Lime Rock Park
Electronic Woes Curtail Amazing Risi Charge At Lime Rock
Risi Competizione’s incredible performance in the first hour of this afternoon’s American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix was sadly brought to a premature end because of an untraceable electronic issue on the Ferrari 458 Italia. The car came behind the wall so the team could fully investigate the issue, but was retired from the race at 4:00 pm – some 50 minutes before the checkered flag. The GT class was won by the BMW of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.
A practice accident yesterday meant that the Houston-based Risi Competizione team was faced with a steep challenge to repair the damaged car at Lime Rock Park. Despite carrying out extensive mechanical and bodywork repairs, which would under normal circumstances only be carried out at a workshop, and the team working until 2:30 am this morning, the No. 62 car took to the 1.47 mile long track for warm up this morning with the car running just as well as it had at the start of Friday’s practice. The skill of the team’s engineers and mechanics and their hard work was warmly praised by both drivers and the team management.
Forced to miss qualifying yesterday because of the on-going repair work, the Ferrari took its place at the back of the 31-car grid for the start of the race under blazing sunshine and 81oF temperatures. Toni Vilander of Finland made an amazing start and was 20th overall after two laps and up to ninth in the super-competitive, 15-strong, GT class by the end of lap five. He continued to carve his way through the field, benefiting from a multi-car accident 20 minutes into the race which affected several of the Ferrari’s competitors. At the handover to Jaime Melo – which took place after 56 minutes of running and under the first full course caution period – the Ferrari was in a commanding third place.
Melo resumed the on-track battle, reclaiming third place in class, until a continually worsening misfire brought him into the pits. Despite full and extensive investigations, the cause of the problem wasn’t traced and the Ferrari was eventually withdrawn.
Jaime Melo said afterwards, “Of course we’re hugely disappointed; that’s not a surprise. We were expecting to be racing hard against two BMWs, two Corvettes and two Porsches but in the end we were only up against one BMW and one Porsche so I’m completely confident we’d have finished on the podium and maybe done even better than third. Our Michelin tire strategy was working very well and we think we would have been really strong towards the end of the race. The most important thing for me though is that I have to say a big, big thank you to Toni who drove a FANTASTIC stint to get us to the front.”
Toni Vilander adopted a no-risk strategy from the start of the race: “I tried to use the experiences I had in the past, when I might have been too aggressive, and come from the back of the grid and avoid all contact. I used all the overtaking opportunities there were, but in every manoeuvre I waited for the right moment and was sure that the other guy knew I was there. We could have been even faster but the level of risk would have been raised, there would have been a chance of contact.
“Everything was pretty smooth,” he continued. “A few cars in our category, like the Ford GT, are really quick in a straight line and we lost quite some time over several laps because when they are accelerating it’s like they’re in a different class! This is part of GT racing though so I just waited for my moment. After that I was going at a steady pace and I tried to be relaxed at the wheel. I thought the race was going to be harder, because of the heat and the competition, but tried hard not to over-drive the car and I thought a third place finish was in our pocket. It’s a shame for the guys we couldn’t deliver a good result because of all the work they put in yesterday.”
The team now moves on from Lime Rock to Mosport in Canada. Today’s race is the start of a 7-race schedule within a 13-week calendar, and many competitors including Risi Ferrari will today be looking forward to putting the disappointments of New England behind them and looking ahead to the challenges of the fast Ontario track.