They're back with Ferrari this year and they're hungry to win the GTS Championship of the 2002 American Le Mans Series (ALMS). The familiar faces of Olive Garden Italian Restaurants and Gabriele Rafanelli's "Race Team from Tuscany" have again joined forces as an independent team to compete in all ten North American ALMS races.

While visiting the Olive Garden Riserva di Fizzano Restaurant and Culinary Institute of Tuscany here in the heart of Italy, company President Brad Blum revealed that the new effort in 2002 would be named, "Team Olive Garden."

True to its Italian heritage, the team will race a newly developed Le Mans GT version of the Ferrari 550 Maranello. Team Olive Garden will make its debut at the 12 Hours at Sebring (Fla.'s) 50th anniversary race on March 16. Sebring race fans can expect to see a classic road racing battle as the independent Team Olive Garden Ferrari takes on a brace of Corvettes entered by the Chevrolet factory team as well as a number of Ford-powered Saleen supercars.

"All of us are excited to be back in the ALMS," said Blum. "We began our support of the Series with a Ferrari effort in 1999. We then joined forces with Gabriele Rafanelli in 2000. But now, Team Olive Garden is really a marriage made in Italy with a beautiful new Ferrari and an all-Italian team.

This partnership truly gives Olive Garden great opportunities to broadcast our values of Italian authenticity, excellence and teamwork. We look forward to providing fans - and especially ALMS' many passionate 'Ferraristi' - with great new excitement in the coming season."

Blum also revealed that Coca-Cola will join Team Olive Garden as a major sponsor, adding, "Coca-Cola is a world-class brand and a committed business partner. Coca-Cola is enjoyed at Olive Garden Restaurants across North America and is the pre-eminent soft drink in Italy."

Mimmo Schiattarella will join with former Italian Super Touring Car champion (1997) Emanuele Naspetti to pilot the Team Olive Garden Ferrari 550 Maranello. The role of challenger is not new to Schiattarella who is one of only two independent team drivers in the entire history of the ALMS to win an overall race victory against factory-supported teams. He also hails from Ferrari's hometown of Maranello, Italy. Like Schiattarella, Naspetti - who comes from Ancona, Italy - drove for Rafanelli in the 2000 FIA GT championship in Europe with one pole position and three top-five finishes to his credit.

Scott Atherton, President and COO of the Panoz Motorsports Group expressed his pleasure at the Team Olive Garden announcement. "We enthusiastically welcome Olive Garden and Gabriele Rafanelli back to the ALMS and we are also excited about the participation of Ferrari with the series. Olive Garden has been an active and innovative sponsor and we are happy that this team will again be part of our series. I also believe that the sponsorship involvement of a global brand like Coca-Cola underlines the growth of ALMS."

Team Olive Garden is developing the FIA-GT version Ferrari 550 Maranello into a Le Mans GTS contender. Changes include the addition of AP carbon fiber brakes, a new front splitter with newly revised overall aerodynamics, more horsepower and torque and a revised gearbox. Team Olive Garden will race on Michelin tires and rely on the company's expertise at each race.


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