Orlando, Fla. (January 27, 2000) -- In a move that continues to strengthen its ties to Italy, Olive Garden today announced that it will partner with Italy's Team Rafanelli to mount what is expected to be the leading independent effort to win...
Orlando, Fla. (January 27, 2000) -- In a move that continues to strengthen its ties to Italy, Olive Garden today announced that it will partner with Italy's Team Rafanelli to mount what is expected to be the leading independent effort to win the 2000 American Le Mans Series (ALMS) prototype endurance racing championship. Olive Garden is the dominant leader in the Italian casual dining industry employing 53,000 people across North America and serving approximately 2.5 million guests weekly.
Team Rafanelli is headquartered in San Gimignano, Italy (not far from the new Olive Garden Riserva di Fizzano Restaurant and Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany) and is one of Italy's most famous and successful racing teams. They will seek to capture the ALMS championship, participating in all nine of the series' North American races as well as the 2000 ALMS finale in Adelaide, Australia on Dec. 31. The first race of the ALMS season is the famed 12 Hours of Sebring on March 18.
"We are thrilled to establish this new partnership with one of Italy's most accomplished racing teams," said Brad Blum, president of Olive Garden. "The mark of a champion is consistent, excellent performance. We have seen Team Rafanelli compete and appreciate their passion for winning and for being the best in everything they do. We're confident that we will be a strong contender for the ALMS Championship this year."
The Olive Garden motorsport program will debut a new Le Mans Prototype category racecar. The "Olive Garden Rafanelli V-10" features exciting new aerodynamic advances for its class and has been designed and manufactured by Lola Cars International with input and assistance from the Team Rafanelli technical staff. True to Olive Garden's Italian character, it will be decked out in the familiar color scheme of Italy's flag: green, white and red. The first test is scheduled for mid-February at a road racing circuit in Spain, from where the racecar will be flown to the U.S. for continued testing in preparation for its debut at Sebring.
Four very talented race drivers are expected to share the piloting duties throughout the season. They include:
Italian Domenico "Mimmo" Schiattarella who is a former Formula One Grand Prix driver and scored an impressive American Le Mans series victory driving for Team Rafanelli at Road Atlanta last year.
Italian Massimiliano "Max" Angelelli who drove for the Olive Garden team last year and placed second at one of the world's most grueling and difficult races, the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
Belgian Didier de Radigues, who co-drove with Angelelli on the Olive Garden team last year and likewise placed second at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, returns to Team Rafanelli after winning for them at Laguna Seca in 1998.
Italian Pierluigi Martini who won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans last year and like Schiattarella is a former Formula One Grand Prix driver. In making the announcement, team owner Gabriele Rafanelli said, "Thanks to Olive Garden's support, we have assembled what will be one of the strongest packages yet. We will enjoy the full technical support of Lola Cars and Michelin. Together with an aggressive driver lineup and our experience on the ALMS racing circuits, I can tell you we will provide an exciting challenge for the big teams."
The new effort marks Olive Garden's second season as a leading sponsor partner in the American Le Mans Series. Another major success of 1999 was Olive Garden's "Drive Against Hunger". For every lap successfully completed by the Olive Garden racing team, one needy family was invited to Olive Garden to receive a delicious meal and some extra special attention. More than 1400 families were hosted by Olive Garden restaurants in the markets where races took place last year. Also as part of last year's program, Olive Garden donated a refrigerated truck or trailer to the Community Food Banks in Atlanta, Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Las Vegas, Nev. The refrigerated transport provided by Olive Garden helped satisfy what the community food banks identified as their greatest need; the ability to transport perishable food. The "Drive Against Hunger" will continue to be a major part of Olive Garden's motorsport program this year.