RISI CRUELLY DENIED PODIUM FINISH AT LAGUNA SECA
Monterey, 17 September 2011. First there was elation, then disappointment and then despair. Those were the range of emotions which ran through the minds of every single member of the Risi Competizione team in the closing minutes of the ModSpace American Le Mans Series Monterey race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California tonight.
Closing on victory in the production-led GT class, and in front of many guests from Motorola and additional team sponsors, the No. 62 Risi Ferrari was forced to yield on the final pit straight in order to have enough fuel to be able to finish the race and take the checkered flag. Crossing the line in third place, the team was disappointed to lose the victory but ultimately content with the result and points for the podium finish. However, a post-race penalty applied by the Race Director’s office for ‘avoidable contact’ on the final lap with the GT race-winning Flying Lizard Porsche saw the Ferrari drop to sixth in the final classification.
The Houston-based team’s red Ferrari 458 Italia was an integral part of the action throughout the six hours of hot, competitive and sometimes up-close-and-personal racing enjoyed by the fans at the Laguna Seca track. Drivers Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander both performed at the highest level and, between them, headed the classified entry list for 74 of the 236 laps completed by the production-led class leaders.
The Brazilian took the start and completed a flawless double stint, picking off the cars in front of him from his seventh place on the starting grid until he headed the GT classification one hour and 42 minutes into the race. After handing over to his team mate Toni Vilander at the two hour mark, the Finn retained the lead for a further 50 minutes until the attentions of Jörg Bergmeister in the No. 45 Porsche proved too great. There was some exciting wheel-to-wheel racing down through the Corkscrew during his stint, with little quarter being given by either protagonist, but both cars survived to live another day.
Gambling on a conservative fuel strategy, in order to retain their place at the head of the pack, Risi were delighted when the last of the five full course caution periods came about with just 19 minutes of the race to run as it offered an opportunity to turn slower laps behind the pace car and save fuel. However, the caution proved to be just one lap too short to allow Melo to push right to the very end and he was forced to back off in the dying moments of the race otherwise he would not have had enough fuel to finish.
Team Manager David Sims said afterwards: “Third place would have been a very good result for a six hour race considering the handling problems we had at the start of the weekend and the ‘off’ we had because of a faulty shock absorber. We lost a lot of practice time but both drivers were fantastic today and our pit work today was excellent – faultless. Unfortunately what happened at the end, with half a lap to go, was the result of a gamble we made and we had to settle for third instead of the win. To then be penalized after the event was a bitter blow.”
Claiming its second Michelin Green X Challenge award for the best overall performance and fuel efficiency with the least environmental impact was the sole consolation for the Risi team. It is the second time the Risi squad has won the award – the first being at the 2010 Northeast Grand Prix.