THE FINISH REVISITED: A YEAR LATER It's hard to believe that it has been one year since the most thrilling finish in the history of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Nevertheless, the memories of the classic duel between Risi ...
THE FINISH REVISITED: A YEAR LATER
It's hard to believe that it has been one year since the most thrilling finish in the history of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Nevertheless, the memories of the classic duel between Risi Competizione's Jaime Melo and Flying Lizard Motorsports' Jörg Bergmeister are still fresh. It was Melo who raced his way to a 0.202-second victory in GT2 for the Risi squad, the closest finish in the race's now 56-year history. Here's how they remember it:
"I remember the last nine laps best, to be honest. Rick Mayer, my engineer, started talking to me over the radio. 'Be careful, the Porsche is coming up, it's coming up, it's catching you. One second, two seconds.' With two laps to go I said to him, 'Ok, I know; I can see him. Let me drive!' Bergmeister, who was fresh in the car, and on new tires, was getting closer every corner.
"We were on tires which had done a double stint (almost two hours) and we also had some brake issues. The brakes were fading, but to change them would have cost too much time. I realized it would be hard to manage this situation, but I just tried to stay calm and do my job. I knew it was a really important race for everybody - for Ferrari and the Risi Competizione team especially - because we had not won at Sebring before.
"If you remember, after six or seven hours of the race we were two laps in front of everyone but we had had some electronic issue and, each time we stopped, we had problems re-starting the car so we lost a lot of time. Plus we got a 20-second penalty (for a team member's helmet visor being up during refueling), so our lead was getting smaller all the time. But that's what can happen.
"When the Audi crossed the line to win overall, he was behind us so we had to do one more lap. I said a thank you that it was only one! Jörg was only three seconds behind at that point and gaining but I was faster through Turn One, and started the last lap still ahead of him. It stayed like that until the hairpin at Turn 7 when my tires and brakes were just about giving up and I lost a bit more time.
"The next braking point was at Turn 10 and I tried all the way to defend, to do what I could. Bergmeister tried to take the inside line but wasn't able to get past. We were very, very close then all the way down to Turn 16, leading onto the back straight. He was squeezed right up against the wall, on the inside, and I think we touched, and in the end he came out of the corner ahead of me. It was all down to me now.
"Coming into the last corner, Turn 17, we were side by side. Braking into that last turn is usually quite late but I braked a bit early, got a good entrance to the turn, switched from the outside to inside, got a good exit and got past him. We touched for sure, but I had to give it everything I could. I wouldn't be a good racing driver if I hadn't. I've watched the lap a million times since then and each time I think, yes, that was the right place to brake and the right exit to take. I think it was a good move.
"As I crossed the finish line, everyone was screaming on the radio, all very excited. I said thank you to the whole team for a great job. It was such a special feeling and I can't really describe in words what I felt but I remember thinking 'What a race! If every race is like that, it would be so fantastic for the fans watching.' That's what I think.
"As Giuseppe [Risi] said afterwards, it could have gone either way at the end as both teams were performing at the top of their game. We have always said we race against the best competition in the world in the GT2 class, and now the rest of the world knows exactly how close it is. This year I want to repeat the victory.but with more margin."
"On that last lap, when we passed start/finish, Melo was ahead and there was still a little gap between us. But then Melo made a mistake going into Turn 7. and I was able to catch up to him. Going into Turn 10 he was on the defensive. He started blocking and driving a defensive line, which allowed me to get next to him on the back straight. Our cars made contact several times but I managed to get by on the inside. From that point on, well, there are definitely several different versions of what happened! Near the end, I got hit once which made the car loose and I wasn't expecting it. I had to lift (off the throttle) again and we were more or less side by side, he made contact twice more, and finally I had to lift again otherwise I would have ended up in the outside wall.
But really, that's last year. I'm still not happy about the result, but it is what it is - the stewards made their decision, we accepted it. Right now, we are 100 percent focused on this year's race."