Risi Competizione preview

Sebring 12 hours


Dawn of a new era

When Ferrari racing stalwart, Risi Competizione, lines up on the grid for next weekend’s 59th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, it will be ushering in the dawn of a new era in Ferrari’s GT history with the racing debut of the all new Ferrari 458 Italia GT.

Guiseppe Risi
Guiseppe Risi

Richard Sloop

The Championship-winning, Houston-based, endurance specialist is introducing the F458 to international sports car competition, and its traditional ‘Rosso Red’ car will be one of four examples of the latest Michelotto-developed model at the mid Florida track. Supported once again by Pennzoil and Motorola, the No. 062 Risi entry will be in the extremely experienced and capable hands of long-time Ferrari drivers Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander, joined for endurance events by the super-successful and popular Mika Salo.

The new F458

The all-new F458 follows in the great traditions of Ferrari’s Gran Turismo vehicles. Beautiful to look at, the mid-engined V8 produces 465 bhp (with regulated air restrictors), similar in output to the F430, but almost every other area of the car is different to its predecessor. From a driver’s point of view, the main areas of development are the handling, gearbox and traction control – all of which make the car easier to drive.

The car is a lot stiffer in terms of set up and suspension with approximately 50% less movement or roll than the F430. The gearbox is significantly revised and gear changes up and down the box can be selected far more quickly. Although not featured for Sebring, the GTE regulations permit a paddle-shift mechanism which may be introduced later in the season. A great deal of work has also been done by Michelotto on the traction control system which will allow drivers to pinpoint the directionality of the car through corners.

The challenge ahead

Risi Competizione’s Founder and Team Principal, Giuseppe Risi, is enthusiastic about the new season and his team’s involvement with the Ferrari 458 Italia GT from the start of its competition career.

“This new car offers a great opportunity for us to show what, I believe, we do best at Risi Competizione,” he says, “which is to technologically develop our cars to race and win GT events at the highest level of competition. I am confident that our total race car preparation will be better than our competitors, and that will allow us to concentrate our efforts on the areas of development and evolution that new race cars inevitably present.”

Risi continues: “We will be concentrating on just one car this season, and will be making a run for the GT Championship. We are under no illusions that the 12 Hours of Sebring – traditionally a happy hunting ground for us – will be a severe test as the F458 is short on testing time and the track is punishing. It’s going to be a true test for the car and for us, although racing is a challenge in itself at any level. I’m completely confident, however, that our guys are up to it.”

About Risi Competizione

Risi Competizione is a Houston-based Ferrari racing team lead by Managing Director Giuseppe Risi. Official team sponsors include Motorola, Boardwalk Auto Group, Ferrari Financial Services and Ferrari of Houston.


Jaime Melo, Risi Competizione Ferrari No. 062

Nationality: Brazilian

Birthdate: April 24, 1980

Residence: Rome, Italy

Notes: An open-wheel champion in F3000; switched to sportscars in 2004 and has not stopped winning since. Official Ferrari GT development driver, together with Vilander. 2006 FIA GT Champion with AF Corse, 2007 ALMS GT2 Drivers Champion. 44 ALMS starts, 17 wins, 17 pole positions; Winner of 2007 12 Hours Sebring with closest winning margin in race’s history, 2008 24 Hours Le Mans and Petit Le Mans, 2nd 2009 ALMS Drivers Championship, winner 2009 Sebring 12 Hrs, 24 Hours Le Mans and Petit Le Mans GT2 winner, 2010 Sebring .

On the Ferrari 458 (Melo has completed more test miles than any other driver): “At the official Sebring test we had some electronic issues but that was good as we saw the areas which needed improvement for the race. After we left the States we tested in Italy at Vallelunga and Imola and the car was much, much better and everything was working well. I’m pretty confident for Sebring but at the same time we need to be really careful regarding the durability and mechanics of the car. The F458 is fast and well balanced but we need to work on making it easier to drive on the bumps which is something we will do next week. There’s lots more to understand on the car, but we’re learning every time we go out.”

