VICTORY SNATCHED FROM RISI'S GRASP ON LAST LAP
Le Mans GT2 winners Jaime Melo and Mika Salo looked set for their first American Le Mans Series GT2 victory today at Road America, but it was cruelly snatched from their grasp on the last lap. The end result of 5th place in no way reflected the flawless race that the duo had run up until that point, having led the race for nearly three of the four hours of racing. Their #61 team mates Harrison Brix and Robert Bell - having started the race from last on the grid - finished in 6th place.
In a race punctuated by seven full course caution periods, the Risi Competizione team's strategy was looking perfect and the team was holding its breath for the checkered flag. Salo, who was at the wheel for the last two hours, had held off eventual class winner Dirk Werner in the Farnbacher Loles Porsche for the final hour but was unfortunately blocked on the track as the race went green for the final time, allowing the Werner to pass him. An attempt to re-pass resulted in slight contact between the two which knocked Salo into a spin and dropped him down the field.
"I had to try to pass him again. It was win or nothing," said Salo afterwards. "I had to go for it, but there was grass on the track and lots of cars on the track as they'd been bunched up behind the pace car. Up until then, the re-starts [after caution periods] were the only time that Werner could get close to us. If I hadn't been blocked, he wouldn't have been able to get me before the flag. He was a bit quicker than us in the first sector, but I could pull away for the rest of the lap. It's very, very annoying to finish like this."
Chronic radio problems between car 61 and the pits certainly didn't help with communication issues towards the end of the race, but that didn't detract from the strong performance by both Bell and Brix during the race. In his first Road America race, the British driver worked hard in the opening two hours to make up the lost ground caused by starting from the back of the grid. The move to the back has been caused by the necessity to change tires after qualifying - two of the four tires having been spoiled when Brix was forced to pull off the track in the dying minutes of yesterday's session.
After the first hour, the two Risi Ferrari 430s were turning the quickest laps on the track, with Bell being only marginally slower than his more experienced ALMS team mate, Melo. Californian Harrison Brix also got into a good race rhythm and recorded his best lap times of the whole weekend.
Bell said afterwards, "It wasn't too bad at the start although we had to pick our way through the traffic. Unfortunately it meant that the leading five or six GT2 cars had got away from us by the time we were past the slower cars. Our biggest problem was at the first safety car as the race leaders caught me in Turn 4 and the Safety Car came out just after that and we went a lap down on the rest of the class. We never really managed to claw that back. I had a really good weekend though with the team, and have really enjoyed racing with them. I'm looking forward to being back at Detroit."