Houston-based Risi Competizione sealed its place in the sportscar record books with class victory in the rain-shortened Petit Le Mans, underlining its position as the team which has best represented Ferrari in GT racing over the last decade.
Eighth overall at Road Atlanta tops an outstanding year for Risi, in which it has also taken victory laurels at the 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while Petit Le Mans also continues a run of wins at the last five endurance classics, beginning with the 2008 edition of the 24 Hours.
It turned out to be an extraordinary race due to the thunder, lightning and rainstorms which deluged the track, leading to track action being suspended after four hours and 49 minutes due to unsafe track conditions. At the time the red flag was shown, Mika Salo's Ferrari F430 GT was leading its class with a lap in hand, thanks to an inspired early strategy call for wet weather tyres.
Declared a wet race prior to the start, team-mate Jaime Melo took the Ferrari from tenth on the class grid to fifth in five laps, and ran strongly in changing track conditions to keep in touch with the fast-running Corvettes and Porsches ahead. Pierre Kaffer then continued the good work, despite continual pressure from the #87 Farnbacher Porsche and a chasing Corvette which, had it got past, would have put the Ferrari yet a further lap in arrears.
Great pit work and strategy by the Risi crew - only one of the team's seven pit-stops took place under green conditions - ensured that the #62 car headed the GT class as weather conditions took a turn for the worse.
Mid-race, as the skies darkened and the rain started to fall, the Risi team took advantage of the sixth caution period to be the first in the GT class to make the change from slick to wet tyres, and this allowed Salo – in increasingly heavy rain – to pass all his rivals, first on the track, and then as they all had to pit for their own wet tyres.
“I might not have been in the car very much but, if you go around for four hours in sixth or fifth position and then I'm in the car for half an hour and I went from sixth to the lead, then I think you can take what you want from that!" he joked, "Seriously though, it's a great team with always a very nice atmosphere. It's only the third race I've done this year and it's a great atmosphere; everyone is working so hard and is so serious and professional about their racing. I've got two team mates who I can trust and who don't go off and destroy the car – apart from Jaime sometimes – and it's such a pleasure always to drive for the Risi team.”
The race remained suspended for a further three hours and 56 minutes before the chequered flag was shown to an empty track.
“This race has really been a revelation,” team principal Giuseppe Risi said, “I am very, very happy for my team and for Ferrari for us to have our second victory at Petit Le Mans.
"At the beginning of the race, it looked as though we had a real good fight on our hands, but racing is what it is. You can lose a race on the last lap, or win it, and we made the right call on our tyres. The rain was there for everyone to see, but we took a bigger gamble than everyone else by coming in earlier because we were listening to what our driver was telling us. The feedback from him was that people were beginning to slide in front of him and he thought it the right time to change tyres.
“I believe it's fair to say that this result today confirms the quality of this team and shows it to be maybe one of the best GT teams ever.”
Risi's victory also moves it to within 19 points of the class-leading Flying Lizard Porsche in the GT championship with one race, at Laguna Seca, remaining on the schedule.