The question looming over LM GT2 at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, while neither the depth nor number of cars in class, is whether Porsche or Ferrari will emerge from their battle royale to capture the class title. There are ten Ferraris to five...
The question looming over LM GT2 at the Le Mans 24 Hours this year, while neither the depth nor number of cars in class, is whether Porsche or Ferrari will emerge from their battle royale to capture the class title. There are ten Ferraris to five Porsches, but the real strength of each manufacturer in class is really only limited to a handful of entries.
The favorites in the Ferrari camp have to be Risi Competizione, the Houston-based but entirely Italian squad, and defending class winners at Le Mans. The team has also won the last Petit Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring, so is looking for its fourth consecutive major endurance class win in a row.
The lead #82 F430 GT driven by Mika Salo, Jaime Melo and Pierre Kaffer qualified third in class, trailing the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Flying Lizard Motorsports (#80) and Team Felbermayr-Proton (#77).
In the American Le Mans Series, Risi won GT2 team titles in 2006 and 2007, and the drivers' title with Salo and Melo the latter year. Although Risi endured a fraught 2008 filled with mechanical gremlins, the team still enjoyed the highlight of winning the sport's most prestigious event.
"We know what it takes to win -- be consistent with all three drivers," Salo said, who is running only part-time for the team this season. "Limit the mistakes and be consistent. I think it will be enough for us to win, but it's such a close race we don't plan so much how it goes, but wait and see."
Salo and Melo are the veterans of Risi's lead car, while Kaffer is new to the team this year after driving Audis in LM P1 and DTM the last few years.
Kaffer already had his acclimatization period to the team from the start of the ALMS season. He was beneficial in the team winning the opening round of the season, the 12 Hours of Sebring.
"It has been a big family from the first day," Kaffer said. "From the first day it was really easy to adapt, but to drive with these two guys together it was easy as well. The whole season is progress, the only thing for me is to learn the tracks, as most American tracks are new for me."
The team is known for having three of the best drivers in the GT2 paddock, though you wouldn't necessarily know it by talking to them directly.
"Two good drivers and Jaime," Salo deadpanned at one point in typical Finnish flair.
The usual story lines are the rules changes, the ability to stay out of the way of prototypes or inexperienced drivers, and the battle both with Porsche and the other Ferraris.
"For example all the Kolles drivers are all new," Melo said. "And (the Audi R10) is still a fast car! It's more fun for the drivers who get to do the race the first time; but they lose a lot of time on setups. It's not so easy to drive it the first time."
The team expects to double and triple stint the tires as they have for the last couple years, especially given the new regulations this year when only two crewmembers can change tires on one pit stop.
"That's always the case, the less time in the pits, the better," Salo said. "The actual rule change doesn't make a difference for us, as we have done double and even triple stints in the past."
Kaffer said the team has to beat Porsche in the pits as they expect to be about three-four kilometers slower on the straights. It doesn't help a majority of the 13.629 km (8.469 mile) track is entirely long straights interrupted by chicanes, mainly the Mulsanne Straight.
"In one stint per lap over already 13-15 laps, that's one and a half minutes lost right there," Salo admitted. "So half a lap slower, see what that does over a 24 hours."
The team expects AF Corse and BMS Scuderia Italia to be top challengers amongst the other Ferraris here.
AF Corse finished second at Sebring this year to Risi, with drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Matias Russo and Luis Perez Companc.
All come from different backgrounds. Bruni is best known for his stint with Minardi F1 in 2004 and for co-driving the winning Risi last year. Russo and Companc are making their Le Mans debuts, Companc after mainly racing in rallying the last few years.
BMS is the lone Pirelli-shod car in the field and boasts unchanged an all-Italian lineup of Matteo Malucelli, Paolo Ruberti and Fabio Babini. The team finished second to Risi at Le Mans last year.
Risi does have a second entry as it has in years previous, a joint effort with Krohn Racing and its driver lineup of Tracy Krohn, Eric Van de Poele and Nic Jonsson.
It doesn't boast quite the same stellar lineup as its sister car, nor the same paint scheme -- a blinding lime green to go along with Krohn's aviation business interests. It was also the second slowest car overall in Wednesday's practice session.
Nonetheless that car could pull a surprise as it finished second in class in 2007, Colin Braun racing in place of Van de Poele. But the battle in GT2 figures to be more about outright pace over a 24-hour period than simply surviving, with 17 cars entered in class of the 55 total.
The path to GT2 supremacy, at least in the Ferrari camp, runs through Risi as the team searches for another victory at Le Mans.