GT Champion team Risi Competizione has brought their A-game to the TUDOR United SportsCar Series
This has been a challenging half-year for Risi Competizione, the four-time American Le Mans Series GT championship team run by Houston’s Giuseppe Risi. Forced to withdraw from much of last season’s final American Le Mans Series (ALMS) competition, the rejuvenated squad brought its Ferrari F458 Italia to Daytona Beach for the inaugural TUDOR United Sports Car Series (TUSCC) race in January, the 52nd Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The team of Matteo Malucelli, Giancarlo Fisichella, Gianmaria Bruni and Olivier Beretta had a difficult qualifying session in the 24-hour midwinter classic, lining up 60th on the 67-car grid, but that was the least of their worries. Their car had problems in qualifying - obviously - with the engine cutting out and the car failing to run during the session. With the electronic boxes, once the car stops running, it’s nigh on impossible to figure out what the problem might have been. Perhaps that was the omen?
Malucelli was driving in the third hour of the race when the car failed again. “The car just shut off and we don’t know why,” said Rick Mayer, the team’s lead engineer. Sometimes when the car shuts off the data system no longer connects. If you lose power you don’t record anything.”
What the data recorder didn’t show is that as the car slowed near the fifth turn on the 3.56-mile road/oval Daytona International Speedway course, it was hit square in the rear by Memo Gidley’s Corvette DP prototype, rendering great injury to Gidley and extreme damage to the Ferrari. Luckily, Malucelli wasn’t badly hurt and was released from hospital that evening.
“We were really concerned about the electronic boxes in the car as there’s quite a bit of money in those. Michelotto (who supply the Ferrari and its running gear) said they checked out fine, knock on wood. It’s several thousand dollars worth of boxes and that’s a big chunk of change. We’re just hoping,” Mayer said as the Sebring practice rounds began, “that we didn’t re-install something that was an issue.”
Replacing 70 percent of their bright red Ferrari was quite a chore, but the core of Risi Competizione, comprising four extremely well-prepared mechanics/fabricators/electronics wizards, had all of a week to get the installation complete and the car ready for a test day the week before the Sebring race. “They built what they could with the parts that we had; it was a matter of figuring out what parts we need and putting an order in for those and getting all that sorted out. Michelotto was very goosd about getting the parts we needed in the time we needed to have them.
The team arrived on time, tested and, once practice began in earnest, appeared to have all their ducks in a row.
Malucelli got a clear lap in the first practice and was first in the GTLM class - with 59 of the 64 entries on-course - but weren’t as well placed the second time around, placing sixth in the highly competitive and factory-based GTLM category.
Still, Mayer wasn’t about to get too wound up by practice times. “We aren’t really sure how the competition pace is going to play out - we don’t know with the changing of the Balance of Performance (which was adjusted last Friday!) - so we don’t know where we really are. I think we’ll be competitive,” he mused, “but I’m not sure if we’ll be at the very top of the queue or we’ll be middle or what. I don’t think there’s going to be a big, big difference between any of us.”
Racing with very much of a “base” package, as opposed to the Corvette, Viper, Porsche, BMW entries - all factory backed - the Risi Competizione team is small potatoes by comparison. When asked what was the biggest damage incurred in the Daytona accident, Mayer looked up and with a very slight smile responded, “Giuseppe’s wallet.”