Long Beach: Risi Competizione race report

RISI COMPETIZIONE TAKES 1st AND 3rd IN GT2 AT LONG BEACH Long Beach, California - Risi Competizione's No. 62 Ferrari 430GT, driven by Mika Salo and Jaime Melo, took first in the GT2 Class at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; while...

RISI COMPETIZIONE TAKES 1st AND 3rd IN GT2 AT LONG BEACH

Long Beach, California - Risi Competizione's No. 62 Ferrari 430GT, driven by Mika Salo and Jaime Melo, took first in the GT2 Class at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; while the team's No. 61 Ferrari 430GT, piloted by Nic Jonsson and Anthony Lazzaro finished third, to give Risi Competizione it's first double podium of the season.

The win was the third in a row for the Houston-based team in 2007; going back to 2006, the team has now won five of its' last six races (Mosport, Laguna Seca, Sebring, St. Petersburg, and Long Beach); Salo has won the last 6 races he has started for the team (Portland, Utah, Laguna Seca, Sebring, St. Petersburg, and Long Beach) and Melo has won his last five starts (Portland, Utah, Sebring, St. Petersburg, Long Beach) for the Rosso Corsa-clad Ferrari team.

"It was a great team effort," said Team Manager Dave Sims. "The drivers, the techs, the Michelin tires, the strategy, all worked extremely well. We are delighted with the result at Long Beach because our competition is getting tougher each race. It is an honor to race in GT2 in ALMS because we face, at each race, some of the toughest and best competitors in the world. It gets tougher each race and so we have to keep improving."

Risi Competizione came into the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach facing a new set of challenges in this short 100 minute ALMS race (the typical length for an ALMS race is two hours and forty-five minutes). Jaime Melo, one-half of the driving team of Salo and Melo for Risi Competizione's No. 62 Rosso Corsa Ferrari 430GT, had suffered a motorbike accident in Italy prior to coming to Long Beach to race. The accident, although minor, dinged Melo's shoulder-not a good situation for a man who drives race cars at high speeds and needs full strength in his shoulders to wrestle them around the track. "It's always something," was all that Team Managing Director Giuseppe Risi would say about the incident. "This team has overcome a lot of challenges in the last two years, and we'll find a way to deal with this one. But nothing is ever easy at this level of the game."

Riding a two-race winning streak (Sebring, St. Petersburg), Salo and Melo have been at the top of the podium twice in the No. 62 Ferrari in the GT2 class so this year. But now, there appeared to be a chink in the armor. Melo, who has done the qualifying for the first two races, was clearly uncomfortable in practice on Friday.

No problem. Mika Salo stepped up to handle qualifying, which he did with an emphatic 1.20.916 lap, the only lap in the 1.20's in GT2. Behind Salo, the highly competitive Patrick Long in the No. 44 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 RSR ; another Flying Lizards Motor sports, No 45, driven by Jorg Bergmeister took third on the grid with a 1.21.239 Time. The Number 61 Risi Competizione 430GT, driven by Nic Jonsson, qualified in 6th at 1.21.620.

With the No. 62 car in first on the grid, attention turned to strategy and race management. Saturday dawned perfect for racing and the team, true to tradition, was one of the first on the track for the morning practice, where it again turned in the fastest lap.

Although Salo qualified the car, the decision was made to start the race with Melo, preserving the Melo/Salo rotation that the team has used with great effectiveness over the last year. Asked about the situation the team was facing, Salo laid down the truth: "We will have to push as hard as we can for the entire race. Jaime is a little bit hurt."

In modern sports car racing, every race-even an event like the 12 Hours of Sebring-is a sprint. The strategy is simple: go as fast as you can, get to the front, and stay there until the finish. With one other corollary: don't hit anything.

The green flag dropped at approximately 4:00PM PST, and Melo went to work, keeping the No. 62 Ferrari 430GT in front, and out of trouble. Trouble, however, always finds a spot to land, and Tom Milner (No.18-GT2 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR) was the first of the day to feel the sting of fate, when he made contact with the wall and suffered rear body damage. Within 15 minutes, Milner's race was over as No. 18 retired.

