Things were looking pretty good for R. Ferri Motorsport Racing with Ferrari as the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge season began. The team had a new Ferrari 488 GT3 to race, a factory shoe in Alex Riberas and some solid results to start the season, including a podium finish in Round 2 at St. Petersburg.
Riberas and Kyle Marcelli seemed to make a good pairing at VIRginia International Raceway for the premiere SprintX rounds. But things went horribly wrong at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, where Riberas crashed the car heavily in qualifying after already setting a time good enough for pole, leaving them sidelined for the race and effectively ending the team’s season.
What seemed like a blow to Marcelli’s year, through no fault of his own, turned into an opportunity. Instead of five races as Riberas’ second, he had the chance to wheel the newly rebuilt car solo at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Team owner Remo Ferri clearly had no interest in Riberas returning to the driver’s seat of the 488, so Marcelli (pictured below) got the call.
“My duties, instructed from Remo, was to ‘Take no risks, but we expect a good result,'” Marcelli said as he recounted the weekend’s events. “We put the car fourth in qualifying, quickest of the Ferraris, and proved to be competitive. The team gave me a great car all weekend and I’ve worked well. It’s been a low-budget weekend. We didn’t have a Ferrari-supplied engineer this weekend and Enrico Diano, the team manager, fulfilled the role of engineer and we worked really well together. I was a little cautious at the start [in the first race] and we lost positions because of it. Thankfully I got one of them back and ended up sixth. We started third [in the second race] and ultimately ended up fourth with the quickest lap of the race.
“We’re bringing the car home in one piece, we proved to be competitive, we ran at the front of the grid, we got a lot of airtime, it was good for the team to be back together, it was good for the sponsors and Ferrari. It was a great opportunity for me, and to come home with the hardware would have certainly checked off all the boxes, but I think overall it was a strong weekend for us.”
While the rest of the season for R. Ferri is undecided – the team won’t be present at the Grand Prix of Utah this weekend – Marcelli and the team seem a good fit. For one thing, both are based in the Toronto area. While the deal for Mid-Ohio came together very late, the relationship began a few years ago. In 2014, he got his first opportunity with Ferrari when his LMPC ride at Sebring evaporated. Stefan Johansson was driving a Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458, and stepped out of the car to let Marcelli, with whom he had won Petit Le Mans the season before, have the ride. That turned into a three-race deal and opened the door with Ferri, even leading to discussion about driving in World Challenge for him. But that ride ended up with Olivier Beretta, who came within a few laps of winning the championship.
Marcelli continued racing the Prototype Challenge cars, and also landed a ride with CRP for the 2016 World Challenge season in the previous-generation Audi R8 that was not particularly competitive at that point. Then came the opportunity to partner with Riberas for 2017.
“The relationship with Alex and I was great, the relationship with the team was great, my comfort and speed in the car was good,” Marcelli said. “I thought I just had a five-race contract, and Alex made a few mistakes. It wasn’t the circumstances we wanted to happen, but it worked out in my favor to get an opportunity to do a sprint race. Remo was very undecided after the Mosport off on what to do for the balance of the year. But all the team guys were really motivated to put the car together and get back on track. I think it all started the week prior at the Ferrari Challenge event at Mosport. We did a few promo laps in the car, and you could tell Remo was excited seeing the car back on track. I think Michelotto pushed Remo to go to this event, and I got a great opportunity.”
The 488 has proven to be a solid GT3 racecar. TR3 Racing won at VIR in SprintX with their car in the hands of Daniel Mancinelli and Andrea Montermini. But that’s the car’s only win in World Challenge so far. Still, Marcelli believes the car is quite good.
“The biggest challenge for this car is cold tires,” he explained. “It takes 12 laps before we’re up to optimal pressures. It’s a handful in those first few laps, and we lose positions because of it. By the time our car comes in … it’s difficult to overtake in this series because of the closeness of the competition, and Mid-Ohio just proves to be a tough track to overtake on. But when the car came in, it was amazing. We had quick lap of the race and put a lot of pressure on the third-place car the whole time.”
The future of the team and the relationship with Marcelli is still cloudy. But clearly Marcelli would relish the opportunity to reward the team for the faith it put in him, both in pairing him with Riberas for SprintX, and for giving him the sprint ride when it returned to the series.