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Ferrari 458 GT was special for Risi team
The Risi Ferrari takes the checkered flag
Risi Competizione, the privately-owned Ferrari team from Houston, Texas, today secured the first GT victory in the American Le Mans Series for the Ferrari 458 Italia, the new-for-2011 GT challenger from Maranello.  There were four hours and 101 laps of scintillating racing at the scenic 4-mile Road America track in Wisconsin, the sixth round of the American Le Mans Series, and it was the Rosso Red Ferrari which took the checkered flag ahead of the two BMWs of Bill Auberlen/Dirk Werner and Dirk Muller/Joey Hand.

The victory was witnessed by a delighted Ing. Amedeo Felisa, the CEO of Ferrari SpA and Mr. Marco Mattiacci, President and CEO of Ferrari North America as well as two of their fellow directors who had all travelled to Road America for the day to view the race.

The all-new-for-2011 challenger from Maranello has been up against some fierce competition in the intensely close ALMS production-led class, and the win – the team’s 21st in the series – is a great affirmation of the hard work put in by the entire Risi team.  Team Principal Giuseppe Risi was thrilled with the team’s first win since Mid Ohio last year for a number of reasons:

“Today is probably one of the crowning moments of Risi Competizione.  For us to be able to give the F458 its first victory in the US is wonderful.  We’ve been close but this was really exceptional.  The team did a fantastic job; the drivers were both outstanding and Jaime Melo demonstrated clearly just what an incredible driver he is, while Toni was superb during his stint.  At the last pit stop, the crew were unbelievable.  All our calculations turned out perfectly and the tire change was amazing.  It was a great day for us.”

Commenting on the fact that the victory took place in front of some honored guests, a very happy Mr. Risi continued:  “The other crowning moment is that the Ferrari 458 is Ing. Felisa’s ‘baby’, so to speak, as he has taken a special interest in its development.  For he and Marco to witness this car win for the first time in the US, which also happens to be the biggest market for Ferrari, is very special.  Ing. Felisa came here specially from California, disturbing his holiday to do so, so this is all one very happy Ferrari family.”

Melo (L) and Vilander
As mentioned, Risi’s drivers Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander performed flawlessly throughout the four hour race under high pressure conditions, surviving some heart-stopping moments in the heat of track battle.  The race win was, however, effectively secured in the pits at the last round of stops and under the fourth of the caution periods when the Risi crew carried out such a slick turn-around that Melo not only exited the pits ahead of his closest BMW rival, but was also able to pull out a small margin of comfort to see him through to the close of the event.

Recording his 18th career ALMS victory, as well as fastest GT race lap, Jaime Melo said afterwards:  “It’s been a tough year for us as we have had many problems with the car at the beginning of the season, but we finally got the win which is really important for us and for Ferrari.  It’s also important for this new model and it won’t be the last one.  It just proves we must focus and never give up. 

“We were using Michelin’s new mid-season development tires throughout the race and they were very consistent.  It was quite hard to keep the pace, with the different temperatures during the race, and at the beginning it was pretty hard; we had a big battle between us and Corvette and BMW. I knew I had to put in everything I had because they always have something more.  Luckily we were able to keep a good pace, Toni did a good job and the strategy was just great.  Once again Risi showed we are here to win and we never give up.  Now we’re looking forward to the next one.”

For Finland’s Toni Vilander, it was his first ALMS victory – and he was duly drenched in podium champagne for that honor.  “First of all I want to thank Jaime for really great work – the speed he had at the end was incredible- and the Risi team’s pit strategy was awesome.  The speed the guys refueled and changed tires was something special and it meant we could overtake many cars, especially with the last yellow.”

One of Vilander’s heart-stopping moments involved having to re-shut his car’s door after exiting the pits.  “I had the engineer yelling ‘shut the door’ but I needed to release the pit speed limiter and change gear so I was running out of hands!  I was alongside the Corvette by then and we barely touched but it was enough to upset both cars into a slide.  It was good to show our potential and it will give us a boost for the remaining races.”

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