Sometimes it's necessary to take a half step backward to go forward; short-term pain, long-term gain. In the best of all possible worlds, you tread water while others make the short-term sacrifices, then grab the long-term gains when they're there for the taking.
In a nutshell, that's the Ferrari contingent's tale at the 59th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. While Risi Competizione, Extreme Speed Motorsports and Luxury Motorsports debuted the striking (but tardy) new 458 Italia with a minimum of testing, AF Corse, CRS (62, ABOVE) and Krohn Racing ran the Ferrari F430 GT that has been the backbone of Modena's worldwide GT effort since 2006.
Nobody doubts the totally new 458 will ultimately prove superior to the 430. When will that superiority in speed and, just as important, reliability manifest itself? That's the $64m or, rather, (at Sebring), the 12-hour question. For while there are longer races on the schedule, none are more brutal than the 720 minutes of automotive S&M meted out by the washboard surfaces of Sebring International Raceway.
“The 458 has been tested in Europe,” notes Giuseppe Risi. “They've done a lot of miles, a lot of component testing, but the proof is going to be in the pudding. And this is going to be the track that tells us what it doesn't like about us.”
Truth be told, if Risi had his druthers, his team would have run a 430 at Sebring. He well knows the 458 is a little too new, his team a little too unfamiliar with it, to extract its maximum performance and reliability – things that would be second nature with the 430. But ESM brought two 458s to Sebring and it wouldn't do for Risi, Ferrari's ALMS standard bearer, to run old faithful while a customer team ran the cutting-edge car. Then again, ESM's hand was also forced, albeit for different reasons. The team sold one of its 430s to Krohn Racing over the winter in anticipation of a two-pronged 458 effort in 2011. Had they known the 458 would be delivered in March instead of January, they might have taken a different tack.
“I believe the only common part between the 430 and 458 are the taillight lenses,” smiled team owner Scott Sharp. “If the 458 was just an evolution of the 430, we might have considered starting the season with the 430 and switching to the 458 when we got comfortable with it. Or we might have brought a 430 as a spare. But the cars are so different, we'd have needed a separate transporter and spares for the 430, like two different operations.”
In contrast, AF Corse made an 11th-hour decision to run its 430 after getting a brief test of its 458 at snowy Paul Ricard circuit hours before loading for the trip to central Florida. Krohn, on the other hand, only gave passing thought to a 458 before settling on the 430. That had much to do with its plans to contest the new GTE category for pro/amateur driving teams in the Intercontinental Le Mans Championship that bars such teams from running state-of-the-art equipment. Equally, having a known quantity appealed to Tracy Krohn.
“I kind of like things that I know are going to perform,” he says. “I've made a lot of money buying old oil and gas fields, putting a little bit of effort into them and making them more valuable. This is sort of the same approach. The 458 is certainly fast and it's going to get faster, but on the other hand, that's a development program.
“We considered getting a 458 and then we said ‘No, we want to go run the ILMC and GTE class.' That's a better class and series for me and it was a chance to see a bunch of good tracks in some other areas of the world.”