The Risi Competizione GT Le Mans team was convinced it would have been cheaper to pull the plug on its Rolex 24 At Daytona entry than to turn up and waste money on a surefire last-place finish.
Its pace at the Roar Before The 24 test with the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE was anything but encouraging as speed eluded the Italian chassis and its drivers.
“We knew after the Roar,” Risi race engineer Rick Mayer told RACER. “From the Roar, I knew that if we had a dry, no-caution race, we were a ninth-place car. I mean hands down, ninth-place car. So, I told Mr. Risi, ‘You know, we just need to not go.’ Just don’t waste the resources, right?
“And he said, ‘I can’t do that because I’ve got people coming, people have paid for motor home spots, for hospitality, we have a lot guests coming, so I just can’t not go. And I said, ‘Well, you’ll save like 300 or 400 grand by not going. You can get most of the money back for a lot of things.’”
Thankfully, they were eventually proven wrong. As the only privateer team in the wealthy all-factory GTLM class, Risi’s chances were aided by the rain and plenty of superb driving to finish second, ahead of the all the Corvettes, Fords, and Porsches in the category. Only the class-winning BMW Team RLL M8 GTE was ahead of the No. 62 Ferrari when the race was stopped prematurely due to unsafe conditions.
Expecting to struggle in a straight fight, Mayer asked his drivers to think about reaching the finish line unscathed. Ignoring the impulse to bang wheels and trade paint on the way to the podium, Risi’s mildly reserved approach to the race proved to be the right formula for success.
“What was really odd is, and I told the drivers in the meeting, ‘Look, you know the car balance was good, everybody was happy with the car, right? We just don’t have the power, so don’t any of you take any risks,’ Mayer added. “I said, ‘The only way we’re gonna do well, is unfortunately, through other people’s misfortunes. It’s a race of attrition for us.’”
The engineer’s instructions to turn up the wick came when rain began to fall Sunday morning.
“I said, ‘Once it starts raining, that will be a little bit of an equalizer that takes the power out of the equation, so if it’s a bunch of rain, and it’s not torrential, we can start racing, taking a few risks, passing people,’ he continued. “And they did a good job. At the end of the race we had one contact. Probably one of the Porches. And it took a little chunk out of the left-front fender on the lip. Like a ding, and hit the left-side mirror and the mirror delaminated a little bit, but everything else just got some rubber patina on it. You could clean the car and race it today.”
As proud as Mayer might be after crafting a plan that led to a solid runner-up finish, he credited the adversity faced by Risi’s rivals for the outcome. Falling somewhere in the middle of lucky and good, the No. 62 Ferrari nearly won its class by intentionally trying not to win for large portions of the race.
“It’s not like we did anything super special, and we’re super clever…it’s just that we didn’t screw up,” he affirmed. “Look at the Corvettes. Holy ****. Take each other out in the pits, the No. 4 car flies into the tires into Turn 1. Wow. I mean, wow. That’s not how their race normally goes. The Porsches were hitting everybody. Ford’s having issues. I mean, everybody in our class lost a bunch of laps at some point in time but us.
“Because we didn’t have any issues, we spent the least amount of time in the pits. Even though we had to come in for the emergency service and drive back to the pits, we still spent five minutes less than anyone else (in GTLM) in the pits. The race gods were with us a bit. No way to plan on that happening when we go back to Daytona next year.”