Risi Ready To Resume Epic ALMS GT Battle; It’s Good To Be Back!
Nearly three months have elapsed since the American Le Mans Series’ last event, but Risi Competizione’s drivers, engineers and technicians have been far from idle. Two 24-hour races, two six-hour races plus testing and development – all at the wheel of the new-for-2011 Ferrari 458 GTC – have been on various team members’ schedules, and with notable success.
Drivers Jaime Melo and his Finnish team mate, Toni Vilander, will arrive in the US this week full of confidence following their victory this past weekend in a Ferrari 458 in the GTE-Pro class of the Imola, Italy round of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC). Add in Vilander’s second place finish (GTE-Pro) at the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans and Melo’s eighth place overall at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, and there’s certainly been no shortage of seat time. The drivers are race-fit and race-ready for part two of the 2011 ALMS season.
“We’re really beginning to make progress with the F458,” says the Italian-based Melo. “Every day we test or race, we understand better how the car behaves and why it does what it does. We’ve made big steps forward with areas like consistency of the tires at the start of a race, and the car is now very good and competitive. We just need to continue to work on reliability and for Lime Rock we will work hard on qualifying as starting position is so important on this small track.”
The Brazilian continues: “Toni and I are very happy with the Imola result – it seems like a long time since our last win and it gives us good motivation to return to the ALMS. I’m really looking forward to doing some sprint races again after all the longer events. It’ll be the first time we’ve raced the Pennzoil-supported Ferrari 458 there but I expect us to have a competitive car able to fight with the Corvettes, BMWs and Porsches.”
The scenic 1.51 mile (2.48km), 10-turn track will provide a tight fit for the 31 cars on the entry list, 16 of which are from the headlining and unpredictable GT battle. As Melo states, one of the key challenges for the weekend will be to qualify well to avoid being in the center of the highly competitive pack come race day. Melo was the fastest GT qualifier in 2009 and set the fastest race lap in 2008, but victory has so far eluded him; in 2010 his race ended after only 24 minutes following contact by another car.
Toni Vilander first raced at Lime Rock Park in 2006 with Risi Competizione and, although it doesn’t count amongst his all-time favorite tracks, he too is looking forward to returning to the 2 hour 45 minutes ‘sprint’ action. “This weekend will be the start of a tough schedule of races leading up to Petit Le Mans at the beginning of October, but I want to continue what we started at the beginning of the year. We got our first US podium with the F458 at Long Beach and I hope the car will be good at this track which is very small, slow and physical.
“You have got to try to work to get mechanical grip and there’s no rest because there’s so much traffic; a lap takes only about 64 seconds. As one of our weak points is strait-line speed, and the main strait here is only 500 metres, this should work in our favor. With the development work the team has done since April helping us as well, we should be good in the race as long as we can stay clear of trouble and get a little bit of luck on our side.”