Risi, “Fisi” and Vilander

July 10, 2010

Risi, “Fisi” and Vilander

July 10, 2010

Giancarlo Fisichella, No. 61 Risi Ferrari. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Risi Competizione is one of the top contenders every race in the American Le Mans Series GT class, and their arsenal of Ferrari F430 GT challengers expands by one this weekend. Besides the usual No. 62 Ferrari of Jaime Melo and Gianmaria Bruni, the No. 61 is back in the traditional “rosso” red with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander this weekend.

Fisichella and Vilander primarily race in the Le Mans Series in Europe with the Italian AF Corse Ferrari team. Fisichella makes his ALMS debut while Vilander returns to the same team and series for the first time since 2006. Those two and Jean Alesi finished fourth in GT2 last month at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I felt comfortable straightaway,” Fisichella said. “The handling of the car and tires is quite positive and consistent.”

Vilander said it was easy to come back to a team he has had prior experience with, although he admitted it was hard to realize it has been four years!

Both drivers have substantial experience in single-seater, open-wheel cars, but have now fully transitioned into sports cars.

While Fisichella made 231 starts in 14 years in Formula One, winning three races, his career has been enhanced by learning how to deal with three other classes on track.

“It’s a completely different experience,” he said. “To run with a lot of prototypes, we have to concentrate as much on the mirrors as the track. Plus Le Mans in the dark was very difficult. But Toni, Jean and I got much better over time.”

Toni Vilander, No. 61 Risi Ferrari. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Vilander has had significant GT experience with victories and championships in Europe, and has mentored the drivers through the process.

“Although they were rookies there – even if it sounds funny – we were limited in what we could do,” he said. “Problems can arise with slower prototypes if you don’t know their lines or where they brake or overtake. Apart from that, it’s a part of this racing, and you just need to get used to it. It’s a philosophy you have to have to succeed.”

They hope to have success driving for the iconic Italian marquee this weekend, while aiding Ferrari’s quest to capture the GT manufacturer’s championship.

“Driving in Formula One for Ferrari was the dream of my life. And to be with Ferrari now, even if not in F1, is very positive and important,” Fisichella said.

“The Finns are a bit more cold – I will realize it later in life how nice a period this is,” Vilander joked. “If someone told me I’d drive a Ferrari, I’d tell them, ‘Stop it.’ This teaches you about many portions of life, and I just want to keep doing the same thing. This is one of the best periods in my life.”

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