RISI COMPETIZIONE LEADS THE WAY FOR FERRARI
The Houston-based Risi Competizione team proved today that they were more than equal to the challenge of the greatest sports car test in the world for man and machine by winning the GT2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
The American Le Mans Series GT2 Champions finished at the head of the GT2 field in the 76th running of the French endurance classic, 19th overall, and led a Ferrari clean sweep of the podium, finishing 7 laps ahead of the second placed car. In fact, Ferraris were placed 1-2-3-4 in the class.
An emotional Giuseppe Risi said afterwards: "This is tremendous. The last time we were here as a winner I was in partnership with Doyle , but this is my own team and it's been going now since 2000. To me, winning Le Mans is worth winning a whole championship. One talks about Le Mans in very light terms but until you come here and have to grind through the night, hoping that the car holds together, racing against other people you respect and who are highly qualified to come here...and you see drivers who are top level but who have accidents and fall by the wayside. It's a lifetime achievement, especially to do it with Ferrari, and if you are a professional in the automotive world, there is no greater achievement. I can't say enough about it."
Gianmaria Bruni, Jaime Melo and Mika Salo drove a faultless and completely trouble free race, not putting a foot or wheel wrong throughout the entire 24 hours, despite difficult weather and track conditions during the second half of the race. The result has more than vindicated the difficulties endured by the ALMS GT2 Drivers Champions at Le Mans last year and in the opening part of the ALMS season.
The Finnish-Brazilian pairing, together with FIA GT GT2 Championship leader, Bruni, worked as a true team and all played an equal part in the victory. After the initial two hours, their Risi Ferrari went on to head the GT2 classification for 22 hours -- except for when pit stops were taking place. The #82 Risi pit crew, led by engineer Rick Mayer and crew chief Chris Riggs, also performed faultlessly -- each of their 27 pit stops was carried out smoothly and efficiently so that the minimum amount of time was spent in the pits. The only unscheduled stop was at 11:30 pm when Salo, suspecting a puncture (actually a flat spot), returned to the pits for a new set of Michelin tires, just 20 minutes after starting his stint.
The weather once again played a part in the endurance event, although conditions were not quite as treacherous as last year. The correct strategic calls on tire choice, skilled driving, and an absolute "no risk" approach to the entire 24 hour race ensured that the Risi Ferrari remained at the top of the classification at the end while some of its fiercest rivals fell by the wayside.
Gianmaria Bruni said afterwards: "Jaime gave us a very good start, he drove fantastic at the beginning and then Mika and I were able to start pulling out a 45 second gap from the cars behind us. After the Porsches crashed together, we were able to control the race and keep to our pace. There was still 18 hours of something to go, which was a long way, but we kept on with the "no risk" strategy and we won. The hardest part was dealing with the LMP2 cars who treated us like a mobile chicane in the corners -- sometimes it's like they don't even see you. But we avoided them and they avoided us. It's fantastic."
Jaime Melo: "The team did a very good job and we fortunately we didn't have any problems during the race -- we just kept safe and consistent and made no mistakes and this was one of the most important points to winning the race. We are all a little tired physically, but more mentally as you have to concentrate so hard in GT2 to avoid the LMP cars as well as to run your own race. The most difficult part for me was about 4:30am when it was raining and I had just started running. In the night you can't really see how much water there is on the track and it was difficult to make decisions about the line and the tires but we kept it on the track. Michelin did a very good job for us -- we could double or even triple stint the tires during the night -- and that helped us a lot. I want to say a big thank you to everyone on the team and also to Mika and Gimmi. This means a lot to me."
Mika Salo: "GT2 is fun -- especially when you win! Today was a very good day for Jaime, me and Gimmi, for Risi and also for Ferrari. To have four Ferraris in the top six cars is impressive. They were all on different tires, but we proved which are the best. Luckily we could double or triple stint our Michelins which gave us a good advantage. I personally don't like the fact that the week is so long, but I like the traditions of Le Mans. The drivers' parade in town was amazing and there are more and more people here every year. It's a big win for sure."
The team's second car, the #83 Ferrari 430GT entered for Krohn Racing drivers Tracy Krohn, Nic Jonsson and Eric van de Poele, was unfortunately not able to repeat its podium success of 2007. Just before the one hour mark in the race, Tracy Krohn exited the track coming out of the Arnage corner and hit the barriers, causing damage to the front and rear of his car. He attempted to continue but was unfortunately forced to come to a halt in the Porsche curves, with damage to the radiator and rear suspension which ultimately led to the car's retirement from the race. Nic Jonsson had completed one stint, but Eric van de Poele did not get to drive.