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.
POST RACE DEBRIEF: MOSPORT