Temperatures within the Risi Competizione camp have only just begun to cool since the team was crashed out of the lead while leading Saturday’s season finale at Road Atlanta.
The team’s frustrating exit just three hours into the 10-hour event was one of many low points in a caution-filled and crash-marred 17th anniversary for Petit Le Mans, and in the wake of a non-call by IMSA on the competitor who authored the No. 62 GTLM Ferrari’s demise, the team’s anger has yet to subside.
Prior to closing the year at Petit Le Mans, Risi opened its 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship account with a destroyed Ferrari F458 chassis at Round 1 in Daytona, suffered another heavy crash with its replacement at Round 2 in Sebring, and with the chance of a positive end to a trying year in sight, the Risi outfit was forced to retire last weekend when driver Pierre Kaffer was pummeled from behind by Porsche factory driver Patrick Pilet.
Pilet, who had just strapped in and was shown on camera looking down at his seat belts while driving down pit lane, eventually looked up and was clearly surprised to find Kaffer parked and obeying the red light that held cars at pit exit. With no time or space to avoid a crash, the Frenchman struck Kaffer’s car in the right rear, and Pilet was then hit from behind by Corvette’s Jan Magnussen. The net effect left Risi’s Prancing Horse sitting with its hind quarters damaged beyond immediate repair.
The Porsche and Corvette would continue after their respective crews made repairs. Unfortunately, the innocent party in the melee was dealt the most severe blow, and if the race-ending damage wasn’t enough to cause team owner Giuseppe Risi’s blood to boil, the inaction by IMSA in regard to Pilet’s negligence pushed the respected team owner over the edge.
A strongly-worded release was issued by Risi during the event, making his disappointment over the incident and officiating abundantly clear.
“We’ve had no response to our request to Race Control for review or action although, in the past, any misdeeds by our team or drivers have been punished severely and immediately,” said Risi (LEFT). “This leads me to question whether the series even cares if there is a full-season GTLM Ferrari in the race or not, and it must also color my opinion going forward as to whether I want to continue in this championship or not.”
With a few days to bring to situation from a boil to a simmer, team manager Dave Sims says the ALMS championship-winning team is still fuming and struggles to understand how the crash resulted in a non-call.
“We just had a horrendous race getting taken out in the pits getting hit from behind,” Sims told RACER. “It wasn’t reviewed, and when I couldn’t get a response, I walked all the way over to the tower and was refused access to Race Control because I didn’t have a media pass! I went and asked the red light man, who said it was on and our car stopped properly. No apology from [IMSA]. We came in, beat everyone else on our pit stop, and came out No. 1. It drives you mad to see what happen take place, and then for the driver who caused the whole thing to get off without as much as a slap on the wrist is a whole other level of injustice piled on top of it.”
One of the suspension mounts was pulled out from the subframe in the crash, and a host of other significant damage was done to the Ferrari. The lack of answers from IMSA added to the mounting frustration as the Risi crew found more significant damage than was initially expected.
“We took the car back to the trailer, we were 14 laps down by the time we got it all looked it,” Sims (ABOVE) explained. “The mechanics said it would take another 30 or 45 minutes to get everything fixed, and we knew it wasn’t worth the effort because we were so far down, all we would do was risk the car being completely destroyed with no chance of getting a sniff of the podium.”
With new race director Beaux Barfield running the show from Race Control, Simon Hodgson, IMSA’s new managing director of racing operations, sought out Sims and Risi to explain the reasoning behind the non-call. Barfield also paid a trip to the Risi trailer once the race was over.
“I spoke with Beaux, the new guy Simon Hodgson, they came over and finally apologized, and I said it didn’t really matter at that point,” Sims noted. “There was no penalty for them. I still don’t understand. It wasn’t under review.”
Speaking with RACER on Tuesday, Barfield explained the information exchange process between IMSA and Risi Competizione, and also broke down how the sanctioning body arrived at the decision not to penalize Pilet.
“The pit lane incident happened at a point of the race where we already busy with a bunch of cautions, yellow after yellow, and once we got back to racing and had a stretch of time where we could do a complete review of the incident, we did so because we wanted more time to spend on it,” said Barfield. “Based on our own concern and issues with the incident, my new boss Simon [Hodgson] was in Race Control as an observer – he wasn’t on an official duty at the time, so he decided on his own to seek out the team and share with them what we saw and how we arrived at our conclusion.
“And that [practice] is outside of the norm of what we’re able to do from a staffing standpoint. We hold the Risi team in high regard, just like we hold all of our teams in high regard, and we were fortunate to have Simon available to go down and at least relate how our decision was made. We knew it wasn’t what they were wanting to hear, but we wanted them to at least hear it from us and to understand how we got to that decision. A lot of what we want to do is to build bridges, and you know you aren’t going to always have the news the teams want from you, but Simon went and I went later to make sure they weren’t just hearing it over a radio.”
Using Pilet’s in-car footage alone, according to Barfield, did not provide enough evidence to levy a penalty.
“We owe it to our competitors to officiate with a level of nuance and precision, and that means we need to have indisputable evidence to move forward on penalizing someone,” he said. “In this incident, there was footage, but ultimately, in terms of being able to see the situation from beginning to end [with Pilet], the lighting conditions and everything else you would want to have input on about the situation, we all agreed in race control there wasn’t indisputable evidence we could assess full blame to any party. We decided it was inconclusive because we didn’t have all the data we felt we needed. Yes, the in-car from the Porsche was compelling, but still painted only part of the picture, not the whole picture.”
In response to Barfield’s answer, this writer noted Kaffer was able to drive down pit lane and see the red light – seconds before Pilet arrived – without incident, leading one to assume the Porsche driver was capable of the same result.
“We had a car hitting another car that was legitimately stopped, but there were too many assumptions involved to make a definitive call and the video didn’t show,” Barfield added. “You can’t penalize someone based on assumptions, even if your gut tells you you’re right. You need evidence and facts. Even when you feel it’s the right thing to take action, it leads you down the wrong path if you aren’t rooted in facts and data first.”
Out of this contretemps, Sims says a ray of light has emerged. Risi’s enthusiasm for the TUDOR Championship was at an all-time low immediately after the race, but with a bit of distance, an early plan for 2015 is beginning to taking shape.
“Mr. Risi wants to return to Le Mans, so we’ll need to go racing before then, obviously,” Sims confirmed. “It’s still developing; we aren’t ready to put exact races on the calendar, but I think we’ll do the early part of the schedule before Le Mans and get ready. That’s what we’re talking about right now, at least. After that, who knows, but I need to start booking hotels now and that’s a good sign. It’s all a bit fluid, I imagine, but we want to continue and that’s what matters.”