The debut of Risi Competizione’s brand new Ferrari 458 Italia GT in the Twelve Hours of Sebring race was brought to a premature end 90 minutes before the checkered flag due to an electrical problem which caused a potential safety issue. The team took the decision to withdraw the No. 062 at 9:03 pm.

Until that point, the performance of the car – which was only delivered to the Houston-based team four days before the transporters left for Sebring – had been nothing short of impressive. It ran at the head of the ultra-competitive GT class on numerous occasions, and was rarely out of contention for a podium spot until the electrical problems occurred.

The Ferrari 458 was making its international racing debut in Florida, arriving in the USA short on testing and development time, for the most punishing race on the North American calendar.

While disappointed with the overall outcome, Team Principal Giuseppe Risi paid tribute to his team: “The team did an excellent job today in difficult conditions and with a car that’s extremely new to them. To be honest I was a little surprised we were at the front challenging for the lead for such a long time; pleasantly surprised. Our pit stops were flawless for the majority of the race but we’ve got to go back and do our homework now. The car was solid, and the drivers were happy with it so we’ve got a good base on which to build.”

Team Manager, David Sims, explains the reason for the retirement. “We were having electrical problems which, at that stage of the game, meant it was too dangerous to go on. We didn’t need to crash the car at that point. We traced if afterwards to the alternator, and it was cutting the main electrical source out which meant no headlights or power steering. We tried three types of repair but it was too dangerous to continue.”

Finn Toni Vilander was at the wheel of the Ferrari 458 Italia GT when the electrics first started causing problems: “I was running well in third, with plenty of fuel, and fuel pressure and low battery lights appeared on the dash. After half a lap I lost the power steering so had no option but to come in and we lost two laps in the pits which was quite unfortunate. Before then, I think I did our car’s fastest lap time, 2:01.9, and a long sequence of quick laps on 2.02s and the car felt good. At that point in the race we were also in a good condition fuel wise – we had half a tank more than our closest rivals and we could have had a podium finish.”

Team mate Jaime Melo of Brazil was optimistic about the car’s future, despite the result: “I think we could maybe have finished third. We need to improve, work a little bit on the set up, and try to get some straight line speed. I didn’t really imagine at the beginning of this race that we would be leading or in a position to win. I can tell you it wasn’t easy to keep up with the BMWs or the Corvettes at the end; they were pretty consistent. Every time I was in the car I just tried to do my best, and to take it easy on the tires which was one of the keys to success here. At the end of each stint there was very low grip and the track was pretty slippery. It’s a brand new car and we now understand a lot of things about it. We just need to test and develop the car, make it easy to drive and get a little bit more speed from it.”

Mika Salo, also of Finland, commented: “It’s disappointing we didn’t finish the race. Things were going quite well until then, especially for a brand new car. We decided yesterday that hard compound Michelin tires were going to be the right choice for today and, for most of the time, they were. When we had a full fuel load it caused the car to understeer, and it also took a bit more time than we would have liked for them to come up to temperature after a caution
period. And there were a lot of those!”

About Risi Competizione
Risi Competizione is a Houston-based Ferrari racing team lead by Managing Director Giuseppe Risi. Official team sponsors include Pennzoil, Motorola, Boardwalk Auto Group, Ferrari Fort Lauderdale, Ferrari Financial Services and Ferrari of Houston.

The next round of the American Le Mans Series will be the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series on the Long Beach street circuit, Long Beach, California on Saturday, April 16, 2011 beginning at 4:30 pm PT. The race will be shown on ESPN 2 (5pm ET Sunday, April 17) and ESPN3.com or can be followed on www.americanlemans.com. o www.batterytender.com for more information.

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