Photo By John Thawley Sebring, Fla., March 17, 2007 Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing's endurance debut of the Ferrari F430 GT started off strong but quickly went wrong. Tomas Enge (a native of the Czech Republic living in Monaco) started from the pole position and lead into the first turn of the 55th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. However, an extremely aggressive move by a competitor would take a potential victory and turn it into a struggle to survive for the two time American Le Mans Series GT2 class Driver and IMSA Cup Champions. Enge and co- driver Tim Bergmeister (Langenfeld, Germany) traded the seat of the No. 31 MMPIE/PAWS/Petersen Holdings/Michelin Ferrari F430 GT back-and-forth over the course of the 12 hour American Le Mans Series season-opener. Memo Gidley (Novato, Calif.) was in a reserve role to back-up the two full-season drivers if needed but was not called-upon. When the checkered- flag flew, they would earn a hard-fought eighth-place finish in GT2 class, 22nd overall, 30 laps behind the class winner.
Enge, who qualified second-quickest, started from the front of the grid after the No. 62 Ferrari F430 GT was forced to start at the back of the field following a tire change after a qualifying session mishap flat-spotted their tires. He led into the first turn before a forceful move by the third-place qualifying Porsche came down in front of the No. 31 Ferrari. The contact damaged the nose of the car, the front undertray- which generates aerodynamic downforce under the car - and the front splitter- an aerodynamic aid that helps generate downforce on the front of the car- and the right front wheel. Enge limped the car into pit lane where the Dennis Chizma-led team worked to re- attach the nose and splitter. Two laps later the car returned to the track in 17th spot. Ten laps following that, IMSA officials called the 31 back into the pits to further strengthen the repair. The Michael Petersen- owned team had, by then, acquired a new nose and undertray to make a more thorough repair. The second stop cost the team one more spot and twenty additional laps.
With a podium finish all but impossible, the Dale White-managed team reorganized its plan to gain as many points as possible and to support the No. 32 Corsa Motorsports/White Lightning Racing team car. Through consistent running and strong strategy, the No. 31 never missed a beat for the next 11 hours. Enge and Bergmeister each turned laps that would have placed them at the heart of the closest GT2 class race finish in history. However, that will have to wait until the next event, March 31 at St. Petersburg, Fla.
The sister car to the Petersen Motorsports-entry, the No. 32 Corsa Motorsports/White Lightning Racing Ferrari F430 GT, also had a rough day. They started from the back of the field because an accident in Wednesday practice prevented them from qualifying. Their day would end with a fire in Turn-10 of the 17- turn, 3.7-mile Sebring course after a suspected oil line break began the conflagration. The Steve Pruitt-owned Ferrari finished 16th in GT2, 32nd overall.
Dale White, Entrant/Team Manager: "The bright side is that we learned a lot because of all the adversity. That is the best thing we can take from this race. Also, the team and drivers really came together. We have quite a few new people on the team and chemistry takes time to create. You throw everyone together into the heart of a battle and you find out pretty quickly what you have. We have a team and I am really excited about that. We are, obviously, not very happy with the results, for either car, but we are happy with what we have to work with. Tim and Tomas gave it their all and the crew did as well. I think, without the accident, we would have been right there. I definitely want to thank Memo Gidley as well. Memo came in and contributed a lot to the team this week. He knew his role from the start and he stepped-up every time we asked him too. Mike and I really appreciate that. Now we will wake-up in the morning and start preparing for St. Pete. Sebring is over. We started the same way last year and won the Driver and IMSA Cup titles. We have two extra races to overcome this deficit. The whole team is excited about the season and this won't change our expectations and goals."
Tim Bergmeister, Driver: "The race itself was not too bad; just the accident at the beginning. Our race speed was quite good even with the broken car, the broken front splitter. So, without the accident it might be much better. Next time we try it again. Now my experience with the Ferrari is getting much better. Now I have had the chance to do some stints and I feel quite at home now in the car."
Tomas Enge, Driver: "I am so disappointed. There was one crazy driver with a Porsche. He started third and he first overtook Jörg going into turn-one on the outside and then me going into turn-two on the outside. But, we were all cruising behind the Corvettes and at the middle of turn-two he was outside of me, beside me, and he just shut the door on me. We both collide and, unfortunately, that damaged my front bumper. I had to come in and the repair took very long. From that time we were just cruising back to the finish. There was no point to race too hard. We were just trying to get as many points as possible. Outside of that, it was quite a good race."