At 4:33 pm (0h 27m running), during the yellow flag which came out as a result of Milner's accident, the top three in GT2 were:

Jaime Melo (No. 62 Ferrari 430GT Berlinetta/ Risi Competizione); Darren Law (No. 44 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR/Flying Lizards Motorsports) 3.857 and Johannes van Overbeek (No. 45 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR/ Flying Lizzard Motorsports).

At 4:36 pm approximately 32 minutes into the race, Jaime Melo hit the pits for 4 tires, fuel, driver change (Melo out/Salo in); he was accompanied into the pits by the No. 61 Risi Competizione Ferrari 430, as Nic Jonsson pitted for tires, fuel, and a driver change (Jonsson out/Lazzaro in).

Upon exiting No. 62, Melo said that "I drove for 32 minutes so that's too much. I just tried to push as much as possible at the beginning and keep the gap to second place. At the yellow we lost the entire gap and decided to change drivers then." Mika did a very great job and the guys on the team made a great strategy. For us it is great to win another race. We have a good gap between us and Porsche."

When Salo roared out of the pits, the No. 62 car had dropped to 7th in class, with about an hour of racing remaining. Salo is not the man you want behind you at any stage of the race and he rose to the challenge at hand, carving his way through the pack, picking off the cars in front of him with lethal efficiency. True to his reputation as the best closer in GT2, Salo showed again that he is extremely tough under pressure. Need the pole? He can deliver. Down six positions with 60 minutes remaining? Salo can make up the distance.

And so he did. When Wolf Henzler in the No. 71 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR pitted for tires, fuel, and a handoff to Robin Liddell, Salo flew past his last obstacle to first place and grabbed the lead, never to let go again until the checkered flag, in the No. 62 Ferrari 430GT.

At 5:47PM (1hour and 41 minutes into the race), the checkered flag dropped and Risi Competizione had notched another 2007 GT2 win for Ferrari; even better, the No. 61 car had moved into third position-and a spot on the podium-so two Ferraris were on the podium. Second place went to the No. 44 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Patrick Long/Flying Lizard Motorsports).

For Salo, it was his sixth class victory in a row and third of the season; Jaime Melo added his fifth class victory, fifth in a row and 3rd of the season.

Looking back at the race, Salo noted that "We were behind the safety car and could see the time. We knew we could go until the end on fuel after the stop. We weren't much quicker than the second Porsche. I was coasting on the straight line and riding the clutch to save fuel. It was a great job by the engineers."

Team Manager Dave Sims simply pointed out that "we believe in our team. We believe we can handle the challenges in front of us and we will always strive to perform at our best, no matter what the circumstances. Michelin did a superb job with tires, Mika and Jaime were superb in difficult situations, and we felt really great about having Nic and Anthony on the podium. It was great to have Anthony back in a Risi Competizione car and boy, did he and Nic deliver. But we know what's in store for us at Houston and it's a lot more hard work on another tough street course."

Salo echoed Sim's remarks, when he said that "We definitely want to win Houston as it is our home race." For Risi Competizione, Houston is home base and the team would like to improve on last year's Third Place finish. Three for three is a great start to the season but it will only get tougher. Ahead lies Houston, Utah, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mosport, the Petit Le Mans, Lime Rock, Road America, Detroit, Monterey, Mosport. Each of them a worthy challenge for any team, all of them providing an opportunity for legendary racing. Stay tuned-the season is young, the competition is phenomenal, and it's only going to get better.

Next stop: Houston, April 21st.

-credit: risi

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Mika Salo , Robin Liddell , Anthony Lazzaro , Jörg Bergmeister , Jaime Melo , Patrick Long , Wolf Henzler , Nic Jonsson
Teams Risi Competizione , Flying Lizard Motorsports