(Le Mans, France, September 18, 2020)...
The No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE-Pro is set to start the 88th annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race from the eighth class position in GTE-Pro in this year's 59-car field. Le Mans native and four-time Champ Car champion, Sébastien Bourdais, who just announced his return to full-time IndyCar Series competition in 2021 with A.J. Foyt Racing, set the team's best time in Thursday's qualifying. The time was disallowed after a garage infraction, but the popular American team will still start from the eighth position in GTE-Pro.
This year the ACO instituted a new Hyperpole format for the top six cars from qualifying practice in each of the four classes who were able to compete for top positions in Friday morning's 30-minute session. However, because the Risi Ferrari qualified outside the top six, they did not participate in Hyperpole.
In addition to Bourdais, drivers of the No. 82 Risi Ferrari 488 EVO include Olivier Pla and Jules Bourdais. Le Mans on track sessions started Wednesday morning at the Circuit de la Sarthe and Risi Race Engineer Rick Mayer stared with Gounon, who raced with Risi in last year's twice-around-the-clock enduro. He cycled through the three drivers during the 11 hours of testing and improved the set-up each session while allowing the drivers to familiarize themselves with the Prancing Horse in preparation for the race.
Rick Mayer, Risi Competizione Race Engineer:
You've had a busy week in a condensed time slot. Talk about what you and the team have had to do the past few days to get ready for the race.
"We shipped everything over and then had to install it, set it up in the garage and the pit stand. It just takes a lot of fiddling to get it all sorted and in place. There were some late rules changes and the normal driver requests, which takes up some extra time. We're in good condition and should be there by the race."
How did you go about cycling the drivers through the on-track sessions to get them acquainted with the car? Does everyone feel ready for the race start tomorrow?
"I think everyone is ready. We typically try and start the session with the driver that finished the previous session to get a read on the car. We've given every driver a new set of tires to feel the grip and understand how they come in. Making all three drivers happy is always a challenge, but I think we've come to an agreeable place on the set up."
What are going to be the key things to manage for the race this year?
"The most important thing is to stay on track and pit for fuel, tires and drivers change only. You must stay out of the garage. If we can do this, we'll do well. I'm ready for it to start and to end. Le Mans and I have a love hate relationship."
Sébastien Bourdais set the qualifying fastest lap for the No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari GTE-Pro
Sébastien Bourdais, driver No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 LM GTE-Pro:
Welcome back to Le Mans. How did it feel to be back in Le Mans, with your family and being a global ambassador for your hometown this week? What message do you wish to send to all the fans out there?
"I have not seen my parents in six months now so it was great to get home and see and spend some time with them. It's definitely a very strange feeling at the 24 this year with having no public. Usually for me it's a crazy week between scrutineering, all the media requests and fans gathering in the Paddock and usually tough to get around anywhere and a very compressed schedule. This year it's more stretched out because no fans are allowed to come to the event and everything is at the circuit. It's still the same pleasure though to come back and drive on the big track but definitely very different circumstances. We miss all the fans and we want to let them know they are missed and we sure hope to see them back soon. We hope they can follow the race through social media and on television."
You haven't gotten much time in the car but how did your time go in the Ferrari 488? How do you like the car?
"I think we ended up in a pretty good place. The car initially was pretty tricky to drive. I think Rick was quite aggressive with the set-up on the green track and the high temps. It definitely made for an interesting experience. Not really being familiar at all with the car and having an initial aggressive set up, but overall through the day we found some comfort, speed and confidence. The three of us drivers have found a pretty good compromise with the balance of the car and the set-up. Although we only had one day to figure it out, I've felt worse going into this race than I feel right now so I guess that's a good sign."
Congrats on setting the fastest lap in the Risi Ferrari team. Tell us about your best lap, how you managed it and how it felt.
"It was quite fine, but not exactly the ideal situation with the first time, low fuel and new tires and trying to figure out where the limits are and obviously not overdo it. The last thing you want to, although it's qualifying, is make a mistake and damage the car. So, it's not the easiest but the car actually felt pretty good on that first attempt and then after that, and then we made some changes to tire pressures. I didn't try to better it after that because it was going to get pretty dangerous out there. Overall, pretty good and we just missed it by a couple of tenths to make it to the Hyperpole, but no regrets. We're focused on the race. I actually did quite a few laps and I had faster laps in the night practice so I think we made good improvements in the car. The car feels quite good when the track temps go down."
