Sebring, Florida - Until an hour before the end of the 61st Twelve Hours of Sebring, it looked as though Risi Competizione would pull off a fairy tale finish by clinching victory in the GT category.
As it was, the Houston-based team’s No.62 Ferrari 458 Italia crossed the finish line in second place, just 2.7 seconds behind the class winning No.4 Corvette.
Never out of contention during practice sessions and throughout the once-round-the-clock event, the drivers, team and its F458 performed flawlessly but were ultimately beaten to the checkered flag by the superior speed of the Corvette.
Faultless and speedy pit work, no penalties, and a sensible strategy by both drivers and engineers put the Ferrari at the head of the field for several periods, the longest of which was for 92 laps in the final quarter of the race.
Having pulled out a lead of 65 seconds, confidence was quietly building in the Risi pits until Bruni, who was due to take the finish at the end of a double stint, reported that he was experiencing back pain which led to a lack of feeling is his right leg.
The change of plan saw ALMS newcomer Malucelli back in the cockpit for the final hour and, despite calm and controlled driving, he was being hunted down relentlessly by a menacing competitor who appeared to have an advantage over its rivals at each refuelling stop.
The 28-year-old Italian was put under intense pressure lap after lap and, with just seven laps to the finish, was passed by the Corvette.
The first two GT cars were the only ones to finish on the same lap and the gap of just 2.7 seconds after 12 hours of hard racing is demonstration of great competition to come for the remainder of the 2013 season.
The disappointment at not winning was huge for all concerned, but there was some reward as the result for Sebring offered double points, which is vital for the season ahead, and the Risi team was awarded the Michelin Green X Challenge trophy for the GT category.
Matteo Malucelli: “It was quite hard, I just pushed and tried to do my best but sometimes it’s not enough. We finished second and the result is good points for the championship, a good start for me and Olivier; I’m sure we will win in the next few races. When I was passed by Milner, I don’t know if I made a mistake or if there was some gravel on the track but honestly they were too fast for me to stay in front.”
Gianmaria Bruni: “I think today our rivals were very fast. It’s happened to me in the past with Ferrari – sometimes you’re so fast and you win and sometimes you’re fast and you don’t. I think Corvette here was more prepared than us, but it’s a great result for Risi and Ferrari.
This team hasn’t raced for one year and they just finished second behind the 2012 Champions. I think there’s great potential during the season for Matteo and Olivier to just get better and better!”
Olivier Beretta: “I think for the whole group and for the Risi team it’s a good first result. I’m really happy to race with them. We’ve shown up and been competitive all week, including during the race. We led for many laps and I’m happy. First would have been better than second but everyone did a good job and I’m looking forward to the season.”