RISI COMPETIZIONE FERRARI F430GT WINS INAUGURAL UTAH GRAND PRIX Tooele, Utah - Maybe it was the move west. Maybe it was the new track. Maybe it was the return of Jaime Melo and Mika Salo, the "O" boys. Maybe it was the speed of the Ferrari...
RISI COMPETIZIONE FERRARI F430GT WINS INAUGURAL UTAH GRAND PRIX
Tooele, Utah - Maybe it was the move west. Maybe it was the new track. Maybe it was the return of Jaime Melo and Mika Salo, the "O" boys. Maybe it was the speed of the Ferrari F430GT on the 4.5 mile, 24 turn course. Or maybe it was just their time. Whatever the reason, Risi Competizione became the fifth team to win a GT2 race in the American Le Mans Series this year, taking the checkered flag at the inaugural Utah Grand Prix at Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City with a convincing 11 second lead over the second placed Peterson Motorsports/White Lightening Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister. Third place went to another Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, this time the Flying Lizards Motorsports entry piloted by GT2 points' leader Johannes van Overbeek, and Wolf Henzler.
The checkered flag at the finish was an all the more impressive result, because at the start of the 2 hour 45 minute race the team was forced to make a difficult stating call. After putting the Ferrari F430GT on the pole, Jaime Melo, who returned to the team with co-pilot Mika Salo, after a one race absence, started the race for Risi Competizione from the very rear of the grid, a move mandated by the team's decision to start on the race on tires different from the ones on which the team qualified. Think of it as getting ahead by moving backwards.
"We started from the back because we made a different choice in tires for the front tires," said Team Managing Director Giuseppe Risi. "Your qualifying tires are marked and if you have any changes, you can only change one tire if there is an issue with that tire. However, we felt the overall balance of the car would be better at the pace we wanted to take if we made a change". This was a risky decision but, Risi acknowledged, "We felt that what we would gain would be better the disadvantages of starting at the back."
"This was a tough call" said team manager Dave Sims, "but the results prove it to be the right one. Jaime and Mika made that theory a reality. The Michelin tires were terrific throughout the race meeting. After all, we qualified on the pole for the GT2 class."
There was enough drama in this shootout in the west to satisfy the most jaded race fan. By 6:09 PM, just four minutes into the race, Melo had pushed the F430GT into sixth in class from dead last after one just one lap.
Driver Jaime Melo, the young Brazilian who has proven to be one of the fastest drivers on the ALMS circuit this year, said of his opening stint that, "I did a good start and tried to keep the car on the track on the first five laps just to calm down a little bit. Then I tried to push a little bit. I tried to keep my pace."
But it got even better just as quickly: Six minutes into the race, Melo had overtaken another two cars and moved the Risi Competizione Ferrari into fourth.
And Better. With only 14 minutes gone in the race, and Patrick Long in the No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR leading the class, Melo, screaming through the pack, moved into third, bracketed by the #51 Panoz driven by Gunnar Jeannette in second and the No. 23 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR piloted by Mike Rockenfeller in fourth.
And then, much better, as after 42 minutes of racing, Melo completed his run from the back of the pack to first in class when he overtook Patrick Long in the #31 Porsche for the GT2 class lead. Driver Jaime Melo, the young Brazilian who has proven to be one of the fastest drivers on the ALMS circuit this year, said of his opening stint that, "I did a good start and tried to keep the car on the track on the first five laps just to calm down a little bit. Then I tried to push a little bit. I tried to keep my pace."
But the drama of the Shootout in the West was not yet over, as all four of the top cars went into the pits at virtually the same time: an hour and 26 minutes into the race.
The sharp observer would notice that this was one of the first times all year that the Ferrari and the Porsches pitted at the same time. Giuseppe Risi commented that "Once Jaime put the car into first he was just running in place, staying out of trouble and keeping the fuel consumption low. We've been striving to improve our fuel consumption all season and with the help we got from Michelotto and Ferrari, we definitely managed to make some gains. Fuel consumption is an important performance consideration for us: the Ferrari is typically thirstier than a Porsche because the Ferrari has eight cylinders and the Porsche has only six."
When the Ferrari finally pitted, an hour and 26 minutes into the race, the car took on four new tires, fuel, and a driver change, as Jaime Melo handed over the team's destiny at Utah to team mate and ex-Ferrari F1 driver Mika Salo. Salo took the duties of class leadership seriously and roared back to the race, still leading the class, and carefully but quickly, lap by lap, started to build the lead for the Risi Competizione Ferrari 430GT.
"The strategy was based on a one stop race, "said Team Manager Dave Sims. "Jaime brought the car into the pits in first place, the team put up one our best pit stops of the season, and Mika left in first place. Instructions were to keep the pressure on-don't protect the lead, extend it. We are well aware of the competitiveness of the other teams and this is not a class where just holding on wins."
Mika Salo's stint was marked by consistently fast laps and excellent judgment. He stayed out of trouble, on the track, and on strategy, adding increments of time whenever the opportunity presented itself. At the end of the two hour and forty-five minute race, Mika Salo drove the Risi Competizione "rosso corsa" F430GT over the finish line to record the team's first win of the 2006 season, and their first since 2004. For ALMS, Risi Competizione was the fifth team to win a race this season and Melo and Salo the fifth driver combination to win. On this date, five proved to be Risi Competizione's lucky number.
"We have had our share of racing luck this season and tonight we had a virtually flawless race. The win is all the more sweet because everyone on the circuit, everyone on our team, and all of our fans know how close we have been to breaking through this year," said Team Managing Director Giuseppe Risi." I want to thank everyone for a superb effort, Jaime and Mika for a terrific drive, Michelin for the great tires, and all of our sponsors for their support throughout the season. What a great way to mark the half-way point in the 2006 season. We're definitely looking forward to the second half of the year."
Continuing, Risi remarked that "It's a world of difference to have Salo and Melo back at Risi Competizione. This enables the team to concentrate on the setup, very important at this track where we had no history, no testing, and no background. All teams were starting from the same base, but with Jaime and Mika here, we could concentrate on the car. We were able to achieve at this race an excellent marriage between the Michelin tires and the performance ability of the Ferrari 430GT. We were seeking a great performance and we got it. It's a great win for everyone."
For Risi Competizione, the Utah Grand Prix answered the question that everyone had been asking all season long-when is the Ferrari going to break through-while setting the tone for the team's efforts in the second half of the season. Next step for Risi Competizione: the Portland Grand Prix on July 22nd.