FERRARI MAKES ITS MARK ON SEBRING’S GT GRID
Jaime Melo qualified the all-new Ferrari 458 Italia GT in fifth place on the 19-strong, manufacturer-led GT grid at Sebring, Florida this afternoon in preparation for the car’s international racing debut in tomorrow’s 12-Hour endurance classic. The race is the opening round of both the 2011 American Le Mans Series and the 2011 Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, and represents the highest level of global GT competition.
The Brazilian’s quickest time of 2:02.290 was set on his third of five flying laps in the 15-minute session, and he will line up for the race behind the AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT of his 2010 Risi team mate, Gianmaria Bruni, Oliver Gavin’s Corvette and the two BMWs of Dirk Werner and Dirk Mueller.
With the opening hours of the race in mind, and in the hottest temperatures of the week so far (85oF ambient and 108o track), Melo and the Risi Competizione technical team opted for a conservative tire strategy for qualifying. The regulations state that competitors must start the race on the same tires with which they qualified.
Jaime Melo commented after the session: “I didn’t have any problems with the car or with traffic, and I’m pretty pleased with the outcome as I think we did the max we could today for qualifying. I am completely confident that we have a very good car now for the race, and I think it will handle even better with a full fuel load. I went out straight away at the start of the session and found some space, and gave it my best.
“The F458 is such a new car,” he continued. “The Risi team only got it a few days before coming here to Sebring. The guys have had a lot of work to do all week to make it comfortable for us and also to make it comfortable on the track. I think we’ve now found a good balance and both Mika and Toni will also be happy with it for the race.”
There are seven Ferraris entered in the hugely-competitive GT field, of which four are the new F458 Italia GT. All four are within the top ten GT qualifiers, with Melo leading the quartet, so the Italian marque is strongly represented. The green flag will be dropped for the start of the race at 10:30 am tomorrow in front of a huge crowd. Amongst the interested spectators will be Ferrari SpA’s CEO, Ing. Amedeo Felisa and Ferrari North America’s CEO, Marco Mattiacci.