In only its second race in the series, Ram Racing’s Matt Griffin and Johnny Mowlem today brought the new British GT team its first victory of its short racing career, its first win of the 2013 European Le Mans Series in the 3 Hours of Imola in Italy, and led a Ferrari 1-2-3 at the Autodromo Enzo & Dino Ferrari.
The Irish/British driver pairing, driving the No.52 Ram Racing Ferrari 458 Italia, were dominant from start to finish, and the two were never ousted from their deserved place at the front of the LMGTE field, even during a brief rain shower or while under pressure from some top class opponents. Apart from during the two scheduled pit stop windows, the white Ferrari led from flag to flag and crossed the line one lap ahead of its nearest rival, the No.55 AF Corse Ferrari of Perazzini/Cioci/Leo.
Third across the line at the chequered flag was Ram Racing’s second Ferrari 458 entry, the No.53 of Gunnar Jeannette and Frankie Montecalvo – the American pairing taking their second podium finish in two races. Young New Jersey driver, Montecalvo, was thrown in at the deep end by completing his own marathon stint of just over two hours. He held second place in class for much of his stint, only ceding it to very experienced Ferrari driver Marco Cioci, who applied extreme pressure on Frankie, in the final stages of the race.
Matt Griffin started the race in the No.52 and drove for two hours – enjoying a nose-to-tail battle with Porsche factory driver Pat Long in the No.77 IMSA Performance Matmut Porsche in the early stages. Matt resisted huge pressure and, as the fuel load reduced in the Ferrari, so his lap times got quicker and he was able to gradually stretch out a healthy lead over his competitors. He completed a two hour stint and his team mate Johnny Mowlem was able to take the maximum care while driving in the final third to ensure brought home the win.
The battle between Matt Griffin and Long kept everyone entertained in the first hour but there was alarm amongst the media and spectators when they saw the Irish driver slow on track. He explains what happened: “We were pushing the envelope with the fuel a bit in order to match the Porsche’s fuel economy, and the car coughed a bit so I had to come off the throttle and nurse it round for my scheduled stop. I switched the engine map, watched Pat drive away from me but we were always planning to stop at that stage anyway. We had some fantastic Michelin tyres this weekend and that allowed us to follow the strategy we did, although the rears were going off a bit towards the end. It was a great result though, coming after pole position this morning, and it might take a while to wipe the smile from my face tonight!”
Johnny Mowlem: “For Ram Racing it’s a brilliant result to have achieved what they have in such a short period of time and to come here and effectively smash everyone else, including fantastic teams like AF Corse, is wonderful. Matt here made my job very, very easy and he did a great job keeping us ahead all the way. The car was unbelievable, especially the tyres as we were able to main the pace in the second stint just as well as in the first. The ELMS has some very strong opposition here and it’s great to be able to beat them all today.”
Gunnar Jeannette said afterwards: “To come away with another double podium and the team’s first victory I’m super proud to be a part of it and hopefully will remember this day a couple of years from now. The No.53 had a good run and I was in third behind Matt and Pat Long for most of my stint, and then came in and handed over to Frankie. He got cycled back to second and was up against Marco Cioci at the end, who is basically a Ferrari supported driver, and just made a bit of a mistake. I was both sad and happy to see Frankie racing him hard – to know where he is in his development as a driver, today will be a good day to remember and he will learn from mistakes. When we get to Austria we will be stronger.”
Frankie Montecalvo: “I’m pleased we got the podium – if we’d missed that I’ve have been even a little more mad at myself. We had some great racing and the car was perfect, the team was great as always. I struggled a bit with lack of track time out there. On Friday we lost first practice with the rain and we only had a short period of time to do a lot of work and it was a little hard for me with this new track. It took me a little while to get up to the pace and then I made some mistakes as a driver which I need to work on.”
Team Principal Dan Shufflebottom was full of praise for all four of Ram Racing’s drivers: “We are very pleased with this result. We tried to pull a couple of stunts like double-stinting the tyres to try and stay ahead of AF Corse, but it didn’t work out for Frankie in the end. It was very close those and to get the first win, especially here in Italy, is amazing.
“Everyone in the team has been faultless the whole weekend. The guys do such a mega job of preparing the cars and we never have any issues with that stuff so the drivers just have to concentrate on doing the best job they can. They all did an awesome job today; Matt was so impressive in his double stint – you don’t really hear from him on the radio, he just gets on with the job. Johnny did a solid job to bring it home in the end, and both Frankie and Gunnar – considering they’ve never been here before – did the same fantastic job they do every time they drive for us. It would have been good to get to Gunnar to do his maximum 1hr40 in the car but he wasn’t very comfortable and it was starting to hurt him. We haven’t got his seat position quite right yet and we’ll make sure we get that sorted for the next round in Austria.”
The team now has a break until July when they travel to the Red Bull Ring in Austria for the third round of the 2013 European Le Mans Series.