A 14-year career in Formula 1 filled with 229 starts, three wins and rides with championship-winning teams would satisfy most drivers. Faced with the chance to retire or continue racing outside of F1, Giancarlo Fisichella chose the latter, transitioning to a new life as a GT pilot while bracing a new relationship forged with Ferrari where he closed the chapter on Grand Prix racing in 2009.
Despite his heavy association and accomplishments in F1, Fisichella’s greatest successes have come later in life, and while spent inside the cockpit of the Prancing Horse’s championship-winning sports car, the Ferrari F458.
Coming off of his second GTE-Pro class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Roman has reached sports car racing’s mountain top with the semi-works AF Corse Ferrari outfit, and told RACER his achievements at La Sarthe hold a special place of their own.
“It is one of the most important races in the world, it is fantastic to win there, and I am very proud of it,” he said. “Obviously, I won in the GT class; it is one of the most difficult categories. Corvette, Aston Martin, Porsche were there, they were very strong until 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock in the morning. We were closely covered by two seconds most of the time. It was really tough there, but I thought it was a fantastic victory. Obviously, the team did a fantastic job. The drivers too, myself, Toni Vilander and Gimmi Bruni. The crew was fantastic in the pit stops. We had not one problem in the car. It was amazing and the car was fantastic.”
For those who watched Fisi’s introduction to GT racing in 2010, few would have predicted the experiment would have lasted more than one year, much less resulted in two victories at Le Mans and ILMC/WEC championships in 2011 and 2012.
Whether it was a lack of comfort transitioning from F1 to the F458, or diminished passion for anything other than the cut-and-thrust nature of open-wheel racing, the Italian admits it took longer than expected to attune himself to sports car racing’s rhythm. Now that he’s found that rhythm, Fisi’s been locked into a rather effective groove.
“When I jumped from Formula 1 to a GT car, I was a little bit shocked,” he conceded. “The power of the car, the grip of the car, the weight of the car was completely different. At the beginning it was so difficult for me, so difficult and so tough to adapt myself to this kind of driving. The first season, I have to be honest, I was a little bit down on the pace. But then the second season I made a big step forward.
“At the end of the season in 2010, I did lots of testing and it helped me quite a lot. The 2011 season, I was on the pace. My teammate was Bruni, and then we won the championship. We finished second at Le Mans. After Le Mans, we won the championship and everything became clear. I think now, yeah, I am on the pace, I am close to the other GT drivers and I’m really happy about it.”
As important as his class wins at Le Mans have been, Fisi made it clear he’d welcome the chance to earn an overall victory for Ferrari if and when the manufacturer joins the growing list of LMP1-Hybrid teams.
“It is absolutely the dream of us, for all the drivers to fight for the overall win, and especially to drive in LMP1 car,” he added. “I think even for my style of driving it’s even better than to drive a GT car. It will be nice, it will be great for the championship, great for Ferrari but I think Ferrari at the moment is too busy in Formula 1 and it’s too early to say if Ferrari will be soon in the LMP1 category. I don’t think it’s going to happen quite soon. If it happens, maybe the future, and of course I would like to win for them if it happens.”
With the Le Mans break over, Fisi heads to Watkins Glen for this weekend’s six-hour TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event. A move from the WEC to IMSA’s top sports car series with the Ferrari-affiliated Risi Competizione team has been more challenging than expected. Two massive shunts involving former teammate Matteo Malucelli has blighted Fisi’s title aspirations, but a third-place finish at the most recent round for GTLM cars at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca served as a much needed boost to the Houston-based outfit.
The rolling road course at Watkins Glen should also suit Risi’s No. 62 Ferrari F458, and with the rapid veteran Pierre Kaffer set to join him for the remainder of the season, it’s easy to envision a bit of post-Le Mans momentum ushering the two onto the top step of the podium.
“I am really looking forward to Watkins Glen, and I’m really happy to do this [TUDOR] championship,” said Fisi, who’s moving his family to Fort Lauderdale while he runs three consecutive IMSA races. “It is a fantastic championship and there is a fantastic atmosphere. Daytona and Sebring weren’t very nice for us, but I believe we can have very good results this weekend. I will move for one month in America because I have three races in a row and I prefer to be in America for the whole month. It’s great. I like the atmosphere here in America.”
According to Fisi, shifting from the heights and adoration that come with international open-wheel and sports car racing to the smaller focus of domestic championship in North America hasn’t been a hard adjustment to make. IMSA’s GTLM category offers stronger competition than the WEC in 2014, and for a diehard racer, the quality of the battle is more important than where the battle is held.
“The classes are really, really tight, there is a lot of fighting to win the race, and this is very important, very rewarding for me,” he reckoned. “Especially in our class, it’s manufacturers like Corvette, BMW, Porsche, the Vipers. It’s tough but I like it. This was a good choice to make and I am quite happy.”