At this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, an American team - Risi Competizione - will be racing in a livery designed by a French arts school that was ‘commissioned’ for the project by Ferrari Club France
This year the 24 Hours of Le Mans will bear witness to a rather unusual “alliance”: an American team - Risi Competizione, of Houston, Texas - will be racing with a Ferrari whose livery has been designed by a French arts school, commissioned for the project by Ferrari Club France.
This is a story with deep roots, so we have to go back in time, to the 1966 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to be precise. Most Ferraristi will remember, with bitterness, how three Fords took the first three places in that historic event, humbling the Cavallino.
Fast forward now to the 2016 edition of the famous French endurance race, which marked 50 years since that iconic (in the eyes of Ford fans) victory: in the LM GTE Pro class, Ford seemed likely to repeat its 1-2-3 feat. But something happened: the red Ferrari 488 GTE (number 82), from Risi Competizione, managed to place second, shattering the US carmaker’s own dream and - in the process - cocking a snook at les américains (never a bad thing, mind you).
“We were ecstatic to see Risi break the Ford 1-2-3,” enthuses Alexandre Lafond, president of Ferrari Club France (FCF) since 2017, who recalls: “I sent [team founder-manager] Giuseppe Risi a message to congratulate him for the second place. We really hoped for a long time that he could win.” According to Lafond, who at the time was not yet president of the Club, Ford had put in a massive effort to repeat its historic 1-2-3. So the satisfaction of seeing a rossa placing amidst the Fords was even greater. “We invited Risi to our year-end dinner. He came all the way from Houston,” Lafond recollects. “He is really a gentleman, he is fluent in French, it was a great moment.”
And from that moment (thanks also, no doubt, to copious quantities of champagne), a new tradition was born when some members of the Ferrari Club asked Risi at the dinner if he would put a little sticker of the Club on his next Le Mans car. Risi - owner of the Ferrari of Houston dealership - accepted the invitation and did exactly that, participating in the 2017 edition of the 24 Hours with a FCF sticker on his all-red car, number 82. But things didn’t turn out very well this time: Risi’s car was involved in a big crash which knocked it out of the race, dashing the team’s chances of winning the IMSA season. The team was not present for the next two years.
To draw attention to its return to LMGTE Pro racing this year (the 24 Hours of le Mans will be held on September 19 and 20), Risi Competizione asked Lafond to help the team come up with a distinctive livery. The Ferrari Club France president, whose wife works for Paris design college ENSAAMA, knew exactly where to turn. He proposed creating a competition among the students of the college to create a new livery for Risi, an idea the Italian-American Ferrarista accepted enthusiastically.
The brief was straightforward: “We asked students to think about creativity, but also while keeping technical hurdles in mind, such as producing technical and production files, a process which they did together with professionals to make sure their ideas could be realised,” Lafond explains. Of course, the response from the students was equally enthusiastic. “When you say draw us a Ferrari for Le Mans, you have a very positive reaction,” says Lafond, who points out that there were also challenges: “The students don’t know about [racing] history so you have to present them with previous art cars and some history. But when you say draw a Ferrari for Le Mans, you always have an enthusiastic reaction.”
The contest led to the realisation of several intriguing livery proposals and the competition jury - made up of Lafond, Risi and two ENSAAMA teachers - had a tough time picking a winner. But a winner was chosen: a livery produced by the students Augustin de Montardy and Aristide Renault (no relation to the French car company, Lafond said), called “L’Académicienne”.
The students were inspired by the idea of the institution of l’Académie Française, whose role it is to promote the correct use of the French language and culture around the world. Team Risi was so pleased with the winning design that they wanted to find other ways to use it, as well. “They want to make the whole pit with it, so the young guys are working on adaptions for the pit,” Lafond said.
In this manner are new traditions born: from dreams and passion - and a good dose of compétition.