RE-LOAD: RISI SEEKS TO BUILD ON UTAH WIN IN ALMS GT BATTLE AT LIME ROCK Houston, Texas. Tuesday, July 20. Hot on the heels of its dominant GT victory in the Utah Grand Prix, Risi Competizione now heads to Lime Rock Park in Lakeville,...
RE-LOAD: RISI SEEKS TO BUILD ON UTAH WIN IN ALMS GT BATTLE AT LIME ROCK
Houston, Texas. Tuesday, July 20. Hot on the heels of its dominant GT victory in the Utah Grand Prix, Risi Competizione now heads to Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut, for the second round of the five-race ALMS summer odyssey.
Its central aims will be to not only secure a back-to-back 'sprint' victory, but also to consolidate its position in the championship points' battles. Melo and Bruni currently lead the Drivers' Championship by two points over Bergmeister/Long, and Risi/Ferrari are one point away from leading the Teams/Manufacturers' chase.
With a view to breaking the stranglehold that the Flying Lizard Porsches have had on class victories over the last three years, the Houston-based Ferrari team has drafted in a second F430 GTC to be driven by Finland's Mika Salo and Germany's Pierre Kaffer, racing alongside Miller Motorsport Park winners, Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni.
The duo will undoubtedly be popular returnees to North America's leading, manufacturer-led sports car series, just as Giancarlo Fisichella was a popular debutant two weeks ago. The quiet Italian who, along with his driving partner Toni Vilander, thoroughly enjoyed the entire US racing experience, has prior commitments for Ferrari in Europe this weekend, and Vilander is getting married in Finland.
The scenic 1.51 mile (2.48km), 10-turn track will provide a tight fit for the 30 cars on the entry list, and 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 at the North Western Connecticut road course in 2009 and set the fastest race lap in 2008, but a victory has so far eluded him. The last Risi-run Ferrari to secure a class win at Lime Rock was the 360 Modena of Ralf Kelleners and Anthony Lazzaro in 2004.
Ten of the 13 cars in the GT class are now powered by cellulosic E85 and the longer stint runs this can offer will be critical when it comes to strategy. With a lap of Lime Rock Park being under a minute (Melo's 2009 GT pole was 54.665 seconds), and with the likelihood of multiple full course caution periods, flexibility and slick pit work will be crucial elements for success.
Brazilian Melo and his Italian team mate, Gimmi Bruni, are riding the crest of a victory wave at the moment, having followed up their Utah victory with another for Ferrari in the Portuguese round of the European-based Le Mans Series last weekend. Lime Rock Park will be the last of the 'unknown' tracks for Bruni, although he efficiently proved with his pole position in Utah that it takes little time for him to learn a new layout.
Jaime Melo has barely had time to breathe since the beginning of July due to racing and testing, but that's the way he likes it. He knows exactly what is required for success in this picturesque part of the country. "Normally Lime Rock is okay for us; it's not a difficult track but it's a completely different kind to all the others we race at. It's very small, slow and physical, and you have got to try to work to get mechanical grip. You have no rest because there's so much traffic and the main strait is only 500 metres. Maybe with the LMPC and GTC cars it will be busier than last year, but the lack of prototypes will balance that although they will be fast. Tire wear here is okay and usually it's good for Michelin's medium tires so we can keep consistency throughout a stint. This year with the bigger tires, we'll have to see how it goes in practice. The main thing is that you've got to be fast in qualifying and try and avoid too much contact. It will be so competitive that you can't afford to make any mistakes at all."
Pierre Kaffer has only driven at Lime Rock once but finished on the second step of the podium last year. "Of course I'm looking forward to going back to race in America, especially with Mika as I think we will be a strong combination and we'll have a chance to fight for a podium finish. Every championship I'm racing in this year has strong opponents, but I like the American race tracks a lot more so I'm excited to be back in the ALMS. Lime Rock is quite a challenge because of its size; last year we had quite a fight with the #45 car and this year I'm sure we will have a great battle again with all the competition. Hopefully we can be first and second in the race. I think we have all the skills to beat them, and that's our target."
Mika Salo finished third at his last Lime Rock outing in 2008, but is looking forward to going racing again. "Lime Rock is not the nicest circuit in the world but it always produces good races. The chance to do this race came about quite suddenly but I'm looking forward to it. With so many cars it's going to be like a rally cross race or something -- there will be lots of contact. We have to try to avoid other cars from the first practice onwards and I expect all the sessions to be interrupted by red flags because of incidents. I've only driven this configuration of the F430 for a few laps in Le Mans, but Risi is a good team and they know what they are doing so I don't think it will take long for me to get back into it."