FROM HOUSTON TO HOLLYWOOD
The Long Beach street course near Los Angeles in California is host to the second round of the 2011 American Le Mans Series, and it is a venue that everyone enjoys visiting. After the impressive debut at the Twelve Hours of Sebring of Risi Competizione's Ferrari 458 Italia GT, the Houston-based team now looks forward to a completely different, and equally challenging, track.
With its picture postcard setting of sun, sea and palms, it is one of the top motorsport events in the USA, similar in many ways to the equally historic Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco. The 1.968 mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit is as demanding as any other, but its situation and atmosphere make it a favorite for competitors, visitors from nearby Hollywood, and the many fans able to see, hear and experience the most competitive and entertaining sports car racing in the world.
Former ALMS GT2 and FIA GT Champion, Jaime Melo of Brazil, now residing in Milan, Italy, has had a busy testing and racing period in the month since Sebring, as has his Finnish team mate, Toni Vilander -- himself a double FIA GT Champion. Melo is a former winner on the Californian street course, in 2007, while Vilander will be making his debut at Long Beach. The drivers will be re-united with former Risi race engineer, Mark Schomann, who re-joins the team for the remainder of the 2011 season.
Qualifying is, of course, extremely important for a street track as it's so difficult to overtake during the race.
Jaime Melo: "Qualifying is, of course, extremely important for a street track as it's so difficult to overtake during the race; it's more narrow and there's no margin for error because of the barriers around the track. If you make a mistake, that's it. There are less prototypes than in the past, which makes it easier in one way, but in another it makes no difference because the level of GT racing is so competitive. If you don't start from near the front of the GT grid, you can spend a lot of time trying to find the right opportunity to pass and the race is only two hours long.
"I think the F458 will be competitive on this type of track, just as we were at Sebring before a part failed, but it will be tough. There are less cars than at Sebring, but it will be just as busy for us in the car -- you can't afford to have less than 100% concentration from start to finish."
Toni Vilander: "I like street tracks and have some experience of them from racing in Bucharest in the FIA GT World Championship. We always did well there so, based on that, I am really looking forward to the weekend. It will be the first time we put a Ferrari 458 on a street circuit so hopefully we will go well. I've been studying onboard footage to help me learn the track layout, and I hope we find a good level of grip in the corners -- we are working all the time with Michelin to improve everything -- because the Ferrari is very reactive in this way and it will help us at Long Beach."
Risi Competizione's Team Manager, Dave Sims, predicts that caution periods could well be a determining factor in the outcome of the race. "The event is 120 minutes long, a bit longer than the last couple of years, and there's always the possibility of numerous incidents which bring out the yellow flags. The race could well be won or lost in the pits so we'll all have to be at the top of our game. Our pit work at Sebring was spot on though, so we're confident about that area, but we could use some luck at this event. It's been too long since we last won here."