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Riley Settling In After “Tight” Prep Window for GTE-Pro Ferrari

Bill Riley explains how his team’s Le Mans GTE-Pro entry with a Ferrari came together…

Photo: MPS Agency

Riley Motorsports is ready for its 24 Hours of Le Mans return after working through a “very tight” window to prepare its Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for a GTE-Pro class bid.

The American team run by Bill Riley is making its first Le Mans appearance since 2019 with Formula E driver Sam Bird, three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen and DTM competitor Felipe Fraga.

Riley earned an automatic invitation to Le Mans for guiding Gar Robinson to last year’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship LMP3 title.

Its entry is fielded by Roy Carroll, a Greensboro, NC-based businessman whose portfolio of companies includes Bee Safe Storage, which appears on the No. 74 car’s livery.

Riley assists Carroll in Ferrari Challenge North America and the two parties set up the Le Mans program together, with Carroll wanting to own a Ferrari with Le Mans tenure.

Riley hopes his team will match up well against the two-car factory programs from Ferrari, Porsche and Corvette Racing, although it had limited preparation time with the car despite the entry being in the works for several months.

“It was very tight,” he told Sportscar365. “The car didn’t get delivered until early May.

“But the car from Michelotto is very nice right off the bat, so that minimized how much effort we had to put in.

“In Pro, everybody’s really tight. We have to see where we are this week. But we had a pretty uneventful test day, and that’s exactly what we wanted.

“Shane had to do his ten laps. He ended up with plenty, so it all worked out really well.

“I think it’s going to be very tough. All of the teams are super strong. We just have to keep our head down and do what we know how to do and see what happens.

“Obviously you don’t ever underestimate the competition you’re against as they’re extremely tough but at the same time we’re going to keep our head down and see how it goes.”

The crew is mostly Riley Motorsports contracted staff, according to Riley.

One notable recruit is former Risi Competizione crew chief Mark Sims, who is set for his first race with the team in a full-time role.

“We’re really glad to have him,” said Riley. “He’s a huge amount of help on the program because we haven’t run a Ferrari [GTE] before.

Riley Motorsports transported its equipment to Le Mans from the U.S. rather than relying completely on European support.

The car was flown to France after a May test at Watkins Glen with Bird behind the wheel.

However, neither Fraga nor Le Mans rookie van Gisbergen turned laps until the official test on Sunday.

“All the Ferrari teams are quite helpful, to help us out,” Riley said.

“Obviously for a team that flies in, you need a lot of things. AF Corse has been pretty helpful to us. I thank them for that.

“We sea-freighted all of our normal equipment in and then Greaves/United Race Parts, we rented most of this from them. That made it quite easy.

“We brought a 40-foot container of equipment over. We rented a lot of the garage stuff from them and they set it all up for us. Then we air-freighted the car and all of our final tools.”

The driver lineup came together through different connections, starting with Fraga who partners Robinson in LMP3.

“I knew Felipe Fraga quite well from all of the stuff we’ve done, so that was a natural fit,” Riley explained.

“Roy Carroll’s driver coach is James Gue and he gave his input along with me and we decided about Sam Bird. He’s quite strong and has some good ties in with Ferrari and has a lot of experience with the Ferrari here. He was another good choice.

“Then on the third, I worked with Shane in 2017 [at Daytona] and he’s just fast in everything he drives. That was another shoe-in. It all just kind of clicked together.”

For Riley, returning to Le Mans with his team is a significant moment after it had an on-the-road GTE-Am victory with Ben Keating’s Ford GT stripped by a fuel infraction.

“It means a lot to be back at Le Mans,” he said.

“It’s always been my favorite place. Even after the issue we had in 2019, I was ready to come back the next day. It’s always been the best place for me to race.

“I told myself after ’19 that I really didn’t want to go back just to go back. I wanted to go back with programs that I’m pretty ingrained with and we can have a chance to win.”

Fraga believes that Riley Motorsports “should be there” in the Pro class based on the team’s experience.

Independents have occasionally fared well against the factory juggernauts in past GTE-Pro races, such as when Risi Competizione reached the podium in 2016 and when Dries Vanthoor put HubAuto Racing’s Porsche 911 RSR-19 on pole last year.

“I think Riley have already showed many times at Le Mans that they can do a fast car,” Fraga told Sportscar365.

“I think we have a pretty good lineup and I’m not afraid about the other factory cars. I hope we have the same speed as them.

“The team is capable to build a good car and I’m expecting to fight for it.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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