The Risi Competizione Ferrari Team, based in Houston, Texas, has announced their plans and driver line-up for the 39th Annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, February 3-4, 2001. The popular team will field the legendary No. 12 Ferrari 333 SP, piloted by Risi Competizione driver Ralf Kelleners, anticipated 2000 American Le Mans Series champion Allan McNish, and Risi Ferrari team regular Eric van de Poele. Additionally, the team is waiting for final word on a fourth potential driver for the Daytona event - David Brabham.
The 24-hour endurance classic, sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association for the second year, will feature a brand new beautiful red V-12 Ferrari 333 SP of the Risi Competizione team in what many have called her "swan song". Expected to be the only Ferrari 333 SP to enter the twice-around-the-clock race this year, the famed Risi Ferrari will have to hold off an assault from much newer Sports Racers.
"The Ferrari is still a competitive car for the Daytona 24 Hour race," said Technical Director John McLoughlin. "Although we don't feel she can really be as competitive in the sprint races against the newer makes, for an endurance race like Daytona, the Ferrari still has potential." McLoughlin is also an owner of the Risi Competizione team, with Ferrari of Houston principal Giuseppe Risi.
The most recently built Ferrari 333 SP, chassis number 37, is en route for delivery to the Risi Competizione team for car owner and collector Phil Bennett. "I have an affection for the Ferrari 333 and the Daytona 24 Hour race," said Bennett, who is a part owner and operates an international financial services business in New York. "This is an unique opportunity to have this car campaigned by the best team currently preparing the Ferrari 333 SP. The fact that these talented drivers are competing in this year's Rolex 24 Hours will give the car a history which is appropriate for the last version of the 333 SP."
McNish, who is expected to capture the 2000 ALMS championship just before midnight on December 31st, will make his only sports car driving appearance of 2001 at Daytona with the Risi Competizione team. He has five wins, nine podium finishes, four pole positions, six fastest laps and five lap records to date in the 2000 American Le Mans Series as an Audi factory driver.
"In 2001, the Toyota Formula One test program will be my 100% focus ," said the Scotsman. "I won't race in ALMS or at LeMans because there is no time and you can't do both programs. I had to cut back on racing and concentrate on testing and I'm looking forward to it. It will be good to come back to Daytona and to team up again with the Risi team. I worked with them two years (1999 and 2000) and know the team and their desires. When I think of going to Daytona, I think of driving with the Risi team. The car, as we say here, is a little bit long in the tooth. Like the Riley & Scott, both are getting old. They're still competitive for Daytona in regard to things like lap times that you need to win the race. I am very happy to have the opportunity to come back and race in the Ferrari with the Risi team again."
Ralf Kelleners brings solid sports car and endurance experience to the Risi Competizione Ferrari team. A permanent team driver for Risi Competizione last season on the Grand-Am circuit, Kelleners knows the Ferrari well. He also has experienced victory at Daytona, in 1997, and in a variety of cars throughout his racing career. In 1999 that included the Porsche Super Cup, where he captured three victories and finished fifth in the driver's championship, the Toyota GT-One, where he drove as a factory driver for the 24 Hours of LeMans, on the ISRS circuit in a Kremer 8 Sportscar, and the American Le Mans Series in a Porsche GT1.
"The Risi team is really good and with the Ferrari we have great reliability," said the German Kelleners. "The car can be competitive for Daytona. I am very comfortable with my co-drivers. Allan and I were teammates at Porsche and with other teams, so we know each other's driving styles. Eric and I drove together only once last year, but we all have a history with this team and that is important. We will all work together and add some history for the Ferrari 333 SP at Daytona."
Eric van de Poele, a former Formula One driver, has a history with the Risi Ferrari team. He co-drove with Kelleners and Mimmo Schiattarella in the Ferrari 333 at the 6 Hours of Watkins Glen last August, and substituted for Kelleners at Road America to a second-place finish. Additionally, van de Poele was a team driver for the former Doyle-Risi Ferrari team in 1998, driving to victory at the inaugural Petit Le Mans and at Las Vegas with co-driver Wayne Taylor, and to a class victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans.
"I am happy to be with the Risi team again and always proud to drive the Ferrari," said van de Poele, a Belgian. "I have heard for many years that it is the last race for the Ferrari and I always think it may be my last time to drive a Ferrari. The car is still competitive for Daytona and I believe we have a good chance. The Risi team deserves a big victory and I'd like to be a part of it. They are the best private team, run like a factory team. If we would win, it would be very special."
David Brabham, a former Formula One driver from the famous racing family, has competed for four seasons with the Panoz team on the ALMS series. Confirmation as a team driver for the 24 Hours of Daytona has not been finalized yet due to scheduling, but is anticipated following the Adelaide finale.
"I would really look forward to the chance to drive with the Risi Ferrari team," said the Australian, son of Sir Jack Brabham. "If the 2001 Panoz testing schedule gives me the opportunity to be released, I will do the race. I've always wanted to win Daytona, although I've had a class win and second overall in 1992. I want that Rolex watch though. I probably wouldn't go out and buy one, but I would be proud to have my name engraved on the back of the watch. I have not driven the Ferrari. It would be a great experience for one time in my life to drive a Ferrari. It's been a good sports car for some time and still capable of winning the race. It would be a great thrill."
The No. 12 Risi Competizione Ferrari will be shod in Goodyear Eagles for the Daytona endurance classic. Expected to miss the Daytona Test days in early January, the Risi team will conduct a private test at Texas World Speedway in late January.