RISI COMPETIZIONE COMES FROM BEHIND, AGAIN, TO WIN GT2 CLASS AT GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND. Portland, Oregon - The Risi Competizione F430GT, driven by Jaime Melo and Mika Salo, became the first GT2 car in the American Le Mans Series to win two races...
RISI COMPETIZIONE COMES FROM BEHIND, AGAIN, TO WIN GT2 CLASS AT GRAND PRIX OF PORTLAND.
Portland, Oregon - The Risi Competizione F430GT, driven by Jaime Melo and Mika Salo, became the first GT2 car in the American Le Mans Series to win two races in 2006 and also the first car to win two races in a row in an incredible come-from-behind victory at the Grand Prix of Portland. Second place in the class went to the Petersen Motorsports/White Lightening Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driven by Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long, while third place went to the BMW Team PTG BMW E46 M3 driven by Bill Auberlen and Joey Hand.
The Ferrari "racing red" (Rosso Corso) V8 coupe was very quick all weekend, notching the fastest time in the first and second practice sessions, the fastest qualifying time, and the fastest race lap for the GT2 class (Melo; lap 58 at 1;12.031). But despite the speed of the F430GT, the race meeting was one of the most dramatic of the season. Fans at the Portland International Raceway saw a race they will talk about for years. And it all started with an on course incident.
The cars rolled off the line at 6:06 pm and the green flag dropped at 6:11PM. But by 6:13PM though, Jaime Melo was back at the Risi Competizione pit to have both rear tires changed (no fuel added) after the car was hit from behind by another competitor during the first lap.
Unlike last week's Utah Grand Prix, where the team made the decision to start at the back of the pack after qualifying on the pole, the on-course incident in Portland and subsequent pit stop had the effect of placing the Ferrari dead last after only one lap. Melo left the pits 9th in class.
What happened next was some driving for the ages by Melo and Salo. Jaime Melo took off after the pack and slowly but surely worked his way through the pack, cutting one second, a half-second, and sometimes two seconds a lap off the lead of his competition.
"It is a very tough race," said the young Brazilian. "Someone hit me on the first lap. I was in the back and I was pushing to get the first position. I don't know who hit me at the start. After that I kept pushing and keep concentrating."
A large crowd had gathered at the Risi Competizione pits to see the Ferrari run and they now became transfixed as they watched the pit board tell the story of Melo's rise through the ranks: P9. P8. P7. P6. P5. Melo was driving a truly brilliant race, consistently turning in times in the 1:13s while the cars he was chasing were all running in the 1:14s, 1:15s and above.
At 7:16 pm (1h 5m running), Melo brought the red berlinetta into the pits for four fresh Michelins and a full load of fuel. He stayed in the car and went out again to the roar of the crowd. His amazing run continued as he moved into P4, P3, and then at 7:42 pm (1h 31m running), Melo in the F430GT passed Joey Hand in the No. 21-GT2 BMW E46 M3 for second place in class, and then proceeded to go off course at turn 11. At the time Melo went off, he was 1.4 seconds off the lead, but dropped back to 14 seconds down in class.
At 8:08 pm (1h 57m running), Melo dived into the pits, for four new tires, fuel, and a change of drivers: handing off the car to team mate and former Ferrari F1 driver Mika Salo, a veteran of over 150 Grands Prix.
Salo pulled out of the pits like a man with something to prove, and for the remainder of the race, he drove home his point with each lap. Like Melo, Salo was instantly quick, turning in lap after lap in the 1:13s while the competition was running 1:14s or higher.
As Salo chased first place, there was great anticipation in the Risi Competizione pits and among all of the team's supporters. Did Mika have enough time to run down the leader? Or would the leading Porsche have to pit for fuel? The answer to the latter question came at 8:32PM (two hours, 21 minutes into the race), when Patrick Long in the No. 31 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, the class leader, dived into the pits for a splash and dash. With fuel only, and no driver change, Long retained his lead, but by now it was right down to 1.38 seconds.
Just six minutes later, the Porsche's lead was gone, as Salo made a masterful pass of Long in the Festival turns. When the Ferrari pulled ahead, the Risi Competizione pits erupted with cheers. The long battle from last to first was over but now, the key was to not just to hold on to first, but to extend the lead.
Salo continued to push the Ferrari, and by 8:40 he had a two second lead over the Porsche. By the end of the race, Salo had lengthened his lead to 18.5 seconds over Long's Porsche, capping a race that was both exciting and legendary for followers of the Prancing Horse.
The statistics tell a very compelling story about this win: The first time any manufacturer other than Porsche has won back to back ALMS GT2 races since 2001. The first team to win two GT2 races in a row in 2006. The first driver pairing to win consecutive GT2 Wins. The fourth pole position of the year for Risi Competizione and the third pole position for Jaime Melo. The second time in a row the team has come from dead last to win its class. The fourth fastest lap record of the year for Melo (Sebring, Houston, Utah, and now Portland).
Looking back at his drive, Jaime Melo said that "this was the second time that we had to start from the back of the pack. It's not good to start from the back because we have to push a lot to get to the front and keep up the pace. The car was working really well with the Michelin tires. The team did a very good change for me. The overall package is very good right now and we must keep concentrating, do our jobs, and the results will come. Mika did a very good job, bringing us to the front and putting the car ahead for good."
Mika Salo noted that "The Porsches appear to be a little faster in a straight line but our Ferrari is very good overall. Patrick made a bit of a mistake in a corner and I got around him. I think we have a very good package over all. This was a great win for the team, a great victory for Ferrari, and a great win for Michelin."
And, he might add, a great win for anyone who loves automobile racing. On July 22nd, at Portland International Raceway, the fans saw a race that will take its' rightful place among the legendary victories earned by the red cars of Ferrari. Risi Competizione won the GT2 class at the Grand Prix of Portland after being dead last at the end of lap one. Once again, a come- from-behind victory for Ferrari, Risi Competizione, and Jaime Melo and Mika Salo.
The Grand Prix of Portland was the sixth race in the ten race 2006 ALMS series. Risi Competizione (www.risicompetizione.com) is a Houston-based Ferrari racing team lead by Managing Director Giuseppe Risi. Sponsors include Michelin, Boost/Motorola Forza2/Motorsport, LP/Italy, Putnam Leasing, Tubi Style, and AMD
The Grand Prix of Portland will be televised by CBS. Next race for Risi Competizione will be the ALMS Generac 500 at Road America in 27 days (18-20 Aug).