On his approach to the 12 Hours of Sebring: “Our aim on the test days will be to put as many laps as possible on the car. I really trust the Risi team and am very excited to see what our team can do with the F458, especially over the bumps not just at Sebring but at other North American tracks. We need to be consistent and in testing put as much pressure on the car as possible to see where problems will arise. At the same time, during the race our aim will be to not put too much pressure on mechanical parts so we get to the finish.”

On the 2011 ALMS season: “The atmosphere in the team is great at the moment and everyone wants to show again that we can win - not just at Sebring but at many races during the Championship. I obviously know Mika very well, and have raced with Toni twice before at Spa 24 Hour events in Belgium so I think we’ve got everything needed to make it good. Our target will be to score maximum points, and we just need to keep calm to achieve that goal.”

On the GT competition: “No one has really shown their hand yet so it’s difficult to say who, if anyone, will be dominant but I think everyone there will be strong. As we saw at the end of last year, BMW was really strong and Corvette as well, and Porsche is always there. Every team and company wants to win this Championship because America is such an important market. The entry list for Sebring is pretty impressive - teams, manufacturers and drivers. Hopefully this year, with the new car, we will have something more than the others, but it’s too early to say.”

Mika Salo, Risi Competizione Ferrari No. 61

Nationality: Finnish

Birthdate: November 30, 1966

Residence: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Notes: Former F1 driver with 111 Grand Prix starts, including 6 races for Scuderia Ferrari, and one of the most accomplished road racers in the world. After illustrious career in formula cars, including Champ Car, started in sportscars in 2003. 2007 ALMS GT2 Driver Champion and winner of 12 Hours Sebring, 2008 24 Hours Le Mans and Petit Le Mans GT2 winner, 2009 Sebring 12 Hrs, 24 Hours Le Mans and Petit Le Mans GT2 winner. 35 ALMS starts, 15 wins, 3 pole positions.

On his return to Sebring and the ALMS: “I’m really looking forward to being back with Risi – the best GT team in the world in my opinion. I’ve been training hard over the winter, and am lighter than I’ve been since my F1 days so can’t wait to get back in the car. I’m very happy to be driving with Jaime again - we work well together – and it will be fun driving with Toni too.”

On the F458 and race prospects: “I haven’t driven the F458 yet so am looking forward to testing at the weekend. I’ve been talking to Jaime about the car over the winter and following the tests they’ve done and it sounds as though it’s better than the F430 in a lot of ways. Nowhere is better than Sebring to test and race a car; if it lasts there it will last anywhere. With such a huge field of course it will make it more difficult and we will have to spend as much time looking in the mirrors as ahead of us.”

Toni Vilander, Risi Competizione Ferrari No. 62

Nationality: Finnish

Birthdate: July 25, 1980

Residence: Kankaanpaa, Finland

Notes: GT cars have been where Vilander has come of age, improving year on year. Coming from single seaters into 2005 Italian GT championship, won GT2 class in rookie year and went on to win GT1 title in following year. Two FIA GT(2) championships have followed with AF Corse (07 with Muller, 08 with Bruni), and runner up in 09. Blossomed as team leader with Fisichella and Alesi in 2010 Le Mans Series – runners up. 7 ALMS starts, 3 top 3 finishes, 2 pole positions.

On the introduction of the F458: “I’m looking forward to returning to the American Le Mans Series with Risi and to racing again, this time with the F458. It’s going to be hard, for sure, and a very difficult race because it’s a new car and there’s a huge field. The weather conditions in Italy haven’t been good for testing over the winter so there’s been quite a limited amount done; we’re lacking track time. I’m confident though about the car’s performance and there will be lots for us to discover about it during race week – much more than in a regular test.”

On the Sebring track, at which Vilander will be taking his first start: “The profile of the track is very nice and interesting but I don’t understand why Turns 1 and 17 need to be so bumpy! It’s probably part of the track’s racing history but why not resurface it? I enjoyed driving it during the official winter test and think I got familiar with it quite quickly but we’ll have to see what our performance will be like next week. After testing there, I know already a few changes I will make while I’m driving, and that will make it easier as we approach race week.”

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Mika Salo , Jaime Melo , Toni Vilander , Guiseppe Risi
Teams AF Corse , Risi Competizione
Tags alms, ferrari, risi, sebring