 16th of April, the race was flagged to a start and the carnage began: Bret Curtis in a GTC Porsche was first out with a broken radiator and broken rear suspension; Duncan Ende, in another GTC Porsche followed close after, with a brake problem and suspension issues. Paul Gentilozzi in the Jaguar XKR had an up-close-and-personal with the tires at Turn 8 and that brought out the Yellow Flag.
Twenty-four minutes into the race, the two BMWs (55 and 56) started mixing it up amongst themselves and the very sly Oliver Gavin pushed his GT Corvette C6 ZR1 into first and sped away.
There was more Dancing with the Stars action at 5:12PM (42 minutes into the 100 minute race) when P. Long’s 911 GT3 RSR Porsche, Joey Hand’s BMW M3 GT and Oliver Gavin’s Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 do a meet and greet at Turn 7. Net result: Hand moves from third to first.
A mere six minutes later P. Long sees his race come to a rather jarring end when he punts his Porsche into the wall after making a pass on Joey Hand. Long heads for the pits where the techs take one look and call it a day. Meanwhile, Hand sails off in first.
One hour and 2 minutes into the race, Toni Vilander shows up on the radar screen, pitting for tires and fuel.
With each minute, the difficulties of street racing are making their presence known as cars go out due to on-course accidents. With an hour and a half (approximately) gone in a two hour race, the top 3 in GT were BMM, Corvette and Ferrari (Extreme Speed No. 1 458).
Thirty minutes can seem like an eternity in a street race and the mayhem amped up in the last thirty minutes of the race. Three cars (one Porsche GT, one Porsche GTC and an LMPC Oreca)came together at the last turn but no serious, lasting damage was done. Then Alex Figge sput out at Turn 11. Scott Sharp, who had driven himself into third (see above) in the Extreme Speed Ferrari saw it all get away in an on-course incident that whacked, heavily, the right rear of the car. Figge got a Stop and Go for avoidable contact, as did Nicky Pastorelli in the No. 8 GT Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4. Bryce Miller in the No. 48 GT Porsche GT3 RSR retired with just 8 minutes left in the race and when Dion von Moltke in the No. 68 Porsche GTC ground to a halt in turn 9 in an “unsafe position”, the Yellow Flag came out and stayed out until the white flag (one hour and 58 minutes running) was shown to the throng and then at 2 hours and 2 minutes the checkered flag was dropped and the race was over.
Risi Competizione, which started in last position on the Grid, ran a quiet, efficient race and ended up on the podium, in third position. The pits stops were good and on-course incidents and exciment were avoided. Good show. Mueller/Hand in the No. 56 BMW GT, who had played well a hot hand all weekend, won the GT class and Magnussen/Gavin in the No. 4 Corvette took second in class—they had also performed very well during the weekend. The showings of these two teams was not a surprise. What was a surprise was that no Porsche was on the Podium, Long Beach being the type of track that Porsches typically do very well on.
For Risi Competizione and the 2011 driving team of Jaime Melo/Toni Vilander, the race was a proper start to the main body of ALMS races to come.
The 458 made it’s first ALMS podium, but that’s history now.
The remaining 2011 season stretches the road ahead.
 

Post Race Debrief: Sebring 2011

Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”– Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society
On Thursday, March 4th, late in the afternoon, a Rosso Corso Ferrari 458 GT cleared customs at Houston’s George Bush International Airport. This particular car was destined for the 59th Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh From Florida , the opening race in the 2011 American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patron. All the sponsor endorsements now in—and a rather lengthy and healthy group it is, although I personally think Tequila Mixes better with Orange Juice than oil but that could be personal preference—the brand spanking new race car, which not 7 days previous was last seen circulating at Ferrari’s home test/race track, Fiorano, in the mystifyingly capable hands of Jaime Melo, the test driver/savant for Ferrari, S.p.A. of Maranello, Italy (and, no, I am not trying to top the amazing sentence length of James Joyce in Ulysses although, with enough loud music and the right mix, there is no doubt I could pull it off)–was rolled out of the customs shed and onto the waiting flatbed, driven by the ever-reliable Donnie, the extremely competent delivery/wrecker/pick it up/deliver it back driver for Ferrari of Houston.
