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Ready for Le Mans

16 giugno 2017

Words: Jeff Grossbard

Giuseppe Risi is ready to renew old rivalries at Le Mans

In 1969, Giuseppe Risi stood on the side of the Circuit de la Sarthe for the first time. Anonymous among the massive throng of thousands of fans that converged in central France, Risi thought to himself ‘Boy, one day I am going to come back here and race.’
Three years later, he accomplished that goal as a team manager. And now, 45 years later, Risi stands on the starting grid at Le Mans next to the gleaming Rosso Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE that bears the name of his team. 
Even before Risi Competizione’s heroic effort at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, his team had earned the respect of its GTE-Pro class competitors. 
Risi Competizione has scored three victories at Le Mans – in its first appearance in 1998 with the 333 SP, and in 2008 and 2009 with the F430 GT. The team returned in 2016, with the number 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE nearly beating the Ford GTs, pushing the megabucks factory team to its limit in a dramatic race.
‘When we are at the track, we are on equal footing,’ says Risi. ‘And by that, I mean the preparation of the car is as good as what they can throw at it. Yes, we have a limited budget compared to those guys, but once the race is going you are down to three guys who are going to drive your car and the pit crew.’
In the late 1970s, Enzo Ferrari urged Risi to become a dealer in North America. Risi opened Ferrari of Houston in 1980 and was an occasional spectator and team manager at Le Mans until 1998, when his team (then called Doyle Risi Racing) took a Ferrari 333 SP to Le Mans for the first time.
Drivers Wayne Taylor, Eric van de Poele and Fermin Velez finished eighth overall and scored victory in the LMP1 class. ‘That was a special moment,’ Risi says. ‘When I first came to Le Mans, the thought of being there with Ferrari was so far out of sight. Our little team was running Chevron sports racers. 
‘I hadn’t even thought of being a dealer! But when I could be both a dealer and race a Ferrari at Le Mans – and be successful at it – it was the true culmination of a dream.’
In the 20 years since, Risi Competizione has accumulated the victories at Le Mans, two American Le Mans Series championships, three victories at the 12 Hours of Sebring and two victories at Petit Le Mans. 
The team has also accumulated the staff and talent needed to continue winning races and championships. ‘Our engineer has been with me for 13 years, and we have mechanics who have been with us for up to 22 years. So, it’s a real team. I enjoy long distance racing and that is one of the strong points in how we put the team together and what we concentrate on. 
‘In 2009, we were the car that spent the least amount of time in the pits – and that year we won. In IMSA, we are the quickest of the GT teams in pit stops.’
The driver line-up in the number 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at Le Mans includes Giancarlo Fisichella, Pierre Kaffer and Toni Vilander. Fisichella and Vilander are Risi’s regular drivers in IMSA, while Pierre has a long history with the team, including one Le Mans victory. 
‘We respect our competitors tremendously because these are all extremely worthy people,’ says Risi. ‘If you look at the entry list and the drivers and the cars, you are dealing with the best in the world. The cream of the cream. 
‘You have to respect these people. But as I say, we feel that our preparation is what it has been in the past. We will stack it up against anybody, and that’s why we go to Le Mans.’