Monday, Dec 22, 2014
Local Sports

Ferrari on a roll

Special to Highlands Today
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The Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America turned into an unscheduled component of Ferrari North America’s 60th anniversary celebration, when Risi Competizione gave the mark of the Prancing Horse its first GT Le Mans (GTLM) victory in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer took the checkered flag in the No. 62 Ferrari F458 Italia, turning around a season for the team that opened with back-to-back misfortunes in the opening two races, the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida.

It was the team’s third podium finish of the season, coming on the heels of a runner-up showing in the Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

It also marked another highlight for Fisichella, the Formula One veteran who scored his second class victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

“I was very pleased with our result at Road America, not just because it was hard-fought – as every victory is in the GTLM category – but because the Risi Competizione team deserved it,” said team owner Giuseppe Risi. “We know the 458 Italia is a race-winning car and I wouldn’t be employing the engineers and strategists if they weren’t able to do their jobs well, but the day absolutely belonged to the crew. They performed so well in the pits, as did the drivers, and all the hours of practice and fine-tuning of practice pit stops paid off as we won Road America principally down to the speed and efficiency of our pit work. We beat everyone else in our class in the pit lane, and that made the difference between winning and losing.

“Of course Giancarlo and Pierre did an excellent job on the track but, without that performance by our crew, they might just have got a podium instead of winning,” Risi added. “That’s what we celebrated.”

Risi Competizione will be looking to make it two in a row this weekend, not only in TUDOR Championship competition but also at VIR.

Last year, the team won the GT class in the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, with drivers Olivier Beretta and Matteo Malucelli.

Ferrari opened the year in TUDOR Championship competition by winning the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Currently, Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler – drivers of the No. 555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia – lead the GTD standings in both the TUDOR Championship and the Tequila Patrón North American Endurance Cup.

Ferrari’s presence in North America dates back to 1964, when Luigi Chinetti became the company’s first sales agent in North America. Pedro Rodriguez and Phil Hill scored an overall victory in that year’s 2,000-kilometer Daytona Continental (the forerunner of the Rolex 24), beginning a strong of many highlights for Ferrari on this continent.

Virginia International Raceway will offer a level playing field for its first TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event in Sunday’s Oak Tree Grand Prix.

The event includes the GT Le Mans class, the GT Daytona class and the Prototype Challenge class.

CORE autosport leads the point standings in the Prototype Challenge class.

While the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series raced at the Danville, Va., circuit from 2002 through 2011, and the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón competed there in 2012 and 2013, the 3.27-mile circuit was completed repaved and partially widened since last year’s race – among an extensive improvements program.

The track opened in 1957 and hosted major sports car events – including the first IMSA GT Series race in 1971 – before closing during an economic downturn in 1974. VIR reopened in 2000, with the repaved track maintaining its original 3.27-mile configuration.

“When it reopened it was basically the same as it was back then,” said Hurley Haywood, who won the IMSA GT races at VIR in 1971 and 1972 in addition to competing in the Rolex Series when the circuit reopened. “One of the complaints when they reopened was they didn’t make it any wider, which would have been nice.”

For 2014, Haywood’s concerns have been addressed. While the track maintains its original racing line, the track was widened by six feet at several locations to allow easier passing.

“I loved the way the track was before, but now it’s even better,” said Patrick Long, driver of the No. 912 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR and a DP winner at the circuit in 2006. “In the past there were a few sections that were a little too narrow for side-by-side battles. Now, they’ve widened the track in certain sections and changed the curb layout. I think it’s going to bring a whole new flow to the track.”

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