In Donnie’s capable hands, the car was released from U.S. Customs (thank you) and taken directly to the Risi Competizione race workshop, which is located in the same compound as Ferrari of Houston, there to be unloaded and, without so much as a “wow, she looks great”, rolled into Race Workshop Bay No. 1, whereupon the Risi Comp technical tribe attacked with socket wrenches of all types and descriptions, lifts, air guns, screw drivers, pulls, power tools of every possible kind until at night fall, a once complete race car was now spread across the width and breadth of the Risi Comp workshop. No one went anaerobic or deep into oxygen debt during this initial encounter with Risi Comp’s first 458GT, but the pace was pretty blistering and one could work up a smoking good fever just watching.
As with all really great teams in any sport, when it comes to crunch time these was little discussion and lots of focused, professional activity. These guys know their stuff and their stuff was required to do one thing: prep a brand spanking new Ferrari 458GT race car, one of very few in the world at this particular point in time, for the world’s toughest endurance race—the 12 Hours of Sebring, a race contested on a track so rough, bumpy, uneven, and generally nasty, that it breaks cars, reputations ,and bank accounts with equal disdain– a mere 10 days away.
Mission impossible?
We shall see.
On through the night the team worked, taking things off, putting things on, and making note of what went where because—well, they were going to have do this a lot in the coming season. Just a day and change later, the car and a massive amount of support equipment(timing stand, tool boxes, air guns, spare wheels—new ones, from BBS, because the massive collection of old BBS wheels for the 430 don’t fit the new 458), uniforms, snacks, coolers, radio equipment, computers, flat screens, portable chairs, flooring, golf cars and ATVs and Vespa scooters and spares, but not a lot of them because this is a new car and spares are in very, very short supply, are pushed and shoved and packed and tucked away in the twin Risi Competizione transporters, powered by our big, reliable Volvo trucks and then driven by the team’s pro transport drivers direct from Houston to Sebring, Florida, where, waiting for them as the trucks pulled in, was the same crew that had packed the car and all the racing equipment, goodies, and gear.
Once at Sebring, the whole process is reversed, trucks are unloaded and, to cut it short, camp is made and the F458GT is rolled out yet again, for even more work and race prep (because race prep is never fully complete) and detailing and development because the very next day, which is the 12th of March, the car will take to the track for some serious testing, with Jaime Melo and Mika Salo and Toni Vilander at the wheel. The goal: a flash development—to Risi Comp standards—of the latest from Ferrari’s Corse Clienti division. It’s a new car on an old familiar track (we’ve won here three of the last four years) but it’s unproven and racing on the toughest track in motorsports and it has a tough act to follow, as the 430GT that Risi Comp raced since 2006 was so freaking fast out of the box (2006) that it finished third in its first race (Sebring ) and then went on to wipe the track with the competition for the next four years, winning 7 major endurance races and shutting out big factory teams from Porsche, BMW, and Corvette in the process. Ok, other teams won some short races. Good for them. Would you rather win the Masters or the Dry Cleaners Open in Charlotte, NC? We have a hunger for The Majors.
After the Saturday test session, which was long and brutal and educational, the team then spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday working well into the night on the car, sorting out the suspension, the gearbox, the electronics, radios and on and on and on because any detail—anyone of them—can take you down in a 12 Hour race at Sebring so best tend to them all.
On Thursday, March 17th, 2010, the race schedule got serious and at 10:10AM the Green Flag—the one we’ve all be waiting for—dropped for the first Official Practice at the 59th running of The 12(please see lead sentence for proper attribution of sponsors and presenters and promotors) and off the teams and cars and drivers went, in search of speed and destiny, but not necessarily in that order.
At the end of the session a surprise everyone was expecting: It was Jaime Melo in the No. 062 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458GT posting the top time (2:02.251), with a couple of factory BMWs trailing in positions two and three.
Before continuing with practice, we should note a few specifics about this running of The 12. There’s a field of 56 cars, spread across six classes (LMP1, LMP2, LMPC, GT, GTE-AM, and GTC…see previous post, “The Numbers Game” for detail). The 2011 race also included visiting contestants from the ACO’s new International Le Mans Cup, a European series that has some similarity in format to the ALMS but a much better television contract. Among the ILMC entrants was Krohn Racing, running in GTE-AM, the “gentleman racer” class; followers of Risi Comp will remember that Krohn Racing has raced with Risi for several years, to good result and we, of course, wished them well in their ILMC adventure. In 2011, nineteen (19) cars were entered in the GT class, with the usual suspects (Flying Lizard Porsche, Corvette Racing, BMW) well represented along with teams from Jaguar and Panoz. Also on hand for light entertainment were a Lamborghini , a Ford GT40. Plus of course Extreme Speed, with a pair of Ferrari 458s, Luxury Racing with a new 458 (Ortelli/Makowliecki/Deletraz), Falken Tire with a Porsche 911 GT3 RSR with the very formidable Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers, and Martin Ragginger in the saddle. All very good groups and, even if some are new to Sebring, factors to be dealt with. In all, a crowded and very professional field in GT-Pro and the other GT classes. The big question for all the pro teams at Sebring was how much trouble the amateur classes (LMPC, GTE-AM, and GTC) were going to create.
