The compressed schedule for the 24 Hours of Le Mans will leave little room for error according to Risi Competizione race engineer Rick Mayer, who predicts that teams will not have time to make any significant changes in car setup.
The Houston-based squad enters this year’s postponed French endurance classic with two-thirds of a new lineup, in Sebastien Bourdais and Olivier Pla joining Bentley factory driver on-loan Jules Gounon, who was the only driver that was part of Risi’s driving squad last year in its Ferrari 488 GTE Evo.
With both Bourdais and Pla needing to get acclimated with the mid-engined Ferrari, and nearly 11 hours of the available 12.5 hours of pre-race track time compressed into a single day on Thursday, Mayer believes this year’s race could be won on preparation alone.
“In between the test and race week, you’d spend time doing things to the car like major rebuild stuff,” Mayer told Sportscar365.
“Between Friday and the race, you’d change out things that are race-mileage limited. When you had a warmup on Saturday that was 45 minutes where you could break stuff in and make sure it’s OK.
“Now there is no test day. There’s ten hours of running on Thursday and you run half a day on Friday. The warmup is 15 minutes [long], so that’s to make sure nothing falls off [the car].
“Pretty much all your race prep and important stuff has to be done before you come to the track.
“If you have any kind of an off on Thursday, a large off, I don’t know if you can make the race. I don’t think you can fix it in time.
“In ten hours you can do a lot of running but the problem is that it’s all in one day.
“So you have to be pretty confident in that what you’re starting with is going to be what you’re going to race. There’s not a whole lot of time to make large changes and not lose track time.”
Mayer said their “biggest problem” going into Thursday will be the lack of driver familiarity with the Ferrari’s controls, with both Bourdais and Pla new to the car.
Bourdais completed a shakedown of the 488 GTE Evo at MSR Houston in July prior to it being sent to France, with Pla set to get his first laps on Thursday.
“It’s like having a new piece of software and trying to figure it out in two days. It’s going to be tough,” said Mayer, who said they plan to number all the switches on the steering wheel to help all three drivers acclimate.
“Most of the cars, these days, all roughly do the same things. But how do you get there?
“All of the buttons are in different places. So anything they’ve been used to driving is not going to [help] because they’re not familiar with [the Ferrari layout].
“[The AF Corse/WeatherTech] guys have all driven the car before so they’re going to at least have the familiarity of the cockpit controls.
“The GT3 and GTE cockpit is the same layout. All the Porsche and Aston guys are factory guys, so they’ve got a little bit of an advantage as far as that.
“I think we have a good driver lineup. They’re all ready to rock.
“We were down on power last year to everybody. We don’t know what the situation was there or why we never got any answers.
“As long as we have a motor this year that’s competitive, we can be competitive.”
No Travel Issues for Team Despite Added Paperwork
Mayer said the entire U.S.-based crew encountered no travel difficulties getting to France, despite the added paperwork and exemptions needed for Americans to fly overseas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Risi, which is making its 16th Le Mans start, is the only team with a full crew of Americans taking part in this year’s race following the withdrawals of a number of IMSA teams, including Corvette Racing and the CORE autosport-run factory Porsche squad.
“Through the ACO we had to have a special document that gave us the way to come in,” Mayer explained. “It’s in French, so I assume it’s like a dignitary-type thing or special exemption.
“We left on Friday and everybody got that paper on Thursday. Everybody also had to have a [negative] COVID test.”
Mayer, who lives in Florida, connected in Atlanta for his Delta flight to Paris, while the majority of the Texas-based crew were on a United flight from Newark.
“It was interesting as I had to show a bunch of documents but a couple of other guys didn’t have to show anything. It was definitely an odd situation,” Mayer added.
Team principal Giuseppe Risi came over on his Italian passport, with only two of Risi’s regular Le Mans crew unable to travel.
One was a Canadian mechanic, who would have faced a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon his return to Nova Scotia, and the other being its U.S.-based Michelin tire engineer, who because of Michelin North America’s COVID-19 corporate policy, was not able to travel overseas.
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report