Risi Competizione returns to Le Mans as a fan-favourite, keen to recapture its class-winning form from the past.
As the GTE-Pro class’s sole privateer, the pressure is on, but a very capable driver trio underlines the pace and experience we’ve come to expect from Rick Maher’s squad.
Oliver Jarvis is well placed to comment on going quick at Le Mans, he and his two colleagues all having prototype experience here, in his case at the highest level.
After a complicated start on Wednesday, how are things looking ahead of Thursday night’s session?
We’re optimistic but realistic the same time. We won’t be troubling the top five in terms of pure lap times, but having cured some unusual chassis issues last night we are making some real progress now. That’s not just the car, that’s all three drivers. We’re not the full season in GTE, so it’s a learning curve for us.
Risi Competizione has a solid heritage with Ferrari, knows how to do Le Mans and, as the comparative underdog in GTE-Pro, will get spectator support.
Despite the tough competition in Pro from the factories, with a solid driver line-up which features Bentley Boy Jules Gounon and IMSA DPi star Pipo Derani, surely you have a chance here?
“Definitely. I quite enjoy being the dark horse. As you say, Risi has a great history with some good results and we are the only private car. Wouldn’t it be nice to take it to some of the factory boys?”
After years racing in prototypes at Le Mans, has the transition been around here to a GTE car?
“I’ve had other GT drives so it’s not unfamiliar territory, but the mid-engined format is interesting. What’s always surprising about GTE cars is how good they are in low speed. Everyone thinks of a prototype as huge grip, huge downforce, which is correct. But generally, the way a prototype is set up is very stiff, to take advantage of a stable aero platform. So what impresses me with a GTE car and this package is the low-speed grip. Obviously, in places like the Porsche Curves, it is not quite the same as an LMP1 car, it’s moving around a lot more. But I’m really enjoying the challenge of that.
“The hardest thing is the traffic. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’ve found it OK so far. It only takes one idiot to stick it up the inside too late though, and I think that’s the problem. We’re reliant so much on them, whereas at least in an LMP1 or LMP2 you know certain drivers are going to do stupid things but you’re able to see it and predict it. Whereas when they’re coming from behind, especially at night when all you can see is their headlights, you don’t know what they’re going to do; you’re not as in control, so reliant on them being sensible and overtaking cleanly. That’s the hardest bit, relinquishing some of that control. I’ve got to be reliant on their expertise.
“Something that I was aware of when I was in prototypes, but I’ve now seen in the videos in driver briefings – and I need to say that as a prototype driver I don’t fully understand it, is that some of the prototype drivers seem to overtake and then feel the need to move across to take the racing line. Maybe that gains them a tenth of a second on the entry, but they don’t realise the GTE cars are great on the brakes and so they are losing downforce: if someone cuts across in front of you on the entry that’s going to upset the car and then if they immediately hit the brakes, that is a recipe for disaster.”
So with some time-consuming handling issues now hopefully behind you, what does the workload look like for Thursday night?
“We’re just not there yet, so there’s no point in heroics for tonight’s quali’ sessions. I look down the list in our class and there’s not one weak link, nor for that matter one weak driver line-up, it’s so close, there’s no-one that stands out. So if we could be around mid-pack that would be great, but top ten would be nice.
“The real focus is to get a race car we’re happy with and there’s so little time to work on set-up. If we spend all night working on qualifying we’ll be in trouble during the race. The concern is that you need to be in the mix and in touch with the class and that’s where we want to be. There’s always more: low fuel, new tyres… we’ve still got high hopes, don’t get me wrong, but we’ve got to be realistic, we’ve been using the other two Ferraris as a benchmark. A couple of seconds off the #51 isn’t bad but there’s more to come hopefully. We are quietly optimistic.”