At 3:05PM, same day, the Green Flag is once again brought out of hiding and waved at the pack of racers, who commence circulation efforts aimed at showing who’s who on the Dark Princess that is Sebring International Raceway.
A red flag here(Gunnar Jeanette) and there (Sebastian Bleekemolen punts his Porsche Cup car into the tire barriers at Turn 17) and the teams carry on.
At the end of the second practice session, the No. 062 Risi Comp Ferrari 458GT( it is No. 062 for this race and also for this fall’s Petit Le Mans because a competing car from ILMC will be borrowing No. 62 for this race and the Petit Le Mans; after Sebring, Risi Comp’s No. 062 will turn, again, into the No. 62 we all know and follow) is third in class, behind a Corvette (No. 3, with Olivier Beretta pushing down on the thrust peddle) and P. Long in one of the Lizard 911 GT3 RSRs. Both have been here before—a statement which will assume amazing importance once the race starts.
Up next, the obligatory and often-fun Night Practice, teeing off at 7:50PM, EDT.
Night practice at big endurance races is THE PRACTICE. Fast at night usually translates into blistering during the day. The sight plane at night is different and there is woe awaiting the driver who misjudges his braking points at night. At 7:50PM, the Green Flag is dropped and the cars roar off into the cooling Florida night, daylight behind them and hopes of fame and glory in front. By 8:00PM, the Lamborghini had shed a wheel and the Red Flag is wheeled out, making contestants and pit crews alike grumpy and edgy. Another Red Flag comes out (the Krohn Racing Ferrari hits the boonies) then at 8:34PM, all is forgiven and the Green Flag comes down and the hammers drop and the noise level rises and the adrenalin flows and at 9:35PM the checkered flag comes down and the night’s practice is done, the brakes are cooled on the cool down lap and it’s time to pull in for the night and turn the car over to the techs, who are facing yet another long night of repair and prep.
Keeping score, we note that our boy, Toni Vilander, new to Risi Comp at Sebring has posted at 2:02.715 at night, good enough for third in the GT class in the practice session. Best in class goes to Scott Sharp in the Extreme Speed 458 Ferrari and Jan Magnussen is sandwiched in at second in GT with a 2:02.678 in his Big Yellow Dog Corvette. Respectable numbers all but that’s only tonight’s glory.
Friday, March 18th, and the screws tighten as we approach race time. A little less levity in Pit Lane as game faces go on and, in the rest of the world, the NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament is in full throttle mode. This IS a full competition weekend. Love it.
At 10:40AM, the GF drops again but the No. 044 GT Porsche re-arranges the tire barriers, bringing out the Red Flag and raising blood pressure throughout Sebringland.
At 10:50AM, the GF is out once more and the pursuit of speed resumes. When the spectacle is declared finished at 11:40AM, the top three in the GT Class are Makowieki in the No. 59 Ferrari 458GT; Bruni in the No. 51 Ferrari 430GT, and Werner in the No. 55 BMW. Nice show. Let’s qualify.
Right at 3:00PM, the qualifying Green Flag drops and the assembled competitors then make the run for bragging rights. When the session is checkered closed at 3:15PM, it’s Bruni (Ferrari 430GT) in first; Gavin (Corvette) in second and Werner (BMW) in third. The Risi Competizione No. 062 Ferrari posts a 2:02.290 for 5th position on the grid.
Qualifying spots are not as important for races likes The 12 or The 24 as they are for short sprints on city streets like at Los Angeles and (new this year ) Baltimore.
Word from the Risi Comp compound is this: the car is doing very well in the run up to its first big international endurance event. In other words: stay tuned.
Next up: The Running of The 12.