You're driving one of 16 Ferraris on track, four in GTE-Pro, alongside 2 Porsches and 2 Aston Martins. How does the competition look this year?
"I really don't think we have a picture of where the opposition is at. Clearly when you look at the charts nobody has got anything shown yet. You have basically two GTE-Am in the middle of the GTE-Pros in qualifying, therefore nobody is showing their hand. So, I think like we've seen in the last couple of years, we're only going to see what's really happening when the green flag drops and who's really got what. It's going to be interesting but nevertheless, and like every Le Mans in GT racing, it's going to be a fight from the first to the last lap with very small gaps between the cars and fierce battles on track. We can definitely expect a big tussle in the race."
L to R: Risi Competizione Le Mans drivers Olivier Pla and Jules Gounon
Olivier Pla, driver No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 LM GTE-Pro:
This was your first time driving the Ferrari 488, wasn't it? Tell us how the Thursday sessions and Friday morning practices went and how the Ferrari feels to drive.
"Yesterday I was discovering the car in FP1. So far so good. We seem to all have a nice feeling with the car, we have the same feedback from the car among the three drivers. I like the car; it's nicely balanced as we went through the sessions yesterday and into the night. We keep improving the car so I'm very happy with what we've done so far."
How was it working with Mr. Risi and the Risi Competizione team for the first time?
"Actually, I feel like I'm at home because I knew Gary (Holland - Team Manager) from when I worked with him before. The same with Rick (Mayer) who is engineering the car. It's a small team but it feels like a small family so it's really good."
What do you think will be the most challenging part of the race this year after seeing what the competition has out there?
"I think the first thing is the weather for Saturday. It seems we might have some rain. Rain at Le Mans is always difficult so we're going to have to stay very focused and hopefully keep it at the front and stay out of trouble. So far we've seen many, many accidents already with cars crashing and in the gravel, so we will have to stay away from that. We will stay focused and do the best with what we have and the conditions around us and see what happens in the race."
Jules Gounon, driver No. 82 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 LM GTE-Pro:
How did it feel to be back in the Ferrari 488 at Le Mans and back with the Risi crew? Did the familiarity come back quickly to you?
"I am very happy and proud that Mr. Risi called me and appreciate that he wanted to put me back in the car and glad to have gained the trust of such a legendary owner in the world of motorsports. For me this is a huge accomplishment, so I'm feeling amazing!
"The test went pretty well and we have been working a lot on the race set-up. All three of us drivers are running together very close, so I think we have a really good car. The race is going to be tricky with the rain and everything, so let's see how we can do it."
You were the first Risi driver out in the car in FP1 and were able to work with the engineers and the team on getting the set-up tweaked. Do you think the team is ready with a good car for the race now?
"I always enjoy working with Rick (Mayer - Risi Race Engineer). He's a really good engineer and he knows exactly what to do and what he's talking about. I'm always proud to be working with good engineers like Rick. I think he's made really good changes on the car all the way through the final free practice Friday morning. We were a bit unhappy with the balance at the beginning with oversteer, but we managed to correct that now to have a really good car for the race. We are all happy now with the car and let's hope because the weather forecast looks really hot at the moment with a lot of showers. We'd don't really know what's going to happen with the weather but we plan to do the best we can do and see what happens on Sunday afternoon."
How was it working with your French driving hero teammates the past few days?
"The experience has been amazing since first starting to work with Seb and Olivier on Monday to do the seat fitting. For sure sharing the car with them is amazing. I was pinching myself to see that I was not dreaming to be with those two guys. It's been going really well. We have been sharing a lot of information and getting along really well together. Honestly, I'm really happy to be with them and proud to be with them. I hope we can do a good show and good racing for Giuseppe, first of all for having us all here, and also the Ferrari and Le Mans fans."
What message do you have for the fans who can't be there in person?
"It's a shame they can't be here because I think this car would be a fan-favorite, and is, but that's the way it is this year. I think everyone's health is more important. I hope we can put on a good show and make them proud from watching on the TV."
The 24-hour race starts at 2:30 p.m. (1430h) local time on Saturday afternoon, September 19, with expected rain during the early morning hours. With the delayed September date nearly half of the race will be run in the dark with sunset at 8:04 (2004h) p.m. and sunrise 7:42 (0742h) a.m. local time. The extra hours of darkness and 70 percent rain possibility will likely add to the usual drama of this legendary race.