Petit Le Mans marks the welcome return to competition of the Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE in the GTLM class. Earlier this year Risi announced it planned to pursue a limited IMSA campaign, one focused on the long-distance events. Thus the last time the red Ferrari raced in anger was at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March, where James Calado, Toni Vilander and Alessandro Pier Guidi matched the fifth-place finish they (along with Davide Rigon) achieved in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Given the myriad of hurdles team the faces in its return to competition, it’s perhaps not surprising that Vilander posted the ninth-fastest time in today’s GTLM qualifying session, some 0.7s off the pace of John Edwards’ pole-winning BMW. Not least of these hurdles is a new driver line-up with Miguel Molina and Andrea Bertolini teaming with Vilander that, among other things, saw the team tinkering with the Ferrari’s seat between yesterday’s practice sessions to better accommodate the lanky Bertolini. Suffice to say the other GTLM cars had their seats fully sorted out in January…
Molina and Bertolini are no strangers to Risi. Molina drove Risi’s GTD Ferrari in the 2018 Rolex 24 and teamed with Vilander in winning the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX drivers championship, while Bertolini has driven for Risi at various times since 2005. Nevertheless, Risi race engineer/strategist Rick Mayer readily concedes a race weekend does not give the trio a seasons’s worth of opportunity to “jell.”
Nor did the Risi team spend the summer testing and/or practicing pit stops. However, the key players partnered with Keating Motorsports to earn a third-place finish at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Thus Mayer has no doubts the crew will be up to speed for Saturday’s race.
“About half the core team is on staff at Risi,” he said. “There’s a handful of people who have been flying in for the races for several years, so we’re certain the car will be well-prepared. We have the same guys fueling and changing wheels, the same guys helping with the driver change and there are other key people like electronics engineer Don Shaver, who has been with us for 15 years.
“We’re running the same tires as last year,” he continued. “We ran the car with the 2018 aero configuration in Daytona and Sebring, and we raced here with this car last year and tested after the race. But we haven’t had the benefit of running a full season like the other GTLM teams. I’m sure Corvette, Ford, Porsche and BMW have found ways to be clever since Sebring.”