Former IndyCar driver Matos to race Risi Ferrari There may be just one race to go before the end of the 2011 American Le Mans Series season, but the finale is none other than the 1,000 Mile Petit Le Mans race – one of the biggest events on the calendar. The already healthy field of competitors is, furthermore, combined with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest’s (ACO) Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, offering entrants, fans and spectators the very best sights and sounds of international sports car and GT racing.
Amongst the 58 entries, of which only 53 will be permitted to race, Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 458 Italia is expected to be at the forefront of the GTE-Pro class. Season regulars Jaime Melo and Toni Vilander, who secured the F458’s first North American GT victory at Road America in August, will be joined in the No. 062 for Petit Le Mans by the experienced open-wheel and sports car star, Miami-based Brazilian, Raphael Matos.
The trio of elite drivers is looking to bring the F458’s inaugural racing season to a positive close with a podium result at the 2.54 mile, 12-turn Road Atlanta track. The 19-strong GTE-Pro class is the largest in the field, and there are seven manufacturers represented and all looking for a convincing result. The six Ferrari 458 Italia entries will all be working to consolidate Ferrari’s place at the head of the ILMC GTE Manufacturers’ Classification.
Risi Competizione Team Principal Giuseppe Risi acknowledges that the 2011 season has been a challenging one. “The birth of a new racing car can often be a long and painful one. While this is not the case with the F458, it’s true to say that we’ve had a season of considerable ups and downs – more so than in any other season for some time.
“The F430 was a derivation of the F360 but this new model is wholly new, with not one carry-over part from the past, and that is bound to present technical and operational challenges to any team, no matter how successful. Coupled with dealing with the particular idiosyncrasies presented by racing on North American tracks, we have made huge progress with the development of the F458 since the start of the season, despite feeling at times that we’ve had one hand tied behind our backs.”
Joining the Risi Competizione team at Road Atlanta will be over 100 Ferrari owners, all coming to witness the F458’s Petit Le Mans debut under the wing of Ferrari North America. The guests will be able to see the considerable talent and skill of Melo – a two-time GT class winner at Petit Le Mans – at first hand, and enjoy the speed and spectacle that Vilander and Matos will bring to the partnership.
Also present will be representatives from Pennzoil Ultra TM, a technical partner not only with Risi but also with Ferrari, and the official motor oil of Risi Competizione. The product is not only named on the hood of the car, but also features under it. The Pennzoil Ultra TM 5W40 that is used in the Ferrari F458 on the track is the same that can be bought right off the shelf for use in our own cars. Just as the first Ferraris which drove through the gates of the Maranello factory in 1947 were powered and protected by Shell products, so the F458 is today.
The 1000 mile or 10 Hour (whichever comes first) race takes place on Saturday, October 1 at the Road Atlanta road course in Braselton, Georgia.
Jaime Melo: What do you think Rafa will bring to the team? “What he needs to bring to the team is confidence in the way he is going to drive the car. It’s a very, very busy track, more than 50 cars, and he needs to be aware we are one of the slower cars in a straight line. He has a lot of experience from IndyCar, and some races in ALMS and Grand Am and he’ll be there to support us to get a result.”
What does it take to get a good lap at Road Atlanta? “It’s a fast track with medium and high speed corners. Turns 1, 3 and 6 are very fast. We need to be consistent and it’s important to have good mechanical grip. At the same time, at Turn 3, there is a big jump on the curbs so we need to find a compromise between the mechanical grip and good damping to make the car happy on those. With the F430 we always had a good car at Road Atlanta and I think the F458 is better on the medium and high speed corners so I hope we can find an easy car to drive. We need to look for that goal; it would make our life easier in traffic as well.”
Toni Vilander: What are your thoughts on the forthcoming Petit Le Mans? “I like the track and it’s a good and exciting race. We are going to lack speed on the back straight but I think we will be good over a stint. Hopefully we can have a clean race and we know we have a car good enough to have a chance. Our car improved over the past weekend at Laguna and it will suit Road Atlanta. I am happy to race there, but at this race you have to work for the lap all the time. It’s a short lap time so we need to have our stuff together.”
On new teammate Raphael Matos: “I hope Rafa will fit in well with the team and that his test on Monday will help us start off with a good direction for the week. In the past I have been close to winning there and I want to finish that job!”
Raphael M“First of all I want to say I’m extremely honored to be part of the Risi Competizione team for Petit Le Mans. I’ve followed them for a long time, since I was first involved with the ALMS in 2006, so I knew Risi was totally committed to Ferrari which was a big name and part of my childhood because my father was a huge fan of Ferrari. I was very happy to receive the call from Giuseppe Risi, and when the opportunity came up to drive I never hesitated.”
How much of a challenge do you think the GT class will be? “I’ve never raced in the ALMS GT class but I have raced in GT before and won in that class at the 24 hours of Daytona so I have experience in endurance races.
“I’m expecting to have a competitive car to race against the top runners in the ALMS and I was able to get a lot of inside info when I was with the team at Laguna Seca so I know a bit more about the communication with the engineer and how the drivers relay info to the engineers and that will help me settle in next week. The Ferrari 458 is very competitive and I think we should be in a good position. I just need to do the job and keep the car intact and in a good condition for the other two drivers.”