We will bypass results of the morning warmup which as a 25 minute session are really irrelevant in a 12 hour race, and I would say that if we were 1st or 15th. It’s warmup. I don’t judge Dennis Rodman’s career by how he looked on the bicycle he used to peddle while waiting to get into an NBA game, but on how he did in the game snagging rebounds. About 8 years ago, I had lunch with Rodman and it was fun and highly enjoyable and while his media persona may be that of a wild man, he is an absolute blast and surprisingly low key one-on-one. But, back to our sport, racing.
Warmup in the books, last minute prep is busy at Risi Comp, as with all the teams, but the horrible truth is this: if you are not ready by now, you are in deep trouble.
At 10:30AM, the Green Flag dropped on the field for the 59th running of The 12 and, despite my own personal visions of an absolute crashfest in the opening laps, the guys in every class did a great job and stayed on the track and out of trouble.
At approximately one hour and 15 minutes into the race, the top Three in GT were the No. 40 FordGT/Elan, with Boris Said driving in first, Bergmeister in the Flying Lizard No. 45 GT second and Jaime Melo in the Risi Comp 062 Ferrari F459GT in third. Not bad for an “out of the box” racecar.
Fast forward to one hour and 23 minutes and Melo has snagged 1st with the usual tactic—driving a hell of a lot faster than his competition—with Gavin (Corvette) and Werner in the heavily-performance-waivered BMW M3 in third. A milestone is reached as Melo puts the Risi Competizione F458GT into first place—its’ first lead in a major international endurance race.
But…it’s a very long race and this is a very new race car.
The next big event in the GT class occurs when around the three hour and thirty minute mark, Porsche driver P. Long looses it in the bumps and takes out the No. 04 Ferrari 458GT.
That incident put the Porsche well down in the standings and removed one 458GT from the race.
At approximately four and one half hours into the race (4:32 to be precise), the top three in GT are Farlus (No. 55 BMW); Priaulx(No. 56 BMW), and Bruni (No. 51 Ferrari 430GT).
Fast forward to 8 hours in and the top three are Hand (No. 56 BMW), Bruni (No. 51 F430GT) and Auberlan (No. 55 BMW). The Risi Competizione No. 062 Ferrari is lying in wait and at 7:00PM, with Mika Salo turning the wheel and pressing the throttle, it pops into first, at 8 hours and thirty minutes into The 12. Hmmmmm.
Seventeen minutes later, Salo surrenders the lead when he pits (tires, fuel, driver change, with Vilander in/Salo out) and Priaulx in the No. 56 BMW takes first. When Priaulx comes in for fuel, tires and a driver change (Mueller), Risi Comp’s 062 Ferrari moves back into first. The race is now 9 hours and 36 mintues old and the brand new F458GT is leading again. Can it hold?
When Vilander pits at 9:40 into the race, Mr. Racing Luck appears at the Risi Comp pits. The car will not start and a new battery is installed, with many laps lost (as close as this race was, any lap lost is many laps lost). Mueller in the No. 56 BMW takes the lead.
Then it starts to unravel for Risi Comp. Salo gets hit with a Stop and Go penalty for speeding (Speeding? At a race? The nerve.) in Pit Lane at 10 hours, 17 minutes into The 12. More time lost at the wrong time to lose time.
Salo’s back 8 minutes later for a new battery. This is now a Real Serious Problem. Lights are required to race at high speed at night and the Risi Comp Ferrari is struggling to keep it’s electrical head above water. At 10:33, Salo, is back in the pits with another electrical issue. He gets out of the car—never a good sign on a non-scheduled stop—and jumps over the pit wall, an even worse sign. A few minutes later, Dave Sims, Risi Competizione Team Manager, gives the final word for this running of The 12: “We’ve having electrical problems which ,at this stage of the game, mean it’s too dangerous to go on. We don’t need to crash the car at this point. We don’t know what the cause of the problem is, but it cuts the main electrical source out, which means no headlights or power steering. We have tried three types of repair but it’s too dangerous to continue”
And that was that. C’est fini for this edition of The 12.
For the record, BMWs took spots 1&2 in GT and Corvettes took 3&4, but you know that already. Congrats to the drivers and teams. Well done.
Unrealistic expectations would have wanted a podium to be delivered on the first outing of the new 458GT but it was just not to be.
Here’s what we learned: it’s going to be a great car but it’s a new car. It can compete against and lead the big factory teams but development time is necessary. That means lots of testing and constant upgrades.
New car, first race, great start.
But no Red Auerbach victory cigar.